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Promoting the Culture of Continuous Improvement

At our monthly LPAS session last week a group of lean practitioners from a number of diverse industries gathered to learn and discuss the promotion a continuous improvement culture. Feature presenter, Rodelle Genoway, Principle of Untapped Potential Business Consulting, shared her extensive knowledge on the subject from her background in Human Resources and Continuous Improvement.

We all acknowledged that culture is an extremely important factor in any continuous improvement journey, but can be one of the most difficult things to influence. Culture is intangible, culture is unwritten rules, culture is the personality of a workplace. As Peter Drucker says, "Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast"

Based on years of experience, within a variety of industries, Rodelle offered her Top Ten Tips to Help Build a Culture of Continuous Improvement:

1. Leadership on Board - Leadership needs to set the vision for what kind of culture the organization wants and understand the impact of their own actions, decisions and behaviors. Culture is created no matter what - do you want to leave it to chance?

2. Values Need to Include Continuous Improvement - Not only does the organization need to include continuous improvement (in whatever language) as a core value, but leadership needs to lead by example, walking the talk! If employees at every level of the organization cannot articulate these values and what they mean within their own roles there is still work that needs to be done. Get those core values off the plaque on the wall and into each and every employees daily work. ​3. Build Trust - Trust is essential for employees to thrive in a culture of improvement. Trust creates an environment where people are enabled to bring up ideas, challenge the status quo and embrace failures so that they can learn from them. 4. Generate Respect - Treat people like humans, get to know them and build relationships. Don't avoid the tough conversations that need to happen. Remember that respect is earned. 5. Build into Recruitment - This is your first opportunity to see if a potential employee's values are aligned with the organization's core values. Throughout the assessment stages talk about continuous improvement, ask candidates questions about improvement and set clear expectations. 6. Build into On-Boarding - Culture starts on day one. On-boarding is another opportunity to build the desired culture by communicating the "WHY" and focusing on setting clear expectations. 7. Give Standard Training - Continuous improvement goes hand in hand with continuous learning. Promote professional development to build your culture. Be intentional with training. If you are using specific continuous improvement tools or methodologies make sure all employees receive the same training and are speaking the same "language." 8. Instill Accountability - Use timely performance management to understand what is working well, where the challenges exist, and what learning is required. I repeat, use timely performance management. A conversation about a challenge 9 months after it is experienced is not valuable to anyone! 9. Celebrate Wins - Reflect on how far you have come and all that you have learned. Be cautious with the use of external reinforcements to motivate and recognize achievements. You want to build a lasting culture of improvement, and these reinforcements may not always be available. Be careful about your "my" vs "our" language. 10. Share the Purpose - Articulate the "WHY." In Simon Sinek's popular TED Talk he shared "People don't buy what you do; people buy why you do it." Employees within your organization are the same. They are not motivated by what you do as an organization but WHY you do it. Help them understand the big picture and how they can make a difference. The conversation then turned to the experience that the practitioners in the room had experienced themselves. One challenge raised was how to truly get leadership on board. One practitioner suggested setting up opportunities for leaders to observe and learn from other organizations that have been successful. An important part of this is to put leaders in touch with other leaders that are at a similar level. This is crucial in helping them understand how it has influenced their day to day routines and the impact they feel it has made on the success of the organization. An additional tactic was to focus your efforts in one small area and make it so good it is hard to ignore. Eventually others will start to notice that things are changing for the better. Employees may show additional interest in what is happening and how they might start to drive positive change in their own areas. A second area of interest for the attendees was how to build continuous improvement into recruiting. Everyone strongly agreed that training employees in a technical skill or competency was easy, but changing an individual's attitude was nearly impossible. Many wanted to know what this would look like in a real life interview. Some of the ideas discussed included asking potential employees about a situation or project that didn't go as planned and how they dealt with the challenge, asking about what future development opportunities they might be interested in, and talking about your organization's core values and gauging their interest. If a candidate has no desire to learn about anything new and smirks when you talk about continuous improvement within your organization it might be a sign that this person is not a great fit! You may think that none of the above sounds like rocket science, but I believe Rodelle shared some real gems that we can all learn from! These tips for intentionally building your culture are a great reminder for lean practitioners and leaders alike. Your organization and the success of it is 100% dependent on the people on your team. Focus on them and you will not be disappointed with the results.

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