CI 101

How do you develop new behaviors while creating a continuous improvement culture?

As a business owner or top leader of a company, you are thinking about implementing continuous improvement.  This means that you will need a culture change.  To learn how leadership and the team will react to it, you need to understand a few things before.  You need to learn about the current culture and the company history regarding policies, salary systems, and politics, before planning the implementation.  That information will also help you to identify what needs to change and highlight the challenges to create a new culture.  Develop new behavior patterns, is the fourth action from the top leadership to-do list to achieve the elements of a successful CI implementation.  

Commonly, past collective experience is based on thoughts and behaviors that you need to change.  A culture based on disrespect, lack of appreciation, lack of clarity, dysfunctional competition, us versus them mentality, and values talk without action is no longer acceptable.

We need to guide people with a clear, inspiring, and shared vision of the future.  Continuous improvement is not easy, and although it has many sweet rewards, it also has disappointments and brings some failures as well.  Be honest about the challenges in front of them, answer their questions, and never back up from the objective.  Talk the talk, but most importantly, walk the talk, a voice without action will not do any good to gain the trust of your employees.

Leadership must become coaches who are communicating the idea of continuous improvement all the time.  Every leaders’ responsibility is to model the desired behaviors.  Learn and practice lean thinking and promote challenging the status quo.  Prove with actions that it is ok to try and fail as long as you never stop trying.  Show them how to test new ideas using a system like PDCA.  Get used to reflect upon every win, and every loss, share the lesson learned and use them to improve the improvement process.

Leaders should watch for stress reactions, such as threats, resignation, or illness.  They need to work with those affected to understand why and create an action plan.  It is normal to feel high levels of stress or fear because the team is still weighing if they can trust the new culture.  There are many uncertainties during the change, and for that reason, constant, honest, and effective communication is critical.

Set achievable milestones, prioritization, and practice positive feedback.  Develop a fair performance assessment program designed to develop people’s skills and not to punish them.  Avoid anything that can result in frustration or underutilization of individuals. 

As I said before, as long as leadership keeps fulfilling their continuous improvement responsibilities, implementation will keep going and slowly, but surely, the culture will change.  

CI 101

How does the job environment affects lean implementation?

The key ingredient for a successful lean implementation is creating a continuous improvement culture. Changing behaviors and beliefs is never easy, but the previous culture will determine how difficult it will be. The work environment, which is the result of the company culture and management styles, will determine how the employees react to the implementation.

According to Gallup, just 33 percent of American workers are engaged by their jobs, with 67 percent either actively disengaged or “just showing up.”  The way the employees feel they are treated by supervisors; how much they trust leadership and communication styles affect engagement and productivity.  Employees want to feel valued, respected, 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 and to be successful, the relationship between leadership and associates will be the biggest hurdle.  Leadership defines the organizational culture, that is why the first key element for a successful implementation is the buy-in and support from them.  

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.

If leadership does not change their traditional business behaviors and adopt servant leadership, no matter what you do, the implementation will fail.  The true mission is to develop our people first, if you are not serious about this, then do not bother, lean, is not going to happen.

If you are serious about adopting Lean thinking and use continuous improvement, find the right way to motivate your team, starting with honest and open communication of why you want to change.  Have a heart to heart conversations, to gather information to create change.  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 and start working together to create a better future and shape the new mindsets.

CI 101

What are the key elements for continuous improvement success?

key elements

The answer to the question of what the keys 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.

The key ingredient for a successful lean implementation is creating a continuous improvement culture.  The objective is to change from traditional thinking to a lean thinking approach.  Changing behaviors and beliefs that have been part of the company’s soul since birth is not an easy task, it is a big challenge.  A fundamental part of the culture change is to care more about people’s motivations, viewpoints, and how to develop their skills.

The culture change is not possible unless leadership buy-in and support the transformation.  Leadership defines the organization culture if they don’t change their attitudes and behaviors, success is a dream.  If you are the owner of a small business, you are the person who needs to drive the change and align purpose, process, and people.

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 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.

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.

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 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.  Remember, leadership is responsible for creating and modeling culture.  Your employees will be watching, they 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!

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