Continuous improvement culture is taking over the business world for good reason. It’s not a nebulous, feel-good philosophy. It’s a concrete set of practices trusted by corporate giants like Toyota. And most importantly, it’s proven to deliver results.
Here’s the thing about continuous improvement culture. It’s not a quick-win, plug-and-chug kind of business solution. It’s much more powerful than that.
Continuous improvement culture turns your business into a self-correcting supercomputer. It yields increasing returns. So unlike a snazzy tech investment that loses value the minute it’s installed, continuous improvement adds value to your business as time goes on.
And that’s exactly what makes it such a potent strategy. It’s similar to the difference between a calculator and artificial intelligence.
Calculators are incredibly fast and accurate at solving math problems. They work well, but only within their mathematical parameters. A calculator does what you tell it to – no more, and no less. When manufactured, it’s encoded with a set of information that it will understand inside and out. But its capacity will never go beyond solving math problems.
Artificial intelligence takes technology to the next level. It gets smarter, better, and faster with age. It starts with a human-coded algorithm, but that algorithm is a baseline rather than a boundary. It is written in such a way that it can improve itself indefinitely. It won’t just tell you what “2+2” is. It will predict your question before you ask it. It’ll suggest better questions. It might even tell you a couple of math jokes!
That’s what continuous improvement culture does for business. It starts with a concrete set of practices – a baseline algorithm, if you will. But these practices are designed to drive growth, autonomy, problem-solving and improvement.
But what does this look like, in practice? These are five ways a continuous improvement culture will help your business solve problems.
- Catch problems sooner
- Find and address the root cause of problems
- Get measurable results
- Business is proactive rather than reactive
- Creates a culture receptive to change and criticism
1. Catch problems sooner
With a continuous improvement culture, you’ll catch problems before they become complaints. It’s called “continuous improvement” for a reason: everyone is committed to improving continually. This means looking for ways to improve process efficiency, product quality and customer service all the time! Even when nothing is “wrong.” This creates the conditions needed to find problems much sooner, oftentimes before they even become complaints.
Catching problems early is good for business for many reasons. On the production side of business, it prevents lapses in productivity. And on the consumer’s side, it will head off dissatisfaction and build rapport.
2. Find and address the root cause of problems
Another reason continuous improvement culture will help your business solve problems is because you will always get down to the root cause. Businesses often implement a solution before thoroughly understanding the problem at hand and its cause. This can be a costly misstep.
If you slap a band-aid over a serious problem, the issue might get better temporarily. But it is sure to bubble up again in the future – only this time, worse. When you implement the wrong solution for a given problem, you add yet another layer to the problem. The result is a bigger, more complicated problem than what you initially had.
However, continuous improvement culture safeguards against this. This is because problems are approached methodologically. The idea here is to apply the rigor of the scientific method to business problems.
Therefore, before tackling any issue, your team will start with a thorough needs assessment. In the needs assessment, your team does a deep-dive into the mechanics of the problem. And no solutions are proposed until everyone has a clear understanding of the problem, its implications, and underlying cause(s).
Approaching problems with the rigor of the scientific method prevents false diagnoses and inadequate solutions. It ensures that your resources are mobilized efficiently. There is nothing worse than dumping funds and manpower into a project that is doomed to fail from the start!
Isolating the root cause of a problem is important. So important, in fact, that we’ve written about it before! Check out our article on the Top 4 Missteps Leaders Make When Improving Business Processes for more info.
3. Get measurable results
Fundamental to a culture of improvement is a commitment to measurable results. It takes a lot of work to detect a problem, find its root cause, and implement a solution. If you don’t gather data on your solution, it’s like throwing all that work away. Why? Because without data, you will never know if your solution worked or not.
Data either validates or invalidates any solution. Therefore, it is critical to collect and analyze data to measure true improvement.
A classic continuous improvement strategy is the PDCA cycle. PDCA stands for “Plan, Do, Check, Act.” This problem-solving approach has four steps. In the “Plan,” step, you conduct your needs assessment and identify the cause of the problem.
In the “Do” step, you develop and launch your solution. You also collect data on your results. Next is the “Check” step. Here, you analyze data to gauge the impact of your solution. To do this, you compare key performance indicator (KPI) measures before and after your solution was launched.
Then, you move to the “Act” step, where you decide whether or not to implement the solution permanently. Whether you adopt this solution and apply it to future PDCA cycles depends entirely on step 3. That is, it depends on your data.
Everyone might love a solution, but if you don’t have the measurables to back it up, then you have to find a better path.
Data is part of what turns continuous improvement businesses into problem-solving whizzes. They don’t just throw ideas at a wall until something sticks. They apply scientific methodology to every business problem, which elevates performance and drives results.
Want to learn more about how to measure improvement? Head over to our article, 3 Ways to Measure Impact of Process Improvement Efforts!
4. Business is proactive rather than reactive
This is a fundamental difference between continuously improving businesses and other organizations. Rather than focusing just on what’s directly in front of them, your team members are encouraged to constantly push boundaries.
They don’t wait for problems to arise to propose solutions. Rather, they’re always on the lookout for improvement opportunities and wise investments. Instead of intermittent efforts to put out fires, you have a constant flow of energy and resources devoted to advancement
This is what separates industry leaders from their competitors. They are proactive rather than reactive. Because of this, problems occur less frequently. And when they do arise, they are less likely to be catastrophic.
5. Creates a culture receptive to change and criticism
Organizations who do not embrace change are destined to fall behind. There is only so far a business can go if it doesn’t evolve with the times.
At RTG Solutions Group, we often say that change is the only constant for businesses. And yet, many companies do not know how to effectively manage change. Some are so fearful of change that they discourage criticism and good ideas. As a result, employees feel that their feedback will be received negatively, even when it could improve performance.
Here’s the magic of continuous improvement culture. It takes something that is traditionally viewed as a liability (ie. change) and incorporates it into the business model as an asset. So instead of shielding themselves from criticism, continuously improving organizations welcome critique.
When you adopt continuous improvement culture, you encourage healthy criticism. You create an atmosphere of continuous learning and facilitate the exchange of ideas.
This means employees will feel empowered to share observations and innovations with supervisors. Needless to say, a company that cultivates ideas is better at solving problems than a business that stifles them.
At RTG Solutions Group, we do things differently. We want to teach you how to solve your own problems. We want to give your workforce the same skills that make us so good at solving problems. We are not interested in shallow, quick-fixes that will give way to bigger problems down the line. We want to revolutionize the way your team thinks and works.
When we’ve done our job, your team will be better equipped to prevent, detect, diagnose, solve, and learn from problems. And that’s what a continuous improvement culture can do for your business’s problem-solving capacity.
Contact us today to start a conversation of helping your business solve problems and instill a culture of continuous improvement.