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Continuously Improving: Embrace Change, Drive Excellence
Navigating the Path of Incremental Excellence
♾️ ENDURE: Cultivating Growth
Continuous improvement and driving change are something that comes naturally to me. That is, regardless of what I’m doing, I’m constantly vigilant and reflecting on if and how this (whatever “this” is, professional or personal) could be improved. Naturally, for some, me included, this can be exhausting and there have been times where I’ve learned that change for the sake of change can be counterproductive. So this week, we’re going to talk briefly about continuous improvement. What it is, isn’t, how it can work for you as a new team leader and pitfalls to watch out for.
What is Continuous Improvement?
In its simplest form, continuous improvement is about never being satisfied with 'good enough.' It's a process of always looking for ways to improve your team, your products, or your services. It's about pushing boundaries, challenging the status quo, and turning a critical eye on your work to ask, "How can we do better?" All are in service of facilitating meaningful and measurable growth, or incremental value.
The Many Faces of Continuous Improvement
Continuous improvement can wear many hats - from Kaizen to Agile to Lean, and each brings its flavor to the party. While not exhaustive, here are the ones that I’ve worked with the most.
💡 Kaizen – This Japanese philosophy focuses on "change for the better." Kaizen emphasizes small, consistent changes that add up over time. It empowers everyone within an organization to suggest and make improvements.
💡 Agile – Agile is a mindset that values adaptability and quick responses to change. It's about iterating on the fly, learning as you go, and not being afraid to pivot when something isn't working. Agile methodology can be applied to virtually any project or process.
💡 Lean – Lean is about maximizing value while minimizing waste. It's about streamlining processes, cutting out the fat, and making everything as efficient as possible.
Best Practices for New Leaders
Start Small: Don't try to boil the ocean on day one. Start with small, manageable changes that can yield visible improvements. This builds momentum and fosters a culture of improvement.
Engage Your Team: Continuous improvement is a team sport. Encourage your team members to propose changes and improvements. They are your front-line warriors who know where the armor chinks are.
Celebrate Wins: Celebrate improvements, no matter how small. This fosters a positive environment and encourages continued efforts.
Build Capability: Be persistent about upskilling (or reskilling) and revisit the capability of the team on a regular basis. Improvement requires new ways of thinking and doing—capability building is a way to drive accountability.
Pitfalls and Precautions
Continuous improvement, however, isn't a magic potion without side effects. It's crucial to be aware of potential pitfalls.
🚫 Diminishing Returns: Like anything in life, there's a point where the effort you put into improvement might start yielding less significant results. If you're squeezing every ounce of energy to improve a process by 0.01%, it might be time to switch focus.
🚫 Measurement Paralysis: While measuring your improvements is essential, don't get so caught up in tracking metrics that you lose sight of your overall goals. Remember, metrics are the compass, not the destination.
🚫 Change Fatigue: Too much change too quickly can lead to exhaustion and resistance. Balance your improvements with periods of stability to let your team adjust.
The cost of inaction is the status quo. If you're ok where you are, then you don't need to do anything. But if you want to get to the next level, you need to understand the cost of doing nothing. Action is expensive, but inaction costs a fortune. — Shane Parrish
Identify an Opportunity: Look for a process, product, or service that could be improved.
Engage Your Team & Prioritize: Discuss with your team and brainstorm potential improvements. Prioritize one thing (this is by far the hardest behavior) to improve.
Implement, Measure, Reflect: Implement the change, measure the results, and reflect on the outcomes. Celebrate the wins, learn from the losses, and always keep asking, "How can we do better?"
Remember, continuous improvement is a journey, not a destination. It's about fostering a culture of curiosity, resilience, and adaptability. As we close this week’s newsletter, I want to challenge you with a reflection: What is one thing that you can ponder on this week as you explore how to incorporate continuous improvement practices and methods into your leadership toolkit?