Sustaining improvements is a fundamental aspect of Continuous Improvement and, as pointed out in our previous post, we must avoid the costly pitfall of allowing people to “backslide to the old way of doing things” after a project’s completion.
Sustainability, ultimately, is a function of consistency and management attention. For example, when the CEO or plant manager walks out on the shop floor, it is a fantastic opportunity to notice and reinforce the gains, and to ask about what other possibilities people see. This practice in itself is a good first step for avoiding a backslide.
Two additional concepts that can also help avoid backsliding are “stickability” and “spreadability.”
Stickability is what makes improvements last. Some proven ways of achieving it include:
- Management follows achievement with recognition and communication of the success.
- Involving the people doing the work in the improvement project. This is particularly helpful when a snag with the new process arises.
- Faithfully following a formalized implementation plan such as our 8-step process or John Kotter’s process for “leading change” that was mentioned in our previous post. By taking a more formalized approach project leaders and organizational managers will have the data to manage new processes and measure progress, thus becoming aware of any movement toward a backslide more quickly.
Spreadability, which is the second half of Step 7 in our implementation process, occurs when we stabilize and standardize the improvement throughout the organization. This can be challenging because, by definition, standardizing across organizations involves implementation by people who were not part of the development team. Consequently, achieving spreadability requires a steadfast effort by senior leaders and managers at all levels.
A few best practices for making improvements spreadable include:
- Encourage people to go around and visit other sites or functional areas to learn and adopt implementation ideas.
- Recognize and give credit to those who implement improvements even if the new process was not their original idea.
- Keeping the improvement projects small and tightly scoped, which will help to keep them more spreadable.
- Communicate frequently and widely to promote both recognition and awareness, and to make it clear that Continuous Improvement is the “cultural” way of doing business within the organization.