Tag Archives: sustaining change

Sustaining Improvements

sustaining improvements

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.

How To Sustain Change and a Culture of Continuous Improvement

rocktheboatPast posts have focused upon various aspects of change, with common threads being that people tend to resist change (so leaders must “sell it!”), and that change is a constant part of continuous improvement and long-term success.

In a recent discussion about whether or not it is truly possible to sustainably change the culture of a business and its workforce, a number of interesting perspectives were exchanged that support the above-listed threads.

Here are just a few:

  • “I believe that it begins at the top, however that must continue so that the new culture begins to take shape at all levels. The important thing to understand that culture change is an evolutionary process since it involves changing the thinking processes in addition to any operational process changes that need to be made.”
  • “I do believe with the right will, structure and drive at senior management level it is possible [to sustainably change an organization’s culture…]. But, can you change every individual and encourage them to walk the company line? I don’t believe you can and I think it is naive to think so. There will be people at all levels who cannot adjust. It brings to mind the old Dolly Parton quote, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.”
  • “Yes, it can be done. But I have seen that leadership and staff often delay changes when they have the option. One way to avoid this tendency to procrastinate and to accelerate change is to introduce a large disruption to the status quo, such as change in top leaders, massive resource change (e.g., funds – up or down), or competitive pressures in products, distribution methods, etc.”

Your thoughts…?