Operational Efficiency and Continuous Improvement

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Welcome to the fourth and final part of my four step programme towards helping you build a stronger, more reputable and sustainable business.

Our first theme explored ‘gaining the competitive edge’, looking at the value of a client centric approach and the importance of strong product or service knowledge, whilst the second installment focused on developing purposeful communication and effective networks within your business.

Our third chapter looked at ‘risk and governance’; understanding what this really means for organisations of all sizes and why taking very simple steps towards compliance and risk aversion is a solid investment for your business.

And now, our final chapter, looks at operational efficiency and continuous improvement; how adopting a growth mindset towards making ongoing, small changes to your business can bring about incremental benefits that are huge.

As I have stressed within each of my blog pieces, all four themes are interdependent with each theme forming a step by step approach towards creating a map that will help you to pave your way towards a more successful, sustainable business.

So let’s get started on the final piece of this programme.

What is Continuous Improvement?

By now most of us will have heard the term “continuous improvement” but what is this and how does this apply to our own businesses, regardless of size?

Continuous improvement is an ongoing approach to improving the processes, products and services within your business. Businesses that implement continuous improvement achieve this by making small, gradual changes and improvements over time. It is the drive to do things properly and do them well on an ongoing basis.

Often when we hear the word “change” within business this can make us feel threatened; but with the ongoing introduction of artificial intelligence no modern-day business is stagnant.

Establishing how to make your company more efficient and productive demands a growth mindset; the ability to look at your business every day and see opportunities to do things better, smarter and more efficiently.

By approaching change with this mindset what we see is opportunity rather than threat. A chance to become more efficient, an opportunity to become more strategy driven and a chance to introduce problem-solving roles. According to the recent Flux Report:

91% of HR directors think that by 2018, people will be recruited on their ability to deal with change and uncertainty - that is, their adaptability
— The Flux Report

The reason for this is because these employees are viewed as best at combining a range of qualities including resourcefulness, openness to new ideas and innovation, as well as the ability to cope with changing circumstances, and environments. They also see that adaptive employees are also more resilient and effective.

Growth vs Fixed Minsdset and Continuous Improvement

The growth and fixed mindset concept was discovered by Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck over 30 years ago when she and her colleagues became interested in students' attitudes about failure. 

The team noticed that some students bounced back from failure while other students seemed devastated by even the smallest obstacles. After studying this type of behaviour in thousands of students, Dr. Dweck developed the fixed and growth mindset concept to describe the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence. 

People with a fixed mindset believe that their fate is already determined; that intelligence and ability for success is set for each individual and that this cannot be grown or developed with any further effort. Due to this fixed mindset these people avoid new challenges, remaining with what is familiar in order to avoid failure.

A growth mindset believed the opposite to be true. Those with the growth mindset embrace challenges, seeing them as an opportunity for continuous improvement. These people have an appetite for continuous improvement and are not afraid of failure, often viewing it as an opportunity to learn. 

Carol Dweck and her team found that those people with a growth mindset had a far greater potential to become successful than those with a fixed mindset.

You Press the Button, We Don’t Do the Rest!

The failure of a business to adapt to the changes happening around them is the one that is less likely to survive:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.
— Charles Darwin

One of the most well-known examples of this can be shared from Kodak’s own inability to adapt to the changes in the world around them.

Kodak was a highly successful and innovative company and a market leader in the photographic world. They possessed a 90% market share in the sales of film and 85% in all camera sales across the US which continued well into the 1990’s. Utilising their well-known slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest,” Kodak was rated as the world’s 4th most-valuable brand behind Disney, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. (Chris Rangen) 

As the digital age began to approach Kodak failed to respond to the changes in it’s customer needs and wants, and despite one of their own engineers, Steve Sasson, actually being the first to develop the digital camera in 1975, the company decided to hide their innovation for fear that this would lead to a decline in film sales. They sat on this for so long that by the time they decided to invest in it’s digital strategy it was too late. By 2000 technology had advanced to such a level that Kodak was already struggling to survive. 

On January 19th, 2012, Kodak officially filed for bankruptcy.

