6 Keys to Building a Culture of Continuous Process Improvement
February 26, 2020
3 minute read – Improving a process can bring many positive changes, including boosting profitability, but we’re often asked how organizations can progress from making improvements on processes to embedding process improvement into the culture.
By definition, changing the culture requires changing mindsets as well as actions. It means moving away from most people not understanding, or even thinking about efficient processes, and moving toward a norm where people evaluate how their processes are working as a matter of habit and drive change when necessary.
One of the basic characteristics needed for making this type of culture change is the ability to effectively facilitate process improvement, either internally or with the help of a consultant. If you have chosen to do this internally and do not yet have the expertise, work on smaller processes to build facilitation skills before pushing for a culture shift.
6 keys for moving your culture toward continuous process improvement:
- Decide where to start – Start with a bang by improving one or more big customer-facing processes where you’ll reap plenty of high profile benefits. Most organizations already know which processes are problematic, so prioritize those. Once you’ve chosen which processes to start with, involve key people across functions so they can participate in process improvement, get excited about it, and begin to spread the word. Note that it’s crucial to do a great job on these initial processes since many people will be experiencing process improvement for the first time.
- Go for mindset shifts as a team – Consider involving people who are not in the day-to-day to represent the consumers’ views and bring a fresh perspective. The people who do the processes are necessary, but often the current processes are second nature to them, making it harder to reimagine what could be. Bring multiple departments together to truly understand what is happening in the process as a whole. This is necessary to get out of silos and work together as one team. Not only do individuals begin to have mindset shifts, participants get to experience mindset shifts as a team. This is incredibly powerful and is a key driver in making positive and lasting changes in culture.
- Get people thinking differently – Now that people are working together, emphasize new ways of thinking for a positive culture shift going forward:
- Encourage conversations on radical process change to expand thinking. You don’t have to actually make radical changes to benefit from the thought process. We have seen huge strides in removing barriers, when participants assume they are creating a process from scratch and have the mindset that consumers, employees, and competition live in a 1-minute world.
- Avoid starting a conversation with what could be lost or gained. This can lead to an either/or situation. And, there are likely more than two choices. Instead, practice having multiple distinct options. This can take more thought and time, but the long-term results will be much better.
- Link process decisions to strategic objectives and use the strategy as a decision filter when considering process changes. This often helps people stay focused on the big picture and the compelling reasons for driving change.
- Get excited about your desired state. Another way to help people get their creative juices flowing, is to envision goals for new service level agreements (SLAs), whether internal or external. This also assists people in visualizing how they will track their successes and understand if recalibration is needed along the way. This gets people thinking about how data that they currently have, or will need to start collecting, can support a culture shift.
- Embrace the fact that the consumer’s journey and employee’s journey are inseparable. Continuously ask, “How might this impact our customers’ and potential customers’ experience?” Even when your initial thought is that it will not have an impact, step back and ask the question anyway. You may be surprised by the answer.
- Know that senior leadership must be believers – Consistently and continuously, senior leadership must promote the desired culture shift, change, or transformation. There are so many ways to do this. At first, the changes that result from building a continuous process improvement culture can create concerns about job loss, so celebrate the successes, and emphasize the positive impacts on employees’ daily lives. Weave the idea of improving processes into daily conversations to help build new habits. Share with people how mundane tasks or non-value add tasks have been replaced with more interesting ways for employees to contribute and encourage employees to share their success stories with others. Tell stories about employees that come up with ideas on how to make things better. When it makes sense, move into action and grab the low hanging fruit. This goes a very long way in communicating that the senior leadership team is truly bought in.
- Dedicate time – Leave room in your plan for process improvement efforts every year. Dedicating resources not only ensures that improvements will be made, it also communicates the importance of continuous improvement to the entire organization.
- Begin – The best way to get something done is to begin. Changing a culture takes repetition, reinforcement, and time – so don’t wait.
Change can be difficult and some people may resist, but naysayers often turn into promoters who think and act differently than they did before. No one likes to view the processes they’ve been following as wrong or pointless, so presenting process improvement in a way that is less focused on how to fix what is broken and more as a challenge to find new efficiencies or create a better experience for employees and customers can help get the culture moving. Now is the time to get started on the path toward building a highly efficient organization to reap the benefits along the way and far into the future.
Image Source: Merriam Webster