How to Build a Sustainable Continuous Improvement Culture

For many enterprises, even in today’s market place, continuous improvement remains a great concept and belief but still isn’t applied effectively throughout the organization.


Continuous improvement remains a nice talking point for too many managers. They speak about it in management meetings, talk about it with staff but the core elements that ensure long-term success of a continuous improvement culture aren’t in place.

What is needed?

First, the process of implementing a truly effective continuous improvement process into any organization will never happen if the leadership teams are trapped in their comfort zone convinced the way they have always operated is still the best approach.

The wisdom of historical experience can offer insight but there must also be the recognition by management that market dynamics in today’s business environment are driving change faster than ever before.

And how the work force functions in today’s world is disrupting the traditional approach to business management dramatically.

Workers are overwhelmed with data and still lack answers about critical market changes, daily operating results, and competitive threats. With flatter organization structures, more and more workers are left to themselves to figure out their individual work day activities and solve business problems.

This type of independent work environment is more dynamic or ad hoc than ever before with little predictable routine. Depending on inflexible business processes no longer works as the foundation for an effective continuous improvement program.

Despite all the organizational changes driven by the current market place, there are some core elements that are an essential foundation to any continuous improvement process.

A critical foundational element is the technology solution selected for the organization.

For best results in sustaining a continuous improvement system, there needs to be a singular technology hub that serves as the engine for the entire organization.

Too often each department engages their own technology selections and software solutions that leads to data errors, differences in how core metrics are calculated and inconsistent measures of overall business performance.

Successful continuous improvement depends on all departments and each level of management adhering to a consistent process for technology selection, testing, and design. Common business metrics must be designed with formulas used throughout the organization.

This approach must be deployed regardless, whether the persons utilizing the systems are full time staff, part time, or independent contractors. This ensures that knowledge transfer, mentoring processes, learning & training, and ultimately accountability measures are consistent.

Next, prepare for a long-term journey, not a short-term fix.

To fully implement a continuous improvement culture, prepare for a journey. The culture must be transformed by taking consistent and measurable steps over time that reflects management’s endorsement and vision for a long-term solution. And that solution will effectively distribute processes and procedures with accountability down to the lowest level of management.

The ultimate outcome for any continuous improvement project is the realization of a sustainable change oriented culture where the entire enterprise is organized, trained and prepared to see and respond rapidly to all market activities that impact long term growth.

That executive who attempts to drive business results with the loudest voice or uses corporate rank to intimidate people to act is the weak link in a successful continuous improvement culture.

Voluminous data silos must be tapped with the right technology solution to deliver consistent metrics to every level of management.

If sales or gross profits decline, the root cause answer must to available in seconds, not days or next week to the manager who is responsible. And when that manager finds a root cause and makes a change, that change must be trackable with accountability held for any decision made. And most importantly, this process must be repeatable.

This approach is the essence of continuous improvement.

Bottom line… whatever technology solutions are selected to implement a continuous improvement culture, they must be flexible and be able to adapt to the needs of each manager while aligning with the overall goals of the organization. This approach ensures long-term success.

Karl Edmunds

About the Author

Vice President, Salient Management Company

is a nationally recognized business leader and author with more than 20 years of experience working with suppliers, distributors, and retailers in the CPG industry. His focus is aligning technical solutions with sales, marketing, and organizational needs to drive long-term profitable growth.

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