7 Key Ways To Make Business Improvement Work

Here at Exelin we work with clients on a daily basis, advising how to introduce continuous improvement to their businesses and our experience has given us plenty of insight into the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. 

Exelin’s Senior Consultant, Martin Frary has detailed below his 7 Key Ways To Make Business Improvement Work...

1.  Senior Team Support and Guidance 

The senior team must be 100% committed. The individuals responsible for these business improvement projects may have never been involved in changing a business process before and so building their confidence is key.  Your role as a leader is to help build their confidence.  Take the time to visit them daily and ask how they’re getting on – what is working and what is not working – and make them feel like they’re not alone.  However, on the flip side, be sure not to dictate and takeover.  We have seen many business leaders try to take charge on business improvement projects because they have the experience of knowing “what good looks like”, however, you need to let the individuals take ownership and go through the process themselves – allowing them to learn and develop at their own pace.  Use your experience to guide them, but don’t dictate.

As a leader, you also need to ensure you’re fully aware of the project they’re working on and understand the principles – take interest and provide support.

2.  Engagement 

It takes time to get people engaged, but once you have them engaged, it leads to success!  The employees are the ones ‘doing the job’ on a daily basis, so don’t make the mistake of not asking their opinion and feedback. 

It may sound really obvious, but say for example you want to introduce a new process into a customer service department; you can’t do that without engaging the individuals that work within that department.  They need to understand what is being done and why.  Change can be challenging for people, so you must demonstrate what the outputs will be and how it will benefit the business.

In our experience, we have seen improvement projects work best when they’re embedded by the employees within the business, rather than those that are dictated to by the management team. 

3.  Establish Champions and Support Teams 

Select individuals within the business who are well respected amongst the team and have enthusiasm, who can act as champions – let them drive the project.  Having a cross-functional team is always better to ensure processes are being carried out throughout the business and different departments are not working in silos – initially, this may seem more time consuming, but will provide effective and productive processes for the business in the long run.

Remember to celebrate the successes, no matter how small and try to avoid criticizing the failures – understand why things are failing and support the team with how to do things differently going forward.

4.  Actions Speak Louder Than Tools!

Don’t get too hung up on theory and training.  Whilst it is vital to have a certain level of understanding, the key thing is to get stuck in and get the wheels turning on a project.  A huge amount is learnt along the way.   

Remember, people will make mistakes.  In order to encourage change and keep people engaged, you mustn’t penalise people for getting things wrong – this can knock people’s confidence and slow things down.  It is called continuous improvement for a reason.

Do something – learn from it – repeat – improve – correct.  Many small changes add up to the biggest difference.

5.  Simplify The Language

Avoid using complex and stereotypical tool titles – i.e. Lean, Six Sigma.  They can be quite intimidating. 

We often find that it is more effective and engagement is higher when projects are simply called what they are.  For example, instead of Lean, call it Process Improvement.  Instead of 5S, it can be Organising the Workplace and TPM could be Maintenance Programme.

6.  It Takes Time

Keep in mind, you will not see miraculous improvement overnight – don’t get frustrated with the team.  Small, consistent and regular changes are much more achievable than one-off major hits!  We find it can often take 20 smaller changes that lead up to a more significant change. A smaller change could be changing a process step or improved communication between one department to another. 

Bigger changes can carry more risk and often take a lot longer to implement, resulting in a lack of momentum. The smaller changes are much more effective and easier to put into practice.

Be prepared, people have different reactions to change – no change is insignificant.  A relatively insignificant change to you could be a major change in the eyes of another and so could be met with a negative response, to begin with.  Remain patient and understanding and remember point 2 above – take the time to get engagement from people.

7.  Kotter's Model Works Well 

If you would like to find out more about how to make business improvement work for your business, please get in touch at info@exelin.co.uk.  

Alternatively, our sister company SWMAS are hosting some workshops across the South West delving into this topic further.  To book your place, visit https://www.swmas.co.uk/events