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5 tips for building a culture of continuous improvement

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Opinion holder entrepreneur Contributors are their own.

An organization’s continuous improvement culture is a dynamic force essential to achieving the desired competitive edge. It may sound like the business jargon of a small business owner or the diligence of a senior his leader in a large company. Nevertheless, it plays a pivotal role in sealing the future of any business success.

The best-case scenario for business leaders is having customers happy with their services and products, employees happy and satisfied with their jobs, and healthy financial returns that put smiles on the faces of all shareholders.

For over 10 years, I have coached and trained business leaders to continuously improve. Each journey is unique to your organization, but regardless of your organization’s size, industry, or location, there are common themes to organize and guide continuous improvement.

What is Continuous Improvement?

Continuous improvement is an organizational culture in which everyone works continuously to improve all aspects of the business. The goal of every working day is to delight customers and consistently provide high quality service. These entail:

  • Innovation as a constant beacon

  • Cost effective operation

  • A culture that wastes less time, resources and money

  • A staff that naturally seeks better things. By identifying impediments and problems, we identify root causes and take action to correct and improve them.

  • A faster, less complicated process that is easy to understand and follow

Consider airlines, for example. Most of us love to travel. If we were to fly with an airline that has a culture of continuous improvement, our experience would probably be very smooth and enjoyable, from booking our flight to arriving at our destination.

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What is needed?

Continuous improvement is a journey. It takes time, planning, dedication, perseverance, and certain leadership behavior patterns.

A human-centered approach doubles the success of improvement journeys, according to research conducted by a team at the University of Oxford and EY. Presence or non-existence enhances or undermines effort. Here are his five key tips for building a culture of continuous improvement for long-term success.

1. Look for opportunities for improvement

Sometimes the opportunity is obvious, other times you need to look for it. Here are some common opportunity search activities:

  • Ask your customer.

  • Please listen to your staff. They have the best insight.

  • Examine your business processes and look for opportunities to eliminate steps.

Your complaint is gold! I vividly remember the blank expression of one business owner when I first mentioned this. A great opportunity to get to know your customers. Not understanding what customers want is like taking an airline passenger to the wrong destination.

2. Preparation for improvement

You see an opportunity for improvement. It’s time to create an exciting roadmap that reveals key activities. Examples of preparation activities include:

  • Develop structures that facilitate shared ownership across the leadership chain. It’s not a single hero, it’s a collaborative team.

  • Create improvement tribes (champions and experts) to pave the way.

  • Invest in training (i.e. change leadership, project management, innovation, improvement tools, etc.).

Using the air travel example, every player should be proficient and have a clear role for each process. Otherwise the package could end up at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

RELATED: 4 Ways to Improve Your Customer Experience (and So Keep Your Clients)

3. Measure your improvement

Focusing on measurement and improvement metrics can help show off or frustrate your focus on quality. For example, a large hospital administration team was trying to cope with long wait times in outpatient clinics. Their goal was to “reduce average wait times by at least 50%.”

A 50% reduction sounds like a good improvement. I asked, “Are you sure?” Shaking his head, the manager replied, “Our patient is still waiting.” If so, a 50% reduction shouldn’t be the end goal.

Below are some examples of quality and patient centricity.

  • Target: “Patients will be seen by a healthcare provider within 15 minutes of arriving at the outpatient clinic on Saturday.”

  • Improvement index: “Reducing the average Saturday clinic wait time from 3 hours to 15 minutes in 6 months.”

The more specific and meaningful your metrics are, the better your customer experience will be.

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4. Deliver improvements

There is none number one method, just right One is a bite-sized improvement approach, or an incremental but large-scale transformation, as needed. There are no limits when it comes to wowing your customers. For airline customers, this could mean enjoying a first-class experience wherever they sit.

5. Spreading and scaling up improvements

Once an idea turns into a revolutionary improvement, we explore further opportunities to adapt, disseminate, or scale it up. No need to reinvent the wheel. If you already have one, see where else it makes a difference. An investment in training is valuable as staff apply their improvement thinking and knowledge to other areas.

RELATED: 3 Easy Ways to Continuously Improve Your Business

Whether you’re a small business owner, a senior leader in a large company, or an airline manager, your focus on continuous improvement starts your transformational journey and empowers you, your staff, and you. organization is always looking to evolve for the better.

A constant focus on pleasing customers creates loyalty and increases revenue. Increased revenue leads to investment in innovation, engaged employees and development. Skilled and happy employees reduce mistakes and provide efficient and cost-effective service. Efficient operations keep customers happy. Such a brilliant competitive cycle! Enjoy taking off and traveling into a wonderful world of constant improvement.