We can all thank the manufacturing industry for its incredible contributions to the world of Continuous Improvement. This discipline has become a pillar of performance management in virtually all industries including, but not limited to, healthcare, government, education, finance, non-profit, marketing, IT, business start-ups and research. As such, the demand for the capable Continuous Improvement Manager has also proliferated the economy. According to CNN Money, demand for work in this field is expected to grow by 12% through 2025. Just do a quick Linkedin people search for the words “Continuous Improvement” and you’ll get results for nearly 6 million people globally and growing.
Business leaders recognize the need for greater agility (especially considering the recent market disruption caused by the COVID pandemic), increased efficiency, greater operating margins, increased productivity, and shorter lead time to market for new products and innovation. That’s not to mention the need for more socially conscious and environmentally-friendly means of procurement and operations. As markets become more competitive, companies need to figure out how to accelerate all of these imperatives at a faster rate than the competition; thus, creating an immediate need for the Continuous Improvement Manager.
CI Managers also have the potential to make a great living as well. According to Payscale.com, the average salary for a Continuous Improvement Manager is $84k annually plus benefits but can range between $55k and $118k annual salary. Although other sources such as Salary.com show the average pay for this role north of $123k annually before benefits. All of this with just a bachelors degree, 3-5 years of experience on average, and perhaps a few Lean or Six Sigma Certifications makes this a highly attractive career choice.
The Role of the Modern Continuous Improvement Manager
The role of the Continuous Improvement Manager is evolving from one of a project manager to one of a business accelerator and coach. This demand of this role matures as the culture for Continuous Improvement matures within the organization. Leadership’s competency on the discipline of CI also shapes what is expected from the Continuous Improvement Manager. The four stages of maturity are as follows:
Stage 1: Nascent – The CI Manager as Project Manager
When a company first begins its CI journey, there is often a very low level of understanding and buy-in to the discipline’s value proposition. Leaders and others in the company often need to be convinced through quick wins that processes can be improved and that there are systematic ways to consistently produce positive results. In this environment, the role of the Continuous Improvement Manager is often that of a Project Manager, who surveys the staff to figure out the greatest pain points or areas of loss, then coordinates efforts to improve performance. In this case, the CI Manager is leading a disruptive effort to break down the status quo by making significant changes and demonstrating the tremendous impact that can be made. They may lead events such as Root Cause Analysis, Value Stream Mapping, 5S, Kaizen Blitz, OEE, and apply other popular tools from the CI toolbox. This effort often causes two reactions: one is excitement about what else can be accomplished; the other is fear from those who would prefer to not have things change. If the CI Manager is not careful, they could be overcome and ousted by those who naturally resist and have the authority to negatively affect the CI Manager’s standing with the company. As such, this approach to CI is not sustainable in the long-term.
Stage 2: Developing – The CI Manager as Advisor
At this stage, the expectation has been set that the company needs to improve and has the tools on hand to do the job. The role of the Continuous Improvement Manager then ascends to that of a Consultant or Advisor to the company. They may now leverage Visual Management Systems, software tools, or other means of intelligence or analysis in order to help identify the greatest opportunities for improvement. However, at this point, leadership still has not taken personal ownership of the success of the Continuous Improvement program; therefore the CI Manager may need to exert high levels of influence to initiate action. They may prepare presentations filled with data, interviews, and direct observations to expose opportunities and devise plans to make the case to address gaps. They may even go further to help decide who in the organization should lead the improvement projects, not to exclude themselves. At this stage, the organization has still not fully embraced the concept of strategy deployment / hoshin kanri, or has not matured enough to be accountable to delivering against any strategy that has been developed. Thus, this approach to CI is also not sustainable.
Stage 3: Thriving – The CI Manager as Trainer
At this stage, the organization is starting to embrace that Continuous Improvement is not a one-person act and that it is an integral part of everyone’s job. The responsibility for success has transitioned from the Continuous Improvement Manager into the natural chain of command, where it belongs. In this environment, the CI Manager’s role also transitions to one of trainer, educator, workshop facilitator, and perhaps one that certifies others in the appropriate tools and concepts. In this case, their position is to become a researcher / bench-marker of best practices throughout the industry and bring this knowledge and enlightenment back home. They will also monitor the application of tools against business results to highlight areas of focus and continued opportunities for improvement. This approach is sustainable but with limited impact on business results.
Stage 4: Leading – The CI Manager as Coach / Accelerator
In leading organizations, the Continuous Improvement Manager has ascended out of the “doer” or “owner” of CI activities. They have adopted the role of coaching others in the natural chain of command to do the work and own results for their areas of responsibility. The role of the coach is to transfer the thought process and continuously develop the habit of daily improvement throughout the enterprise, in the direction of the company’s long-term strategy. This is done by encouraging leaders to drive the expectation of constant improvement and ensuring that everyone is equipped with the information and tools such as Impruver to perpetually enhance their own performance. At this stage, the Continuous Improvement mindset begins to proliferate the company, which is needed for definitive and sustainable breakthroughs in people development and results to be achieved. The very idea of Continuous Improvement, which started as one-off home run hit projects, has now become the habit of daily improvement. This habit is expected to be practiced by every individual in the company instead of the infrequent efforts of one person or a small group. By now, the company has embraced the imperative that strategy must be executed on schedule and uses it to give direction to the CI efforts of everyone in the company. Therefore, improvement effort is no longer random, but targeted at building a company that is fit to dominate in the specific market in which it operates. The role of the Continuous Improvement Manager in this environment is that of an accelerator; working to develop leaders to sustain alignment to strategy and encourage greater speed to reaching the company’s desired future state.
Here’s the Catch
The moral of the story is that if the Continuous Improvement Manager is tied up fighting short-term battles, the company is losing the long-term war. Although this post is laid out to suggest that a company needs to progress from one stage of maturity to the next, this is not the case at all. An enlightened leader can (and should) jump straight to stage 4 by developing a culture of leaders as coaches and expecting all to own their personal Continuous Improvement journey. This should be done by developing and sustaining the habit of daily improvement, applying the principles of the scientific method. In fact, starting out at a nascent level can have adverse affects as people will later be challenged to “unlearn” that CI is just the Continuous Improvement Manager’s job, but should be embraced as their own. Several Continuous Improvement Software solutions reinforce the concept of “Project-based” programs, which can actually also be detrimental to the development of a thriving culture. Impruver is the only Continuous Improvement Software that helps establish a culture of leadership coaching and the habit of daily improvement throughout the enterprise, which is the ultimate way to build and sustain successful transformation. Impruver provides all the tools that a Continuous Improvement Manager needs to instill a winning Continuous Improvement culture.