In a previous blog article we already discussed what continuous improvement is and how this method contributes to creating a nicer, safer and more productive working environment. Rather than clinging to tried-and-true but far from ideal practices, continuous improvement allows you to create a culture of learning. Standardization, which is an important part of continuous improvement, creates uniformity and prevents people from coming up with their own methods and workarounds.
But how do you actually put continuous improvement into practice? What are principles that you should absolutely adhere to if you want to reap the benefits of this method? Learn all about it in this article that deals with the most important best practices for continuous improvement!
1. Link continuous improvement to specific goals
Sometimes, companies, board members or managers read or hear about continuous improvement and see the working method as a wonderful panacea. The result: they start without a clear plan or blueprint. A mistake! Continuous improvement only works if you exactly know what you want to improve.
Always link the method to concrete improvements and business objectives. Do you want to improve the productivity of a certain department or group of employees? Is organizing a specific production line in a more efficient fashion your main goal? Or do you want to improve the safety of your workplaces to keep the risk of accidents to an absolute minimum? Is there a lack of clear improvement goals? Or do you have trouble identifying the value that certain improvements have for your company?
Without clear goals, the focus is often on improvements that only generate a minimal effect, while the real elephant remains in the room.
2. Take small steps
Moving too fast is a common continuous improvement mistake. Managers and organizations want to improve too many things at once. The problem with that approach? People become overwhelmed, which reduces the chance that they will actually implement changes. In the real world continuous improvement works much better if you make changes one at a time and opt for small steps.
Break the process of continuous improvement down into clearly defined sub-steps and goals. Ask specific questions (one by one) such as:
- What is the desired situation we want to get to?
- What is the current situation or working method like?
- What are the differences between the two? And what obstacles prevent you from reaching the desired target state?
- Which specific improvements can you make to remove each obstacle and organize a process in a better way?
3. Show helping and inspiring leadership
Helping and inspiring leadership is essential for success if you want to make serious work of continuous improvement. Board members and managers often place themselves above the people on the workfloor and ask a lot from employees without giving them the proper support and tools to do their work in the best possible way.
If something does go wrong, the blame is often placed on the production workers. Another scenario is that employees are flooded with all kinds of peripheral matters.
Continuous improvement requires helping and inspiring leadership instead of authoritative leadership. The main characteristic of helping leadership? It facilitates employees. A helping leader has the gift to create a working and learning environment that gives employees the opportunity to grow and thrive. A helping leader shares power, puts the needs of the employees first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. He or she is committed and operates close to the workplace, but is willing to give employees a lot of responsibility and decision-making power. That supportive attitude allows the leader to easily get people involved in the continuous improvement process.
4. Don’t push changes
Continuous improvement is all about changing processes and reorganizing workplaces. But these processes often meet with resistance. We are creatures of habit who like to stick to familiar habits and routines. Pushing through continuous improvement without sufficient support is therefore a dead end, especially when you are dealing with fairly stubborn people like the Dutch.
Focus on concrete needs and make them transparent. When production workers, together with operators, create collaborative plans to transform a trajectory that improves efficiency, productivity and safety, the enthusiasm for continuous improvement steadily grows. Change a work sequence or simplify difficult technology to show employees the direct practical benefits of continuous improvement.
5. Use specific KPIs to improve
Continuous improvement works best with visual management. Instead of working with lists of numbers, use insightful KPIs (critical performance indicators). They are visible and ‘in your face’. A system that makes KPIs red (not achieved) or green (we have met our objectives), makes both deviations and successes transparent and tangible. Such an approach aligns with the way in which visual creatures like human beings think and learn.
6. Apply workplace management
‘Spreadsheet management’ from behind the computer is a bad fit with continuous improvement. This is especially the case for manufacturing companies or technical companies. So make sure that everyone, from managers and operators to the production staff, is regularly present on the workplace for consultation purposes. Personal interaction works much better than conversing remotely via the screen of your laptop. Attention is the vitamin A and lifeblood of continuous improvement.
7. Celebrate successes
Celebrate your successes! It doesn’t hurt to acknowledge your accomplishments, even when you only make minor improvements. Success boosts confidence and motivates people. Focusing on success allows you to get people on board and create structural enthusiasm for continuous improvement. Reward teams instead of individuals. You don’t have to hand out bonuses. Offering your employees a tasty surprise in the canteen, organizing a team outing or having a drink together after work are incentives that work just as well.
8. Reward creativity
A corporate culture that rewards learning and creative ideas is essential to the success of continuous improvement. Employees must feel that their ideas and suggestions for improvement are taken seriously. This does not mean that an operator or manager has to adopt every proposition without an ounce of critique. It does mean that you take suggestions for improvement seriously and also explain why certain ideas may not be suited for the continuous improvement process.
9. Be patient
Continuous improvement is not a one-off or short-lived process: you’re in it for the long run. Most companies that apply the method and achieve a lot of tangible success with continuous improvement have been upping their game for years. The word already says it: continuous improvement is never finished. It can always happen that a new work standard yields major improvements and works fine, but eventually needs to be adjusted again.
Continuous improvement with TWI Company
If you set it up in the right way and use the best practices mentioned in this article, continuous improvement is a powerful driver for more productivity, safety and efficiency in the workplace. This certainly applies if you combine continuous improvement with TWI, a method that ensures the standardization of training and work standards.
TWI Company has been cultivating a culture of continuous improvement within various organizations in the Netherlands and Belgium for twenty years. A little later, a strong focus on TWI was added. We can help design and implement processes that combine the best and most valuable features of both continuous improvement and TWI. Curious about the possibilities? Please feel free to contact us via 06 57 83 49 86 / 0527 30 50 80 or firstname.lastname@example.org.