Establishing and Embracing a Continuous Improvement Culture

From company buy-in to implementation, integrating a new process or methodology in your organization can feel daunting. However, in the case of continuous improvement, its success relies on a shift in mindset rather than adding new steps to your team’s already busy schedules. Continuous improvement should focus on increasing efficiency and seamlessly flowing into your organization’s existing processes, not doubling the overall workload. 

The key to success? Only implement change where it’s needed.

One approach we recommend is lean continuous improvement (LCI), or a form of continuous improvement that focuses on reducing waste and optimizing your current business processes and operations. 

A successful continuous improvement culture demands complete involvement and immersion from everyone in the organization. Your team should thoroughly understand the business goals and the general trajectory of the change. Instead of treating employees like passive workers, include them in the process and allow them to question the status quo and even pitch their own ideas.

LCI programs, while they start with the higher-ups, shouldn’t stop there. The transition needs to work its way from the bottom-up.

What Challenges Company-Wide Continuous Improvement? 

Over time, inefficiencies in how your establishment operates will pop up. It’s important to identify and tackle the challenges of implementing a continuous improvement bottom-up culture early.

Lack of Communication Between Departments

All organizations should strive for continuous improvement. However, simply presenting it as a rosy concept with a stylish vision presentation isn’t enough.

The first step towards aligning efforts across the organization is conducting meaningful conversations about the importance and benefits of continuous improvement with every department. These conversations should highlight knowledge gaps between departments and opportunities for improvement that your organization can use to build its overarching strategy.

Once your organization sets its vision and strategy for improvement, the plan needs to align with the company’s resource availability, requirement and needs, and its innate ability to change and grow.

interdepartmental communication

Management Not Taking Ownership of Idea Management

Ideas can come during a light-bulb moment or after rigorous work and research, but in both scenarios, they’re fleeting. If you don’t capture an idea immediately after its conception, it can disappear or become heavily distorted.

While most brilliant ideas require prior knowledge of the topic, even beginner employees at the bottom of the management hierarchy can develop innovative solutions to problems. It’s important to ensure higher-up management is willing to embrace and take a bottom-up innovation approach seriously.

Poorly Initiated Challenges

At Idea Pipeline, we encourage our partners to reach their improvement milestones through “challenges.” Challenges tend to create a unified drive to solve specific issues, inefficiencies, or important questions. In most scenarios, they’re the engine of operational change and evolution.

Change Resistance

No cliché is more universally associated with organizations than, “The only constant is change.”

Change resistance is an attitude that indicates the unwillingness to make or support the desired change. Organizations of all sizes need to focus on overcoming change resistance, as it’s one of the strongest barriers to success.‌

A more constructive approach is to view departments and individual employee's resistance as valuable feedback. Exploring the nature of their resistance can reveal other weaknesses and barriers, such as the lack of skills or an unclear growth plan, that make employees at all levels anxious. Addressing their worries and concerns is the first step towards overcoming their resistance.

Fitting Continuous Improvement Into Your Workflows

Continuous improvement shouldn’t exist as a separate strategy from the rest of the organization’s processes. You need to seamlessly integrate it into already-existing workflows — either as minor changes or as its own department. But first, ask yourself, does continuous improvement at your desired scale require a dedicated department or team? Are there any specific roles current employees can fill in or do you need entirely new talent for idea management?‌

If you find that continuous improvement adds to the current workload, the implementation doesn’t fit your organization’s needs. The steps and strategies need to integrate into the work already in process, not add to it. By dividing the burden of idea management and generation across the entirety of the organization, employees can take advantage of workplace relationships to better navigate the complex environment at the intersection of multiple departments.

Bottom-up innovation

What is Bottom-Up Innovation?

Bottom-up innovation is the concept where ideas “bubble up” from anywhere within an organization instead of a dedicated team or department. Every employee can lead the idea through innovation by utilizing company relationships and relying on their unique knowledge and experience in the organization. Additionally, individual employees are more likely to influence and encourage their colleagues towards changes than higher-ups.

When all employees take part in idea generation, they act as innovative individuals and idea critics. They can challenge each other’s — and their higher-ups’ — ideas to help fill in gaps and improve on them without fearing for their current position in the organization. 

Bottom-up innovation also acts as a “bad idea” filter. As hypotheses get tested early on by multiple people with different perspectives, unsuccessful ideas are unlikely to make it far. 

Why is Strategic Idea Management the Key to Organized Company-Wide Continuous Improvement? 

Continuous improvement and innovation come hand in hand. However, in the context of an entire organization, where employees suggest ideas and solutions to small- and large-scale problems around the clock, there needs to be an efficient way to manage those ideas, develop them, and put them to good use.

In some organizations’ architecture, it may make sense to dedicate a team or department to managing ideas. But even then, the hierarchy of the company needs to own a portion of the idea management. 

Bottom-up management has countless benefits, such as:

1. Encouraging Collaboration

When there isn’t one “boss” in a department, the weight of idea management spreads out across multiple employees. Not only does this give employees a sense of responsibility, but it also encourages them to abandon implementing ideas without involving their colleagues.

2. Boosting Morale 

High morale is essential for projects that aren’t guaranteed to succeed or go smoothly. It’s much easier for employees to boost each other’s morale in a group instead of isolated individuals.

3. Generating Insight

How things run at the bottom of the organization is different from how it runs in the middle and top. By implementing a bottom-up management system, you can garner insights from multiple parts of the organization that would’ve otherwise gone unnoticed until it’s too late. 

4. Empowering Your Team 

Empowering your team makes them more likely to become proactive with the project rather than simply follow orders in something they have little investment in. Empowering your team encourages them to step forward with the ideas and solutions and even take more calculated risks.

empowering your team

5. Identifying Hidden Talents in Employees

Talent and special skills go beyond what’s written on an employee’s resume. By allowing them to participate in various innovative areas to improve the organization, employees may start discovering hidden talents that they didn’t know about.

6. Streamlining Your Processes 

Without a continuous stream of work that flows from top to bottom, it’s easy for projects and plans to feel choppy as they jump from department to department. However, when people at varying levels of the organization’s hierarchy get involved, it’s much easier to streamline the idea management process and minimize errors.

Still, the main benefit of bottom-up management is its ability to facilitate and drive innovation. Listening to your employees is essential if your business has to be flexible, adaptive, and innovative to succeed. Not only are they your greatest innovation and information resources, but their varying skills, talents, levels of experience, and satisfaction with the results can directly impact your organization’s overall success.

Final Thoughts

Like any other company-wide shift, successfully implementing continuous improvement relies on the buy-in and support of your employees. We recommend investing in an idea management tool as a tactical first step to introduce the principles of bottom-up management to your business.

If you’re ready to put the power of innovation into the hands of your employees and realize the ROI of a continuous improvement culture, start your free trial of Idea Pipeline today.

Published by Idea Pipeline September 16, 2021