Starting an improvement journey

Most people in business agree that success can be driven by accelerating business improvement. However, there are so many people out there starting a journey with 5S, and 6 months in to the journey they are thinking “This is pointless; it’s never going to work here!” The problem is like any other long-term project – If you want it to work and give sustainable results, well… You must put in a lot of hard work before you start.

You imagine trying to grow a crop in a field that hadn’t been ploughed. Or harvest a crop that you hadn’t watered. It would fail miserably! In fact, it would be ridiculous, and everyone would agree that it was ridiculous.

If you want a great harvest, you have to plough the field, plant the seeds, water the crop, protect the crop from parasites, and finally, with a lot of hard work, you will have a crop that can be harvested and is valuable.

Okay, so back to improvement. Have you got a fallow field? Have you done enough groundwork to sow the seeds? You can’t just throw some lean tools at your unsuspecting employees and expect miracles.

Think about the dynamics of the leadership team, the operations teams, and the office staff. Do they know what improvement is about? Have you taken the time to give them an overview? Have you shared a vision? Asked for opinions on what needs to be improved?

So let’s look at the fundamentals to get the journey underway

First you need a vision. It needs to encompass what your organisation is all about, and it needs to define the scene in which the act of improvement will take place.

Ours is simply “accelerate business excellence” and that sums us up. It is three simple words that have meaning, but it is abstract enough that we can’t measure it. Why does that matter? It matters because we don’t really want our vision to be an objective. Its more something that will always be relevant no matter how hard we try to achieve it.

Our vision is also very easy to communicate, and is very easy for our customers to interpret – it means something to people – It means something to us.

You should avoid things that might measure you against others such as, “to be the best in the industry” – what about if everyone else in the industry is really bad? Is it acceptable to be just a bit better than bad? Remember, everyone who reads it will interpret this vision in their own context, and so it must project a positive, unambiguous image. Avoid things that might be related to negative images.

Why do you do what you do?

Now, you need to get people to understand why you do things. It is standard in business that when people ask us about our businesses we tell them what we do, but we seldom tell them why. Generally, it’s because we don’t even know ourselves. At Midaero we dream that all small businesses can be awesome! That’s why we do what we do. Our customer base is generally small businesses and so this resonates with them. Give yourself a moment now, and think about why you do what you do. If the answer is for the money, ask how your customer would feel about this. They want a cost down, and youonly service them for the money! It isn’t much of a basis for a relationship, is it?

Next, think about the culture of your workplace. Do people like working for you, or do they watch the clock until Friday afternoon? Consider how you can make it more fun, or more interesting. Job rotation, new training programs, and that type of thing are a great way of re-engaging with the workforce. Tell them how much you love working there. If you don’t love being there, then you really need to make these changes more urgently.

Communicate your intentions

Share your strategy with everyone, and make sure leaders understand their accountability. Set high expectations of your leaders & managers. Communicate the objectives that you are trying to achieve, and how their performance can help, and influence this. What’s in it for them if the business succeeds? Think about succession planning, and how you can manage talent. Also, if people aren’t a good fit for the organisation, think about the conversations that you can have with them to either realign their performance, or help them move on to new pastures.

Understand your processes

Gather information about your processes, and the performance of these processes. Ask the operators what annoys them about what they do, and train them in improvement tools and philosophies. Gather data from Key Performance Indicators, especially around Safety, Quality, Efficiency, and Delivery. This data will form the basis of your improvements. If you start improving things that the operators don’t like they will be more than willing to help, and then you can refocus them on things that to improve dictated by the metrics. This is how to make improvement give a return.

Solve your own problems

You will now be solving your own problems by focusing engaged employees. Not blindly following Toyota’s journey. It is a pet hate of mine that companies follow what Toyota did. You need to understand that Toyota were solving Toyota’s problems, moreover, their system evolved over decades to solve such problems. My advice would be learn their tools (Because they are truly brilliant!) and apply them to your own problems where they are needed most. Perhaps 5s just isn’t a thing you need right now. Your focus may start with the most annoying quality defects. Your key weapon in the fight against waste is that now you have fully engaged workers, accountable for their actions, and who understand what you are trying to achieve, now how cool is that?

If you need help, get in touch and we can talk through the options you have.

Links to learn more about Continuous Improvement

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