Keep it simple! Processes, training, everything.

keep it simple! Simple procedures and communication is easier to understand and follow.

A company culture transformation is an undertaking.  You will attempt to break with old habits and mental models.  Also, you will introduce new ones.  For that reason, you and your leadership team will make many decisions regarding what to do and how to do it.  Later, there will be a lot of communication, skills development, training, and new standards.  While teaching new behaviors, mental models, and ways to do things, keep it simple.

For a successful transformation, keep it simple

Along the transformation journey, you and your team will have countless communication efforts. That communication will happen in different scenarios and formats.  In other words, individual or group settings, in writing or verbal.  Also, you will write new policies, standards, work instructions, and others.  The purpose of the communication or procedures and other details needs to clear.  Keep the receiver or user in mind while deciding the language, design, or communication structure.  Moreover, it needs to be simple, easy to understand and execute.

If you can’t explain it simply, take a step back.

“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” 

Albert Einstein

Any continuous improvement activity starts with gaining an understanding of the current situation. The cultural transformation begins with a similar process, understanding the present culture.  The knowledge gain during this step helps to design the best way to share with the team the intention to change.

Why do you want to engage in the transformation process?  Why you propose to use continuous improvement?  What are the steps?  A long and hard thinking process is required to answer these questions in a simple way.  Refine your thoughts, do not use too many words, do not overthink.  Be honest and talk from your heart without fancy words or excuses, just the truth.

You are not ready to communicate this idea until you can say it in simple words.  

Keep it simple, all of the processes, language, structures, and formats.

Simple language is easier for the reader or receiver.  For instance, try to avoid the use of technical words unless it is necessary.  The same rule goes for industry jargon.  For example, in continuous improvement, we use many Japanese terms like kaizen.  Depending on the current culture, you should use generally accepted American words as a substitute.  In our previous example, you can use continuous improvement or rapid improvement events instead of kaizen.

While teaching new tools, use simple structures.  Further, give examples of things related to their work.  Things are complicated enough as it is, keep it simple.  Processes that are easy to understand have more probability of sustainability.  It is much easier to execute simple instructions than complicated words.  

Summary

Trying to explain something complex is often a humbling experience.  It makes you realize how much you don’t know.  Therefore, it forces you to break the subject into smaller pieces and understand each one of them.  When you think you know the process well enough, try to explain it with simple words. Would your five years old self understand?  If the answer is no, then keep refining your thoughts, keep improving your pitch.  

Simplicity avoids confusion, and processes are easier to execute consistently.  Don’t complicate it, keep it simple. 

Where should be the focus of continuous improvement?

While transforming the company culture from traditional to continuous improvement, where should be the focus?

The most common errors while implementing continuous improvement is to focus on one small area. Do it in such a way, you are impacting only a portion of your business and not the entire enterprise. It is common to focus on the most visible parts. For example, start with areas with labor-intensive processes or warehousing, where most of the inventory resides. There is nothing wrong with using one problematic zone as the initial focal point. This way, you can earn a big win and use it to promote the initiative. But, focusing on one area should not a permanent strategy.

Focus on one area only affects the impact of the transformation

Your goal is to deliver to your customer the highest quality, at the lowest possible cost, in the shortest possible time.  To achieve this goal, you need to focus on your customer needs, ensure flow through the value stream, and create quality products or services.  You need the help of all the different components or teams to make this happen.

Focusing on one area, regardless of how problematic it may be, have the immediate effect of perpetuating the silos mentality.  You want to promote collaboration and to have people from different departments working together to achieve common goals.  Impacting only one department does not improve collaboration, not even when you have a cross-discipline group.

Focusing on anything less than the entire enterprise is missing the opportunity to achieve real changes in flow, quality, and costs that would position your business in a better place than most of your competitors.  Let’s face it everybody is happier when the company’s financials are better, and a big impact on those numbers only happens with the participation of all departments.

A narrow focus does not change the culture

If you want to have a permanent change in how things are done and create a new business model, you need to change the culture.  This type of change, by definition, has to impact everybody.  If you recall, Culture change, lean thinking & people’s development are some of the key elements for a successful lean implementation.

While focusing on one department only, most probably, you are picking a couple of tools or principles only, ignoring those that will help to develop your team.  Lean is not about tools; it is about the people.  Using new tools for process improvement to obtain quick results is not right.  You need to be in the look for people’s development, including your own.  When you focus on the team, provides the right environment to learn, explore new ways to do things, and communicate without hesitation, the improvements will come along.  

The team needs a common purpose

Knowing how their work connects to the value the company provides to the customer gives your employees clarity to connect their actions with the final results.  The new culture will create a team of problem-solvers, people that think differently and are motivated to create.      

Conclusion

Continuous improvement as a strategy to improve quality, lead-time, or minimize cost will give you additional benefits when it is implemented in the right way.  Other benefits include an increase in customer satisfaction and employee engagement and flexibility to face an unexpected crisis. Implementing this strategy across the house leads to better results.

Start by knowing your current status in detail.  What are those big-time issues that are affecting your bottom line the most?  Identify your business strengths and weaknesses.  Select three to five key objectives, establish a goal, and develop strategies to close the gap.  Choose them wisely, use your resources on the most pressing issues.  You can impact different areas like quality, cost, delivery, safety, or people development.  Break down the strategy into bite-sized plans.  Do not forget to include how to deploy the implementation throughout the entire business.

