The unspectacular beauty of continuous improvement

The best businesses, relationships, people , sports, etc. didn't become that great overnight. They adopted a culture of embracing opportunities for improvement.

Those of us that have played sport at any level tend to love finish lines and final sirens. We love climbing a mountain - whether real or metaphorical - because we know that we can eventually stand proudly upon its peak and look down upon all of that we’ve conquered.

We have been conditioned to see the payoff for our hard work, as a singular celebratory moment in time in which we know that our efforts will be rewarded. And then we take a well earned breath. But this is not true for the pursuit of continuous improvement in business.

Whilst there may be meaningful awards to pick up along the way, nothing about the pursuit of business improvement is finite. It does not have an end-date, a final siren or and rarely a definitive moment in which the essence of ‘success’ can officially be achieved.

In business, we need to be constantly pursuing a better way of working. A faster or smarter way. A more compliant, more efficient, more sustainable, more equitable, more competitive, more ‘excellent’ way of working.

A way of working which makes our customers happier, our staff more engaged, our brand more appealing, our shareholders more optimistic and ourselves more fulfilled.

But what does this look like in reality? How does this actually happen in the pressurised, multi-dimensional, complex landscape of operating a business?

In truth, it ain’t that sexy! It most commonly happens very gradually, with 1% improvements at a time.

It rarely happens in one magical moment such as implementing a shiny new system, hiring a hot-shot new employee or any other single definable action.

A culture of continuous improvement really thrives when key stakeholders commit to regularly making an aspect of the business’ standard operating methodology slightly better than it was yesterday.

I warned you that it wasn’t sexy! But seeking to improve 1% at a time will make your business vastly better over time.

Here is what we’ve found to be an actionable way of driving this type of improvement.

Improve one SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) every week

Your SOP’s are the backbone of your business. They exist in a beautiful and perpetual state of incompleteness; because you will never stop pursuing ways to improve them.

Set aside some time to improve one policy or procedure each week. It doesn’t have to be major, but it has to make a difference.

It could be the streamlined hiring process, the optimised positioning of best-sellers on the shelf, the recurring staff survey to keep on top of any HR issues. Or could it be re-writing the menu description of that under-performing dish that you know would have your customers coming back for more if they could be convinced to try it once?!

You won’t need to produce your degree in rocket-science to do any of these items. Keep it in the drawer until NASA calls.

Remember, you only need to get 1% better with every change!

Define the beneficiary of change

Change for the sake of change is not the objective here. Change is only worthwhile in pursuit of improvement. Don’t throw out the whole playbook every day just so that you can feel like a badass ‘disrupter’ when you look in the mirror at night.

You need to clearly define who/what is the beneficiary of each change.

Is your customer happier? Is your expense column lighter? Is your operation more scalable or more easily teachable? Is your team more engaged?

This also needs to be measured over time to ensure that your changes are actually making an impact in the intended manner, so figure out a unit of measurement for that beneficiary and apply it to the change itself.

If you need a hand prioritising improvements, I recommend speaking with one of these franchising specialists who are all experts in the field of continuous improvement and change management (I can personally vouch for the quality of their work from conversations with their clients);

Distribution is key

Updating a standard operating policy or procedure is all well and good, but it means very little if the people implementing that change are not across it and trained to execute it with meticulous consistency every day.

I highly recommend the use of a purpose built system to automatically update relevant staff when policies and procedures applicable to their role are updated and to actively track compliance with each update along the way.

Create a culture of change

By regularly updating your policies and procedures, you are not only teaching your people how to greet a customer, cook a dish, file a report, write a blog post, demonstrate a new product or up-sell an accessory; you are teaching them how to embrace the very notion of change.

They will become comfortable being uncomfortable, and this changes your culture to be one of far greater resilience in the face of change and adversity.

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