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Creating a Culture of Change



By: Scott Jessup

To implement and sustain an effective, on-going continuous improvement program it’s vital to create a culture of change across the entire enterprise. With time, focus, and commitment, the concept that change is good becomes self-sustaining as success produces results and inspires greater engagement at every level within the organization. A culture of continuous improvement spreads throughout the enterprise, touching every process. 

In the early days of computer programming there was a saying, “garbage in, garbage out.” That time-proven adage applies just as much today to CI initiatives. Every organization gets out of a continuous improvement program what it puts into it. As company leaders setting the tone for every program, project, and organizational undertaking, the worst thing a management team can do is simply provide CI marching orders and then sit back and let others do the heavy lifting.

 In their popular book, Blue Ocean Strategy, authors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne identify four major hurdles that management must overcome when attempting a change in corporate culture:

  • Understanding why the change is needed
  • Allocating resources as needed to affect that change without harming the company
  • Providing proper motivation for change
  • Overcoming organizational politics

It’s important for management to realize that these hurdles will take a little work to overcome. It starts by ensuring that you have the right management team in place to ensure that they will help to move the process forward, not try to hold it back. They must embrace change before they can ask their subordinates to do the same. At the same time recognizing that everyone isn’t going to sign on immediately, with the same degree of enthusiasm. Some will embrace continuous improvement more readily than others, and some will downright refuse change and do everything in their power to try and have initiatives fail. As leaders, we must atleast be able to identify the different types of people we have around us. And since continuous improvement is all about making small changes to ultimately effect large ones, start by winning over the people who have disproportionate influence in the organization. Once they’re successfully onboard, a ripple effect will spread rapidly throughout the organization, converting other recalcitrants.

These three tips can help your company embrace a culture of change and jumpstart your CI program. 

Share more, with more people. It’s time to open the gates and let information out. Keep everyone informed of where the CI program is and where it’s heading. Stay in touch with all departments and business units through general emails, newsletters, and meetings. Keep everyone in touch and engaged. More information provides more understanding and more willingness to get onboard with change. 

Document everything. As change occurs, keep track of it to show employees the “before” and “after” -- here’s how we used to do things and the result; here’s how we’re doing things now, and the much better result. Recognize individuals who contribute to change and reward or at least praise them publicly. Documentation is proof positive that change is happening and change is good. 

Ask for feedback. Sometimes it’s easy to see the results of inefficient or failed processes but tough to identify their root causes. So ask the workers most intimately involved with those faulty processes to provide some input. In some cases, you can ask people not even remotely involved with the process for their input and get some out of the box thinking going. Encourage them to look closely at why things do or do not work. Let them know in no uncertain terms that you’re open to suggestions for improvement. Foster change where it’s most needed.

Feedback applies to larger issues as well when it comes to corporate culture change. To create sustainable, meaningful change, it's crucial for companies to increase feedback in general, evaluate performance, and take remedial action. It’s about analyzing and utilizing business and operational data to actively support continuous improvement. It's vital to learn from performance, including mistakes, and use the lessons learned to change incentives, resources, people, methods and processes as needed. It's also necessary to hold managers accountable for performance results. These actions will help shape new behaviors, process interactions, and ways of thinking to create and define a healthy culture of change.