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Unpacking continuous improvement in the workplace

Feedback From The Field | By | 8 Feb 2022 | 3 minute read

The best organizations understand that excellence is not a static metric – it’s an ongoing journey with no finish line. Built upon a foundation of consistent, daily acts, these companies are always searching for ways to be better while their distracted competition falls behind. Gaining an edge in a hyper-competitive market isn’t easy, but with continuous improvement as the beating heart of your organization, it can deliver transformational results. Here’s how.

What is continuous improvement?

How you execute continuous improvement will mean different things to different organizations. However, the general methodology is that it is an ongoing strategy to improve all parts of the business – not just the day-to-day processes, but the products you create, the tools you use, and the service you provide to staff and clients.

An innovative mindset is the key to continuous improvement, as it will allow your people to contribute to better ways of working that others may not have considered. So transformational is continuous improvement that even the late great Steve Jobs championed its value in the workplace.

Beyond the abstract concept, continuous improvement can be defined as small but rapid changes in individual acts, which are repeated consistently. Over time, these minor changes snowball into transformative overhauls. Whether it’s about workplace safety, greater efficiency, or improving the quality of a product or customer service, being able to ‘ignite’ positive shifts in micro-behaviors can turn the machine of continuous improvement. And it’s the regular contribution of human observations and data that feeds the strategy to be even more successful. That’s how you can uncover the building blocks of best practice and ultimately create better teams.

The benefits of continuous improvement

Igniting positive micro behaviors turns on the machine of continuous improvement. This is something we realized very early on at SafetyCulture. Falling back on legacy systems and outdated policies simply because that was ‘business as usual’ was no longer achieving the best outcomes. And the research backs this up.

Our Feedback from the Field report found that two-thirds of frontline workers (67%) say they are never, rarely, or only sometimes listened to on topics that matter to them the most. Moreover, one in three (34%) say their willingness to provide workplace feedback is impacted by a belief that “nothing will be done”.

With these antiquated belief systems baked into the workplace culture, how can anyone expect the system to change without change coming from within? Such a system cannot be expected to simply improve itself over time – it will either continue to stagnate or, worse, go backward. That’s where continuous improvement can help.

It takes time, yes. But integrating a culture that thrives on continuous improvement can reap countless benefits, including:

  • Optimized labor productivity.
  • Better-quality output (i.e. products and services).
  • Higher productivity rates.
  • A happier workforce that embraces speak-up culture.
  • Reduced overheads and new cost savings.
  • Greater staff retention.
  • Decreased waste.
  • A more satisfied team who work well together.

4 continuous improvement examples

So how can you take the concept of continuous improvement and apply it to your organization? The process will differ from company to company, industry to industry. However, here are some ideas to kick-start your journey:

  1. Brainstorming and think tanks

Whether it’s an informal brainstorming session or a pre-planned think tank with a clear agenda, these ideation sessions are valuable for getting input from your team and starting important conversations. Alternatively, anonymous surveys and polls can help illuminate where improvements can be made.

  1. Regular training

It’s easy for organizations to get siloed into departments or other groupings. Counter this by using monthly training sessions as an opportunity to reaffirm the team mentality of your workplace. For example, training up staff to handle multiple jobs means they can move around departments and potentially spot problems that no one else noticed. Microlearning platforms such as EdApp, Quiz Maker have quickly become a popular way to get training done, whether your team is out on the field or working from a remote location.

  1. Feedback loop

Nothing will change if your people are too scared to speak up. Whether it’s through a survey, an anonymous feedback box or an app like SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor), create a feedback loop where your team can speak their mind about possible changes. Then implement new strategies that prove to your people that you are using their insights to improve the organization.

  1. Catchball

Popular within agile strategies like Kanban, catchball is a system where the person who announced where a change should be made can ‘throw’ the problem out to the individuals who are most relevant. They provide their perspective and ideas for improvement, and then as a team they work to resolve the issue – from start to completion, camaraderie is what drives the positive change.

If you’re unsure where to begin, there are several workplace-improvement strategies dedicated to supporting organizations on their path to continuous improvement. The Six Sigma concept is all about using statistics and data to reduce the incidence of human error and product/service defects. Alternatively, kaizen is a holistic methodology that involves both top management and frontline employees initiating small changes every day, with the knowledge that these minor tweaks will ultimately yield big results.

Building a culture of continuous improvement takes time, resources, and staff buy-in. However, the benefits far outweigh the cost of making necessary changes. Find more insights at the SafetyCulture blog.

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