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Creating a Company Culture That Promotes Continuous Improvement

“It is not the strongest or most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” -Charles Darwin
“It is not the strongest or most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” -Charles Darwin

Company culture is arguably the most important determinant in realizing the benefits of continuous improvement and creating lasting change across an organization. To ensure employee buy-in to new process improvement protocol, a multidimensional approach is necessary, addressing the people hierarchy, and traditions. There are many factors to consider when creating an environment that fosters creativity and promotes a culture of continuous improvement. Each organization will find its own unique challenges and will need to alter its approach based on its size, industry, and levels of diversity. Implementing a multidimensional approach improves the likelihood of employee buy-in and creating sustainable change. Although continuous improvement’s clear benefits and despite organizations recognizing its value, many struggle with successful implementation. In fact, over 60% of continuous improvement efforts fail. Here are three recommendations to create a company culture that empowers employees and promotes change from within.

1.) Promote an inquisitive company culture where employees are encouraged to ask why and have an open dialogue with management to voice concerns and recommend improvements.

In many traditionally structured organizations, there is very little internal discussion across upper and lower levels regarding potential bottlenecks and sticking points. An employee has a unique vantage point, being able to see “up” the organization. By utilizing each employee’s unique view, management can address inefficiencies across the organization that are not visible to upper-level management. To initiate an open dialogue across the organization and promote continuous improvement, a framework needs to be established in which employees have a voice and are encouraged to express any concerns they may have. Facilitation methods include staff meetings, one-on-one conversations between management and employee, and the ability for employees to question management why processes are the way they are. There is a fine balance between a functioning hierarchy and a stifling company culture and in finding that equilibrium, an organization can promote top-to-bottom improvement.

2.) Recognize generational differences and adjust the approach accordingly.

When addressing the challenge of achieving diversity in an organization, a perhaps “overlooked” category is that of generational diversity. With three generations in the workforce today, employers are faced with harmonizing distinct differences ranging from work style, and employee loyalty, to even the value placed on quality of life. Each generation has its own tendencies and natural inclinations that should be recognized when building an intergenerational team promoting a continuous improvement. The following table from the Birkman learning material titled, “How Generational Differences Impact Organizations & Teams,” helps to illustrate key differences in work style, comfort with technology, and values between the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials.

By recognizing the intergenerational differences down to each department or even team at a micro level, an organization can tailor its approach to building a culture promoting continuous improvement. For example, with a team of mostly Baby Boomers, management may need to be spend time developing relationships with face-to-face interactions to better facilitate open dialogue and help recognize areas for improvement. Conversely, with a team of Millennials, management may face less barriers when creating a team-based approach to improvement, however, the teams may need more structure and supervision.

3.) Measure the results with a data driven approach.

“A company that purchased thousands of pieces of equipment each year for operations was frustrated with the time required to procure and install the new equipment. The average process lead-time for a new piece of equipment, from defining the requirements to completing the final installation testing, exceeded four months. The organization tried several internally promoted ideas for identifying the root cause and reducing the lead-time, but the problem only worsened. Then leadership enlisted outside help to take an approach that translated existing ideas into hypotheses and tested those with data. Through this process the company discovered that a bottleneck at the end of the procurement and delivery process was the real source of delays, not the perceived problems earlier in the process. By first proving the problem with data-driven measurements, then addressing this bottleneck, the company not only addressed the real root cause problem, but it also estimated a more than 40 percent reduction in equipment procurement cycle times as a result.” -Deloitte

By using data as an “objective truth,” an organization can promote evidence-based decision making and avoid the pitfalls of making decisions based on emotions or strong personalities. Utilizing quantitative data can instill a company culture that focuses on both achieving tangible results and targets where, and how to implement continuous improvement models.

In summary, there are many benefits in creating a company culture that promotes continuous improvement with no single “one size fits all” model. Being aware of differences stemming from diversity, including generational differences, and empowering employees to be leaders in creating change can help to inspire an adaptive and innovative company culture. Using a data driven approach to monitor success and target areas for improvement is the quantitative component that when combined with the qualitative factors of a company’s culture will help transform an organization into a more efficient version of itself.


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