Continuous Improvement in our Business

So how do you view the idea of change? Do you see it as an opportunity or a threat and how do you approach "change" within your organisation? Is it through major initiatives, or is it simply a part of the ongoing way that you work?

Whilst it is true that some types of change do require major effort this by no means applies to all.

An alternative, and more effective way to approach improving the way that you work and embracing continuous improvement is through more subtle, ongoing changes, and unfortunately it is this approach is often undervalued, and to the detriment of business, disregarded.

Continuous improvement is a philosophy, it’s about how you relate to your business day in and day out…what’s driving that activity is your continuous improvement mindset.
— Josh Ramsbottom, BDC Business Consultant

We need to create room within our businesses to make small improvements; we do this by challenging the status quo, fine tuning our processes and practice on an everyday basis, and this should apply not only to ourselves, but should be encouraged of our employees too. 

True continuous improvement is embedded at every level of the business. What you are aiming to do is empower your entire team to reduce inefficiency, boost productivity and strengthen the bottom line.

It may be the case that you and your colleagues are already doing this on a daily basis without even thinking about it as "change" or "continuous improvement", and if this is the case, great! You are probably already getting real benefits from this intuitive approach to continuous improvement within your business. 

These small, ongoing changes will add up to significant impacts in the longer term, without having to go through any major pain, upheaval or huge financial investment within your business. It can be a much more efficient way to introduce the changes that must occur as a business grows and adapts to its changing environment.

The benefits of these changes mean improvements in productivity, effectiveness, safety, and waste reduction, and those who adapt this growth mindset approach to change often find a whole lot more in return, below are just a few of the ways that you can benefit from small incremental and ongoing improvements:

  • Financial efficiencies

  • Improved employee satisfaction, engagement, commitment and retention

  • Improved consumer satisfaction

  • The ongoing development of improved problem-solving skills within your business

  • An improved sense of teamwork within your business

Conclusion

Hopefully at this stage you can see the value of embracing a growth mindset to incorporating continuous improvement into your business.

Nothing in today’s world is set, especially as we work within an age of technology and AI when change is to be expected and welcomed. It is up to us as business owners, managers and leaders to ensure that we embrace these changes and that our business operations does not stagnate. Our customer needs are always changing, and if we fail to move along with the needs, not only do we fail to deliver a valuable and enjoyable customer experience, but in doing so we also risk making our businesses redundant.

To sum up the detail of what I have shared with you in this chapter and help you get where you need to be I have developed five main tips to help you integrate continuous improvement into your business and become an integral part of your modus operandi:

Get a baseline

Before you can get to where you want to go, first you need to take stock of where you are at right now. All too often this step is missed as it is seen as a time-wasting initiative that is taking time away from other, more important tasks but the rewards that you gain from this will pay you dividends down the line. Really take the time to look at your systems and gauge what is working well and what isn’t.

Engage with your team

Your staff are the best assets that you have in your business, they are at the front line how things work in your business, so make the time and effort to talk to them, visit them in their work environments and ask for their take on operations—good or bad. Never underestimate the value of the information that they might have to share.  

Don’t be afraid to start by looking for quick wins

Don't start by trying to save thousands of pounds overnight; it is the small, incremental changes can give you the quickest wins and all without disrupting day-to-day operations or demanding a huge amount of effort.

Don’t change for the sake of change

This might sound obvious but all too often businesses start making changes without thinking them all the way through. At best, this uncalculated and senseless approach achieves nothing at all, and at worst, it can damage your staff and business dynamics and impact your bottom line. Understand why you’re doing what you’re doing—and make sure your team does, too.

Don’t stop

It’s called “continuous” improvement for a reason! Once you’ve taken care of the low hanging fruit start looking for the next opportunity for change right away. By adopting a long-term commitment to continuous improvement within your business this will help you respond quickly, and effectively to growth and change and keep your competitive edge sharp!


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Find Out More

Thank you for reading my four-part series on Building Better Business. If you would like to discuss any of these elements with me further, or arrange for consultation or training opportunities for you or your staff please feel free to contact me for further information.


Gavin Friel