Athlete Kim Collins, the 2003 100m world champion, says, “Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.” Perfection is a mythical goal that few will achieve, but continuous improvement can produce tangible results that add real value to an organization.
Prioritizing continuous improvement ahead of perfection is an approach that shouldn’t just come from the executive level. It needs to be integral to the organization at every level, a process culture that with an eye to always do better. True process improvement doesn’t only focus on tools or methodologies. It needs to support people, and have their support too.
Teams that are encouraged to contribute and empowered to do so are more engaged and excited about facilitating change, growth, and betterment for the whole organization.
Where the cracks show
According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace study, 60 percent of employees felt it was very important for them to be able to do what they do best in their role. When they couldn’t, it impacted morale, and that is a clear sign of a struggling business culture.
By empowering employees to offer suggestions, they’re encouraged to participate and bring their very best to their work. Being able to present alternative ways of doing things and participate in process improvement makes staff feel valued, and fosters proactive problem-solving.
Where the process culture is weak, those suggestions never see the light of day and teams spend considerably more time in reactive fire-fighting than constructively working to make things better – and that has a direct impact on both their performance and satisfaction.
Siloed teams can also limit your capacity for capturing process improvements. As innovations are discovered and implemented in one division, others miss out on both the encouraging stories that emerge and the opportunity to try something similar in their work. Without cross-collaboration, change initiatives can stall quickly, or struggle to gain traction.
Cause and effect
While any change project is usually spearheaded from the top, there is a difference between announcing the initiative and genuinely supporting it. The distinction can be felt throughout the organization, especially when it’s compounded by external experts being brought in to drive the change.
While an external consultant may initially yield good results, it will be hard to sustain once their contract expires, and that loss of momentum will only add to the overall sense of discouragement. Without authentic support from the executive, any change project will begin to flounder, and that will affect the motivation of those involved. It won’t be long before people simply revert to doing what they always did.
For example, consider a company that wants to encourage staff to suggest process improvements for their divisions and workgroups. The business creates a loose framework for this, and a few people step up with new ideas. The best of these are adopted and the necessary changes are made. People feel good – they’re being heard and making improvements.
But, after those initial successes, the management team take their attention off the project. Further suggestions are relegated to working groups or committees who lack the power to make the kinds of changes required. Suggestions bounce around middle management until they fall through the cracks or lose relevance.
The employees who want to see their work made more effective and efficient become disillusioned and disengaged. The progress that was being made stalls and the initiative folds.
Reigniting the spark
A process culture is a living thing, and as such, it can be restored to health when it loses some of the vitality that makes a difference. Here are a few simple steps to restore a culture of continuous improvement and process excellence in any organization, regardless of where it is currently:
- Align leadership and make it visible
To get people on board, start at the top and have your leaders fly the flag. Use data to gain the support of C-level executives, and have them appoint a chief process officer (CPO). The CPO communicates the vision to the teams and keeps the executive leadership connected to the people on the ground. With data supporting the drive for continuous improvement, and an enthusiastic and visible figure leading the way, stakeholders and staff alike will be more inspired to be part of the improvement initiative.
- Get good governance.
Encourage and support process ownership to help people recognize their responsibilities. If the staff doesn’t see the part they play in managing and improving processes, they won’t promote change. Start by identifying process owners who will take responsibility for the effective operation of a process, and process experts who are the on-the-ground masters of the activities required. Make sure these people have the right tools to facilitate managing and improving processes, empowering them to collaborate with their teams and others, and encouraging them to suggest improvements. As they discuss changes and implement and experiment with them, continuous improvement becomes part of their everyday operation.
- Structure for change
Even the best change initiative can revert to the status quo if there isn’t a framework to sustain it. It needs to be embedded in the culture to have a lasting effect. That requires a structured approach and a schedule for process improvement that applies across the business. For example, process forums can occur regularly to workshop process challenges and opportunities, building on collaborative innovation. Encourage a creative approach and environment where ideas can be shared freely, regardless of role or division. With the whole business represented, you can ensure that the spirit of continuous improvement is woven into the DNA of the company.
- Support effective improvement
While process documentation is valuable, reams of unreadable procedure manuals aren’t going to encourage employees to review them. They can be intimidating, and take more time to get to grips with than most can spare. Instead, create a centralized process repository that is easy to access and understand. If employees can find and use their processes easily, they will. If that platform encourages participation in improving the procedures, you can guarantee staff will take advantage of the opportunity.
- Keep talking
Just as continuous improvement requires open and honest dialogue between process stakeholders and users, the entire change initiative relies on the same. Teams need to be able to give feedback on both their processes and the way they’re being managed. Appoint champions to ensure these critical communication lines stay open. That means celebrating successes and sharing information between groups, divisions, or locations. It means fostering friendly competition and encouraging team-building and maintaining vibrant and lively process forums to encourage participation.
Process culture is about people
The pursuit of process excellence isn’t something that is ever completed. It’s the direction, not the destination. The key to this approach is your people taking this mantra on board and making it their own.
Continuous improvement is a mindset that needs to take root at every level of the business. As people are given the tools, support, and opportunity to contribute to process improvement, they will rise to the occasion and change will begin to happen. It takes effort, but the results are worth it – people will respond as you bring them on the journey to see your organization grow and evolve.
Want to learn more about how Nintex can help make process improvement about the direction, not the destination, schedule a personalized demo of the Nintex Process Platform today.