Generate Demand for Continuous Improvement -

Why is it that we’re always searching for the next Lean Tool that’s going to transform the organization? With each passing fad or Continuous Improvement flavor of the month, we’re actually making the real problem bigger and more difficult to solve. What’s the real problem, you ask? It’s actually not a lack of technical capability – it’s much more primal than that. It’s a lack of motivation. It’s been said that a mouse with it’s back against the wall with stop fleeing and turn and fight like a lion. Is more kaizen events going to make your operators want to fight like lions? I don’t think so. In fact, they may just get more annoyed if you’re failing to address what’s in it for them. Is installing CIL’s going to make your managers dedicate themselves to a lifestyle of CI? I’m going to go with “no” on that one. Fortunately, you don’t exactly need a burning platform, although it can be quite motivating, to drive more commitment to CI. And don’t make the mistake of assuming that everyone is motivated by the same things as yourself. There are other really great methods for generation demand for Continuous Improvement.

Let’s review my top 5, shall we:

1) Create the Business Case

There is always a subset of people who are ready to kickstart their CI journey just because its the right thing to do for the business and / or customer. These people have a natural CI mindset but may need to see some facts, figures, and case studies to help wake up the practitioner inside them. Once they’ve been exposed to the incredible benefits and quality of life that it brings for all stakeholders, they’re ready to commit to see where the journey takes them.

Take them to a site that has an outstanding CI culture and let them see the difference for themselves. Even better if they can see a variety of different businesses in varying industries so they can see how some CI concepts are universal.

2) Pay People More Money

Let’s face it, a huge motivator for showing up at work everyday is to make money. Some people will go an extra mile or two – for an extra buck or two. They have more of a transactional mindset but you can leverage this to help them see how CI brings other great benefits to their lives such as less stress at work, more satisfied customers and bosses, and more control over their work lives.

Some companies are tying CI activity and capability into what are called “skill blocks”. These are sets of skills that people have to learn and demonstrate proficiency in order to be qualified at higher levels. As people progress through skill blocks, they also receive a pay increases. There are few who will turn down a higher pay in exchange for learning new skills. Its a win-win because it’s only right that your people share in the spoils that CI brings.

3) Give People More of Their Time Back

Time is the most precious thing we have in life. For some, a little more time to themselves is immensely motivating. Becoming more Lean inherently means it takes less hours in the day to achieve production targets. Therefore, CI literally adds more hours to the day. Why not give some of it back to your people in the form of an extra vacation day here and there, early dismissal, or more personal time at work? Even better if you can do this without cutting pay. Try this approach and watch how innovative people can become about driving improvements.

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4) Give People Status

This is the golden ticket for your key influencers or gatekeepers in the organization. They thrive on status above just about everything else. They like being the go-to person that others model their opinions and thought patterns after. There are a number of ways to give people status within an organization. Here are a few: engagement in leadership-level improvement planning, exclusive gear, special parking, access to spaces and events that others don’t have, informal team or kaizen leadership authority, and perhaps even a promotion. Some people will be thrilled to take hold of CI to strengthen their influence in the organization.

5) Recognize People for Improvement / Results

Last but not least, almost everyone likes to know their hard work and extra efforts are being appreciated by others. A timely and appropriate response to a job well done keeps people eager and ready to take on tomorrow’s improvement challenge. Likewise, an inadequate response can be quite demotivating, especially when these cues are missed repeatedly. A simple pat on the back, high 5, or mention in a newsletter can spark a career-long thirst for learning and improvement in someone. This one requires a higher level of leadership or team engagement but having the right technology can trigger leaders to recognize everyday wins on all levels in the organization.

It takes both skill and will to drive a culture of Continuous Improvement. The skill is the easy part. In fact, given the motivation to improve, people have an innate ability to find a way. The challenge for leaders is figuring out how to generate demand for Continuous Improvement. Different things drive different people; but all of us are driving by something. Notice that this article doesn’t cover methods of inciting fear in people. Although fear is a motivator, it’s side effects are detrimental to a sustaining culture of Continuous Improvement. Better to use CI as a means of elevating people to a better station in life.