How does the job environment affect the cultural transformation?

how does the job environment affect the cultural transformation

The main ingredient for a successful lean implementation is creating a continuous improvement culture. Changing behaviors and beliefs is never easy. For instance, the previous culture determines how difficult it will be. The work environment is the result of the company culture and management styles. Certainly, that environment will determine how the employees react to the cultural transformation.

Job environment and engagement

According to Gallup, just 33 percent of American workers are engaged by their jobs. Also, 67 percent is either actively disengaged or “just showing up.” Engagement and productivity are affected by various factors. The way the employees feel their supervisor treats them is one. Other factors are how much they trust leadership and communication styles. Employees want to feel valued and respected. Moreover, that their ideas count, and their work is meaningful.

The objective of the culture change is to shift from traditional thinking to a lean thinking approach. To be successful, the relationship between leadership and associates will be the biggest hurdle.  Leadership defines the organizational culture. For that reason, the first key element for a successful implementation is the buy-in and support from them.  

Understand how the previous job environment shaped the company culture

Before you start planning the implementation, you have to understand how the previous culture shaped the work environment.  The team mindset is closely related to the job environment and employee satisfaction. 

Do you know how your employees feel about the company?  How do they feel about their supervisors?  What they think about how leaders make decisions?  Do they feel that they matter?  To change their mindset, you need to get honest answers to those questions.  Getting the truth can be difficult and painful, but it is a necessary step to know how your employees feel and create the appropriate implementation plan.

The right environment to transform the culture to continuous improvement

Leadership needs to change their traditional business behaviors and adopt servant leadership. If they don’t, no matter what you do, the implementation will fail.  Most importantly, the true mission of the transformation is to develop your people first. If you are not committed to making it happen, then do not bother trying. The worst thing is to announce changes and promise new ways and then not deliver.

If you are serious about adopting Lean thinking and use continuous improvement, find the right way to motivate your team. A good start is to have an honest and open communication of why you want to change.  Have a heart to heart conversations to gather information. Identify the team interests, how they perceived their benefits and company policies, and how clear they have their responsibilities.  

It takes a lot of continuous work to change the culture.  After those conversations, everybody needs to turn the page. Then, start working together to create a better future and shape new mindsets.

What are the key elements for continuous improvement success?

key elements for continuous improvement success
key elements

The answer to the question of what the key elements to a successful lean implementation are depends on who you ask. Most people will say that discipline and determination are key.  Others will include skills, passion, know your goals, and luck.  If you are convinced that lean is the strategy you will use to frame your business decisions, you must know the keys to a successful lean implementation.

One of the key elements is leadership buy-in and support

The fundamental part of a successful lean implementation is creating a continuous improvement culture.  However, you need to ensure that the entire leadership group is singing the same song.   In other words, to change the culture, you need leadership buy-in and support.  Leadership defines the organization’s culture. Therefore, if they don’t change their attitudes and behaviors, success is a dream.  If you are the owner or top leader, you are the person who needs to drive the change. Also, you will need to align purpose, process, and people.

More key elements for success

The objective of the transformation is to change from traditional thinking to a lean thinking approach. Changing the belief system and behaviors is not easy. A fundamental part of the culture change is to care more about people’s motivations, viewpoints, and how to develop their skills.

Communication at every stage is crucial.  People need to know what, why, how, when, and who. If the current culture is not good with communication, this will be the start. The team is now your ally. You will work to facilitate their work and develop their skills. The more they know, the more engagement and willingness to help will be. They need to know what the problem is and what you want to accomplish with a continuous improvement strategy. Set the tone by including them in the decision-making process. For example, ask for help to establish the baseline and stretch goals for the implementation.

For effective improvements, your team will need to have the right tools.  An early step is to identify which tools make sense for your operation and train the team.  You can find a responsible person who works with you to design the roadmap to growing the CI culture and identify the tools to support it.  A good start is to review how the current leadership culture has shaped the work environment.  Define the gap between that and where you want to be.  Knowing the current environment, you can create a motivating climate for the lean journey.  You will design a toolbox with the basic tools you will need to support the lean implementation journey.

Consistency and frequency is also critical

You would think that there is no need to clarify the frequency of continuous improvement activities. Unfortunately, it does need an explanation.  A common mistake is to believe that it is ok to base the implementation of CI events only. CI events are good, but you need to promote CI thinking every day.  Lead by example every day by looking for waste and ways to eliminate it.  Why are we doing this?  How can we improve it?   Use the culture change to promote daily improvement activities and events as training opportunities.

Consistency is very important; you cannot change the framework to make decisions every time something is not working.  Regardless of how challenging the problems are, keep using lean thinking.  Leadership is responsible for creating and modeling culture.  Your employees will be watching and will do what you do, not what you say.  If you go back to your old ways, they will too.  When problems arise, go where the action happens, go, and see.  Observe and ask why, ask your team for ideas, try something new, and measure the effect.  Make from every situation an opportunity to learn, and always celebrate the wins!  Continuous improvement is everybody’s job, every day, everywhere.

Summary

In summary, the following are the five key elements for a successful continuous improvement or lean implementation:

  1. Leadership buy-in and support
  2. Culture change to lean thinking & people’s development
  3. Effective Communication every step of the way
  4. Use the right CI tools, create your own toolbox
  5. Continuous improvement everywhere, every day, by everybody