Continuous Improvement (CI) sounds so straightforward on paper and from the outside it gives a perception of a company or organisation that is heading in the right direction; but is this really the case and are they embracing it in the right way?

From my experience I have seen both extremes and I often question where we fit into this scale. If the truth be told, I still don’t really know and to a certain degree, does it matter? After all “as long as we are heading in the right direction, surely we are embracing Continuous Improvement right? Well no, not necessarily”

Continuous Improvement can be a very controversial subject. On so many occasions I have literally seen people run a mile at the mere mention of those 2 words but in other cases I have seen people talk and demonstrate it with such passion and belief, you would have no reason to question it. So, how can a subject matter provoke such diverse reactions when the intentions are only for the good?

The fact of the matter is there is no single answer. Perhaps someone is afraid of change or has had a bad experience previously, maybe they were put in situations outside of their comfort zone, or felt it offered them no gain when implemented. Maybe they just don’t understand what it is or feel they are there to do their job and that’s it. Each and every one of the above I have heard on several occasions, and from all levels.

One thing for sure is that embracing and understanding Continuous Improvement is not achieved overnight. In fact to some degree you are always trying to achieve the unachievable and that can be as frustrating for the individuals involved as it is for the facilitator(s).

The important aspect from my point of view is that we have identified this from an early stage and as a result we have come up with some unwritten rules which we try to adopt when working with employees in Continuous Improvement at Norbar. Here are just a few to whet your appetite.

“Never dismiss anything” – We carry out numerous brainstorm sessions with people within all areas of the company. Some are more vocal than others but usually the best ideas come from those who know their process best but are often the quietest as well. It’s great to see peoples’ confidence grow as we take on board their suggestions.

We also apply the same theory when mapping out processes. Quite often the bits of a process people don’t divulge are the areas where the biggest improvements can be made, it’s just trying to get people to share this information, as deep down they often know its not right so don’t share it through fear of embarrassment.

“Its about the process and not the people” – At an early stage we try and make it clear that we are not here to quantify their position or the job they do but to try and improve the process to make their job easier, more enjoyable and to improve productivity. Removing this fear can help people open themselves up to change.

“Advertise and Promote Improvements” – Any Improvement made regardless of how big or small should be promoted within the company. Not only does it show the benefits from embracing CI, ideas can often be adopted by other departments or process streams.

One thing for sure is it’s important to remember that an improvement doesn’t always have to have a cost save associated to it and this is something we do promote. Sometimes employees tell us of improvements they have made to their area or process but do not want to share it as there is very little monetary saving associated to it. To us facilitators the real win is the fact that they have identified opportunities for improvement and more importantly implemented them without any assistance, therefore encouraging the culture change.

Norbar are still in the relatively early stages of embracing Continuous Improvement but we will continue to learn and grow. Our next blog will continue to record our progress as well as provide you with a few more hints and tips in how to promote CI activities and obtain buy-in.

Chris Arrow, CI Engineer