Innovation and continuous improvement are closely linked, though different. I tend to view them as two sides of the same coin. Encouraging both ensures your team or your company, is in a better competitive position.
So what are some of the main differences?
Innovation can be thought of as:
- Achieving improvement through a completely different “mouse trap”
- Seeing a need and finding a solution
- Challenging the status quo with a process/idea that has never been done
Continuous Improvement can be viewed as:
- Improving the current “mouse trap” to perform better
- Looking at current solution sets and fine tuning them
- Questioning the status quo with recommendations to improve current processes
Finally, the key to beating the competition is constantly performing better – quality, speed, costs, etc. No matter what you call it, encourage your teams to find a better way.
Continuous improvement comes in many shapes and sizes. It can be process improvements, product improvements, innovation or a culture shift. If it is a better way, then it is improvement. If it is built into a mindset of finding better way, then it is continuous improvement.
Training is one area that improvement comes from and is often overlooked. I’m not saying everything can be saved by training because sometimes it’s the system that needs to be changed and no amount of training will overcome a bad system. However, when training is the solution set, continuous training supports continuous improvements. Too often the business case of training is overlooked and undersold.
Often we think of training for people that are new to a job, a one and done mentality. However, continuous improvement requires continuous learning. How do people that have always done a job one way learn how to do their old job a new way? Training. But that means three things have to occur:
1. Training needs to begin by completing a real front-end analysis. Stop short cutting this step. You wouldn’t build a new production line without a study nor would you run a new set of ads without an audience analysis. So why would you build training without a front-end analysis? Discover your real business pain that needs to be addressed
2. Design a real answer (solution-set) that addresses real business pain (Six sigma calls this “finding the burning platform”). If training isn’t the answer, then fix the system. Forget creating “check-a-box” training because it doesn’t work. Use real business metrics to drive and sustain continuous improvement
3. Follow-through with interesting “must have” training. We’ve all sat through some pretty boring content and checked the compliance box. Be better than that. Build something that challenges the team. Change a life. Build your business with the long game in mind.
When you find yourself sitting on the team that’s tasked to “improve the business” and training becomes a topic of discussion, be sure to include:
- Funding for a front-end analysis to identify the knowledge and skills needed (determine the business pain)
- Funding for training to occur (build it right)
- Time in the schedule that provides a designated timeline to learn what is new (ramp up)
- Training validation. Answer the question, did training improve the business case? (If you design for evaluation in the front-end analysis you can measure your metrics here)
- Continuous learning. Training (Learning) is not an event but an ongoing process (change your culture)
- Just Enough, Just in Time (JEJIT) includes job aids, checklists, performance support systems (support your team)
In today’s business, continuous improvement means learning new things continuously. If we are not learning, we are not improving. They feed off each other.
When an organization undertakes a “redo”, finding your spot in the new organization is similar to starting a new job. You learn what your tasks are to create the outputs you are accountable for. You soon find the circle (some would argue “circus”) that defines your day, your goals and your contribution to the organization.
Eventually, you learn how your circle affects other circles and those circles touch other circles, and so on. You also learn you’ll have to overlap with some people or teams to ensure everything that needs to be done gets done. For example, someone in your organization is formally responsible for continuous improvement but that doesn’t mean everyone else is absolved of responsibility for driving continuous improvement. Your circle overlaps with the continuous improvement person’s because everyone is responsible for continuous improvement.
If you only do your own “circle” and not take into account how it interacts and overlaps with your surrounding “circles” means:
- Some things will not get done. It is inevitable. Throwing “it” over the wall isn’t the same as overlapping. All it means is your desk is clean but your co-worker is cleaning up your mess. You’re better than that. “Know before you throw.”
- The organization becomes weaker. A chain is a series of interlinked circles. Unlinking them means your organization will have much weaker pulling power the next time you run into a “tree-stump of a problem”
- There will be a communication blackout. Like a brownout that runs through a city, some blocks will have lights while other neighborhoods will be plunged into darkness. Instead, why not maintain your circles and make sure there aren’t any gaps in them? Interaction promotes understanding. It ensures you know why your customer needs something, not just what they need.
Overlap is a catalyst to change. It creates an environment to share. It invites people to be curious and ask questions that could get you thinking about something you have never thought about. It promotes continuous improvement.
If you find yourself saying “that’s not my job”, ask yourself if you are leaving a gap. When establishing roles in a new organizational structure, it may not be your job, however if you see a hole it is your responsibility to the team to find a way to fill it.
I have one simple question for you…
What did you do to improve something this week?
…pick up the piece of paper on floor? Or did you walk over it?
…make a point of going the extra mile to help your team mate? Or did you look the other away and not get involved?
…eliminate waste in a process? Or did you spend all your time on wasteful busy work?
…find one process problem and ask the “5 whys” until you found a sustainable solution? Or did you just figure your teammate should work harder?
…execute flawlessly holding yourself to the highest standard? Or did you go “ho-hum” and let the next person clean up the mess?
…address your frustrations in a professional manner? Or did you let your frustrations control you?
…do just one thing that made your workplace better? Or did you just keep the status quo going?
Did you notice the emphasis in the above questions is on what “you” did, not what someone else did or didn’t do. Own what’s yours. Make your area better, the rest will follow on whether or not they even notice it or thank you for your actions.
A mentor once told me, “If it’s right to do right, then it’s smart to do right.”
Over the last month we have been exploring thoughts around problem solving – tools, mind-sets, and validation. Today I want to talk about having a sense of urgency.
Solving problems with a sense of urgency is key to a company’s competitive position. Faster is important when competition is nipping at your heels to take jobs and profits. When we truly internalize that our performance (on a daily/hourly level) is the “pad lock” to our longevity – urgency becomes the key to unlocking the “pad lock”.
The best companies have people that work with a sense of urgency. Putting off what can be done today for tomorrow, just doesn’t cut it. You cannot do everything in a single moment nor should you try. However, a sense of urgency means focusing on the right thing at the right time in the right cadence. Simple, right? Well, not exactly.
Urgency does not mean chaotic. Creating chaos wastes resources.
Urgency does not mean disruptive. Changing things without intentional thinking wastes resources.
Urgency does mean purposeful. Pick your direction and then move. I believe you are working with a “sense of urgency” if you:
- Know what is important and are driving for sustainable results – every day, every decision, every communication.
- Get it done now, if it has to be done now, You don’t procrastinate. You don’t accept others procrastinating.
- Constantly ask, “what’s next?” Continuous improvement is first and foremost in your motivation.
- Constantly are communicating, almost borderline over-communicating to those around you what the important milestones for success are and what is being done next to achieve them
- Want more than just “good enough”. Meaning, you decide to actively do something about it other than criticize others. Don’t walk around complaining about trash on the floor – pick it up yourself.
- Are “all in” – no marking time on the clock, no doing just enough to stay under your boss’s radar
- Realize your responsibility is to make your team members’ job(s) better by error proofing their tasks. You know that “value added work” is king.
- Are satisfied enough to try again tomorrow to make it just a little bit better.