How to Embed Process Improvement into Your Corp. DNA
By: Scott Jessup
There are a number of proven techniques for process improvement, including Lean, Total Quality Management (TQM), and Six Sigma; however, for any company to effectively and consistently drive process improvement, it must be embraced at every level within the organization. So what are the key initiatives that can help embed process improvement into your corporate DNA?
Utilize top-down communications. Business process improvement cannot be dictated from the C-suite. For effective process improvement to take hold in any organization, business managers from the CEO on down must champion and communicate the need for and benefits of process improvement. It is crucial for management to lead the process improvement initiative and not simply assign it to someone further down the chain of command. Top management is uniquely positioned to communicate the strategic importance of process improvement and establish the mission and goals:
- These are our core values as an organization
- This is who we need to be to compete and be successful
- These are the processes central to our success
- These are the benefits of process improvement
- This is how we can accomplish it
This may require creating or improving a communication infrastructure to facilitate enterprise-wide efforts to reach every employee, including email, newsletters, face-to-face meetings, visual aids and company events, to name a few.
Involve all stakeholders. While communication must be from the top down, process improvement implementation must be from the bottom up. In many organizations this can be hard. Employees need to be empowered to suggest process improvements; for some managers used to telling people what to do, it may be uncomfortable to have employees telling them what needs to be done. If management is truly committed to embedding process improvement into the corporate culture and DNA, they must be prepared to make hard decisions to support it.
Ask employees to set benchmarks and recommend targets for the next quarter or next year. Challenge them to pay attention to what works well and ask how things can be better. Soliciting input on how to improve things from all levels within your organization makes workers feel valued, encourages further input, and reinforces the goal of continuous improvement. Proactive process improvement from the bottom up also provides employees with a mechanism for self-improvement, which advances not only their careers but the entire organization as well.
Empowering employees to be champions of process improvement can be a significant change in corporate culture but it is vital for everyone connected to a process to help improve it. Everyone must be committed to working toward a common goal of continuous improvement, understanding that it benefits the company and them.
Create incentives for process improvement. While promoting the greater common good is important for implementing process improvement, it also helps to create personal motivation for employees. By offering rewards for process improvements, such as bonuses or prizes, management can encourage workers to make recommendations. Even something as simple as public acknowledgement of a successful suggestion can be a major motivator. At the same time, it’s important to remove disincentives. Most people fear failure, but failure leads to innovation and is an important part of process improvement. It’s important to make failures opportunities to learn. One of the core tenets of entrepreneurship is “fail early and fail often” because failure eliminates ineffective and faulty courses of action and helps focus efforts on the most promising initiatives.