Continuous improvement might sound like a simple concept but it can be hard to pin down, not least because different organizations might interpret and define it in different ways. For the purposes of clarity from the outset, at Juran, continuous improvement is defined as the need to continuously create “breakthroughs.”
There are two types of breakthrough:
Achieving higher-quality product/service features to provide satisfaction for customers and revenue for organizations.
Achieving freedom from failures to reduce customer dissatisfaction and waste.
To achieve breakthroughs, an organization must have skilled and knowledgeable people. The only way to ensure that, and to ensure skills and knowledge are kept up to date, is to have a planned and ongoing program of growth and training.
Rather than a slapdash approach – a mix of random “one-size-fits-all” workshops, for example – training needs are identified and evaluated in the context of job role responsibilities, and training is provided to close the gap between where an individual’s performance is now and where it needs to be. From an employee’s current situation, they can both look back and see how far they’ve come, and look forward to see what lies ahead.
Tie individual goals to overarching company goals so people understand how they affect the business. Reward and acknowledge people’s achievements, so they understand their worth.
An added benefit is that this approach allows people with leadership potential to be identified. That in turn allows organizations to build a leadership pipeline, helping to ensure that the next tranche of senior staff is ready and waiting. Talent is nurtured, potential is harnessed, and future growth underpinned.
The performance of the team and the individuals within it depend on strong leadership. The best leaders lead by example – they embody the ethos they seek to establish. This includes showing enthusiasm when faced with challenging goals and demonstrating how to overcome obstacles. Strong leaders set clearly defined objectives, provide coaching and support where needed, and offer encouragement and praise when appropriate. This establishes trust, empowers teams, and allows individuals to fulfil their potential.
All of this will be made easier if people who are a natural fit into the culture are hired. If an organization’s culture has a strong customer service ethos, then it needs to find ways it can identify similar-minded people out of a pool of applicants.
Joseph M. DeFeo, Juran’s CEO, defines a culture as: “The integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.”
In simple terms, it’s “the way we do things around here,” and while it needs to be promoted and supported from the top down, it must be owned by everyone and integrated into everything an organization does.
An element of this is to clearly define the purpose of the organization and to express it in a clear, unambiguous statement. That allows identification of the ultimate goal and creation of a plan to achieve it. That plan should be rolled out to all stakeholders, and feedback sought and evaluated.
The culture initiative should be supported by a framework that includes clear procedures, facilitates the raising of “issues,” and celebrates achievements.
Communication is key to the success of such an initiative. Organizations need to be sure that everyone is on board. Clear documentation and dissemination of best practices and desired standards is essential.
Organizations need to be able to identify the impact a continuous improvement culture initiative is having, which means keeping track of quantifiable outcomes. For example, you could track employee turnover via exit meetings.
It’s also necessary to recognize the efforts people are making and to share how they are converting into results, in order to maintain motivation. Another big issue with regard to motivation is that managers need to be seen to be participating in those efforts and doing their bit – not just putting everything on the shoulders of the workforce.
Measuring, for example, innovation is a difficult thing to do. However, if you have clearly defined goals and objectives that embody the required outcomes of an initiative then it is possible.
When it comes to metrics, it’s necessary to identify the right thing to be measured, which isn’t always the easy thing. Don’t measure for the sake of it; measure for the meaning in the results.
Once you know how things are progressing and how effective actions have been, you can review, refine, and move on.
How Juran can help
Contact us to discuss things further.