Creating a culture of continuous improvement sounds like an easy enough concept, right? You see something is broken, so you fix it. The problem is, nothing is ever as easy as it sounds. For one thing, some of the biggest problems within your organization could be those hidden from view. This could be the type of documentation you keep or the amount of time spent on certain tasks. Then, of course, there are the errors made and covered up. So, how can you go about promoting continuous improvement for things seen and unseen?
One reason your employees may keep their errors and waste a secret is from fear. If they feel their mistakes might result in discipline or job loss, they’ll often do whatever it takes to keep things secret.
When someone does bring you suggestions, whether personally or through a suggestion box, take the time to talk through the suggestion. Hear what he or she has to say and imagine your company with those changes in place. Never reject the idea without first turning over each and every piece of the suggestion. Perhaps even try it on for size.
When you react viciously or carelessly, your team members will stop sharing. When they stop sharing, you lose your inside knowledge about happenings on the shop floor and in the office. When that happens, your culture of continuous improvement will die a quick death.
Get right in there with your employees to discover the areas where your processes can improve. When you find something, gather everyone together to discuss how the problem could be solved. Listen to everything they have to say before adding your own thoughts.
Remember, someone might just have a better idea than yours, so be prepared to admit this when it happens. If your team members think you won’t listen to their suggestions, they won’t contribute.
Part of teaching is also rewarding the students. When projects improve and processes produce less waste, celebrate with your staff. Give recognition to those who come up with ideas that really do make a difference. Show the rest of your workers that pointing out mistakes and problems is a good thing, and you’ll start getting more valuable feedback.
The words “good enough” should never be a part of the vocabulary in your organization. There will always be something that could stand some improvement. When you finish one round on the plant floor and fix the problems you find, go through the process again. Ask for new issues and work together to solve those. If you feel you’ve perfected one part of the process, move on to the next. You might find problems there that could be fixed with changes to the first part.
As with the processes in your plant, you’ll never get your culture of continuous improvement just right. That’s why—also just as with the processes in your plant—you should always work to make improvements.