Building A Workplace Culture Of Continuous Improvement
Today’s companies live in a world of continual information flow, global competition, and technological disruption. Added together, these point toward increasing competition and new ways of being productive. As a result, the best companies strive to instill a workplace culture of continuous improvement.
Continuous improvement is based on the idea that even though you may be doing fine, you never rest on your laurels. Companies and individual employees need to be continually thinking about ways to improve, how to deliver better products, creating products targeted to customer needs, and filling those needs quickly or more conveniently.
The best way to see this is through a sports metaphor. You may have practiced for years to be a good runner. You can win the race, you have good form, you train regularly and you’re dedicated.
What happens when a new runner comes along? Their shoes are equipped with padding that provides them more of a lift with each step. It improves their performance because their feet go up a fraction of a second quicker after each step that touches the ground. It may just be tiny increments, but a runner with the new shoes still ends up beating you.
The tape doesn’t care if you were only 0.000025 seconds behind. Somebody else crossed it before you.
The same is true of sales, marketing or any other company function. Either you made the sale to the customer, or someone else did. In a world where 85 percent of people say they use the Internet to find information, the entire Internet is the other runner. You have to be faster than them.
- Choose small, manageable improvements.
Companies and employees do best when a culture of continuous improvement is instituted in small, manageable ways. For example, if one of your company’s goals is to increase sales, set a measurable goal of 5 percent for each salesperson. Even the top-selling agent needs to increase their sales 5 percent. Make it clear that goals are not static, but should improve continually.
- Monitor improvement with the plan-do-check-act method.
Driving a culture of continuous improvement requires monitoring to ensure performance goals are met. A good method to use is plan-do-check-act. This works as a loop. First, roll out a plan so every employee knows the requirement. If salespeople are to increase sales, have informational meetings about it. Then, once the initiative for sales increases is implemented, see how your people do. Set a meaningful time frame to track the changes. Check to see the status of the improvement. Have sales risen? If they have risen over plan, great! If they are at the desired goal, that’s also great. It acts as compound interest does to ensure a rise in your business as the years go by. The act stage is where you assess the do stage. If the goals are met, great. However, if your salespeople are falling short, is it because they do not have enough leads? Is it because they are not closing effectively? Is it a shortfall in the products that needs to be fixed by the engineering department? Although all the stages of plan-do-check-act are critical, act is the perhaps the most critical. It pinpoints what in the loop needs to be changed for continuous improvement to occur. For example, if you find out that your salespeople are not generating enough leads or closing effectively, you might consider a series of short e-learning courses on how to generate leads and how to close. This can help to institute the cultural of continuous improvement. Your salespeople will be improved by their access to best practices, which they can then implement. You will monitor the implementation, check and act again.
- Provide timely feedback.
Companies that wait too long to gather data and process it into the information loop tend to die. If you want to increase sales 5 percent, you need to know whether that is happening after the first week. If it’s not, you can institute measures to assess why and plug any holes going forward. If you wait for a month or a financial quarter, you lengthen the time to fix any challenges that stand in the way.
- Unleash your employees.
A passionate and committed workforce is your biggest asset in driving continual improvement. Employees are on the front lines with customers and products – selling them, creating them, building them. They are perfectly positioned to see where process improvements could help. Do the salespeople feel that less paperwork would let them talk to customers more? Does more talk equal more sales? Do they have an idea for a streamlined process? Go for it. It’s said that the Google 20 percent time plan brought us Gmail and AdSense. Under Google 20, employees were encouraged to spend 20 percent of their time generating ideas to benefit Google. It capitalized on their creativity and sense of market needs to create great products.
- Motivate your employees.
Finally, make sure your employees are encouraged. Mention those that met goals or created a new method in an email newsletter. Have an award for best new plan of the month. Buy a free lunch for the top improver. Institute an electronic suggestion box for new ideas to continually improve.
A workplace culture of continuous improvement builds on trends that affect all businesses. Plan a series of measurable steps, act to remove any obstacles in your employees’ way and unleash their creativity.