Continual Improvement is the foundation of growth and success in any endeavour – especially in business. It’s an evolutionary mindset which acknowledges the way things are done and their outcomes can always be improved, to get a progressively better result.
By upgrading methods towards appropriate goals, growth can proceed in a predictable direction. Continual Improvement is a process, and one which can be learnt and applied at any stage.
In this article, I’m going to discuss continual improvement and look at ways it can be introduced to get results.
My Business Doesn’t Need to Change
This quote is engraved on a number of tombstones in the deceased business graveyard. As a business you need to be progressively excellent. It’s like a race. Your competitors (both established and new) are seeking every advantage through their own innovations. They will use the best available methods and resources to establish the strongest possible position.
My Business Doesn’t Need to Change
They’re looking for advantages. If you’re set in your ways and resist change, the strength of your position is eroded as time passes, the landscape changes, and your competitors outpace you.
Removing ‘Luck’ From Innovation
Despite the benefits of improvement, it’s not always deliberately sought out. Innovation is often ‘stumbled upon’ by someone thinking, “What if..?”
What if improvement wasn’t the result of an occasional bright idea, but a systematic, guided component of business culture?
It’s a profound distinction. By deliberately seeking Continual Improvement into your workflow, a new attitude develops and the rate of successfully discovering and applying better methods is increased.
One Million Reasons Why It Won’t Work
For some reason, much progress is prevented by one million reasons why it won’t work. Sometimes these will come from other people, organisational culture, and sometimes, from yourself.
Here are examples that I’ve heard over time:
It won’t work because:
My product isn’t ready for sale!
I don’t have a website!
It will upset the customers!
The competition is too strong!
We’ve tried that and it doesn’t work!
The staff aren’t trained!
It will never work!
It will never work!
It will never work!
These are the kind of questions and issues that confront everyone trying to do something new. It’s like a built in human shield to stop us from doing anything!
Am I saying that everything will work? No! But remember, at the end of the day, the things that do work are those that are undertaken by individuals or organisations who don’t focus on the million reasons not to try.
Continual Improvement Revolution
The revolutionary potential of continual improvement is that it provides a roadmap to achieve objectives and cut through the million reasons something won’t work.
It helps to stop wearing failure personally, and view it as a stepping stone.
It helps us to focus on viable and realistic steps in the right direction and avoid the traps and pitfalls awaiting an unguided approach, such as sporadic implementation, lack of focus, lack of clarity, inappropriate choices and wasted resources – all products of ambitions without goals.
Having the best soccer team in the world doesn’t mean you’ll win any games, if nobody can see where the goals are. Before you start kicking goals, you need to know what you’re aiming for.
Goals create a target to aim for.
I’ve struggled with setting goals before – they sounds boring! Then I realised that setting the goals wasn’t the problem – it was setting the right goals. I found it helps to keep these goal-sets in mind:
- Personal Goals
- Long-Term Business Goals
- Short-term Business Goals
These are what you want, yourself. Places you want to go, things you want to change, people you want to be with. These can be achieved as a result of your business endeavours. These are things like “I wish I was…” or “I wish I could..”.
Potential Pitfall: Confusing personal goals with business goals.
Long-Term Business Goals
As the name suggests, these are long-term goals specifically for your business. They are ‘bigger-picture’ goals – ones you can’t immediately achieve. In the context of a startup, this might be the goal of having 100 customers.
Potential Pitfall: Being overwhelmed by long-term goals
Short-Term Business Goals
These are the vehicle – the achievable steps which you can actually work towards. If your long-term goal is to get 100 customers, then your short-term goal should be to get 1 customer.
Potential Pitfall: Not understanding relationship to long-term goals
Achieving Goals with Methods
Goals are achieved by Methods – meaning the way, or approach, or solution, you take to achieve the goal. For example, if your goal is to get a single customer, then there are different methods to achieve that.
- Contact 5 local businesses, ask to speak to the manager, and discuss your product.
- Advertise a special on social media
- Join a local group in the same field of enterprise
There are good methods, bad methods, and middle-of-the-road methods. Sometimes the value of a method isn’t known until after it’s attempted. In undertaking your methods, you will find some succeed and others fail.
It’s super-important to remember that method failure is not personal failure. Continual improvement helps to create us to separate these different takes on failure. Wearing failure personally is a quick ticket to the movies to watch “One Million Reasons Why Something Won’t Work”.
Introducing Continual Improvement
Whether your method succeeded or not, the idea of continual improvement is now to change the goal, or the method, to get a better result.
For example, the previous methods could be updated to:
- Contact 5 local businesses, ask to speak to the manager, and discuss your product > create a product sample to take to the managers
- Advertise a special on social media > change the scope / special
- Join a local group in the same field of enterprise > join another one!
Alternatively, the goal could be updated:
Instead of trying to get a customer, perhaps the goal becomes to create the credibility to get a customer. Or tailor the product or service better, based on the information you now have.
Whether you update the methods or the short-term business goal, the important thing is that you’re still aiming for your long-term business goal. After all, if you control the goal and the method, as well as orient them towards your big-picture goals, then you will begin to progress.
Continual Improvement is a loop of implementation, evaluation and updating. It’s an evidence-based, systematic strategy to grow, improve, survive, and prosper. Here is an example of this in action:
- Set a Goal (to get a single customer)
- Set a Method/s – how will you attempt to achieve your goal?
- Implement method/s and keep track of key metrics
- After achieving goal, review how you succeeded
- Set a new Goal (to get 5 new customers)
- Set Method/s based on success of first goal
Depending on the nature of your long-term goals, it’s necessary to check in occasionally, review and update them as well. They’re effectively guiding all of your endeavours, so they need to be relevant and appropriate.
What’s Special About This
What’s special about this approach is that now your efforts are now:
- Going in a direction
- Being evaluated
- Being modified as required
- Responding to the changing environment
You are creating focus and avoiding decision-making inappropriate for your operating level. You’re being honest and avoiding time-wasting pursuits towards no particular objective. In short, you’re geared up to evolve, and as your business grows, will also begin to capitalise on the momentum of your achievements.
In summary, Continual Improvement is the systematic advancement of your efforts towards the direction of goals you’ve set. It means you can be more focused, productive, and effective. The key points are:
- Separate Your Goals
- Break Your Goals Down
- Create Actionable Short-Term Goals
- Monitor & Measure