5 Critical Tips When Implementing Continuous Improvement

Adriana Girdler

Leaders – Listen Up! Let’s play a game. Imaging you’re at work (if you’re not already!) Tell me what comes to mind when I say…. …

Leaders – Listen Up!

PuzzleLet’s play a game. Imaging you’re at work (if you’re not already!) Tell me what comes to mind when I say…. continuous improvement. For the majority of you, I bet you groaned when you read this. You’ve probably been through many improvement initiatives at work that just didn’t stick. As a result, improvement initiatives become the ‘flavour of the month’ because they don’t last. They take time, energy and effort, and everything just reverts back to old ways of working. Why is this? I have the answer and it’s very simple. It all comes down to Leadership.

If you’re the captain of a ship (or in most cases, a manager of an area, director of a department, or the president of a company) and you don’t fully understand continuous improvement methods then whatever is implemented will NOT last. In my experience, I find that the lack of understanding of the chosen improvement methodology along with the unrealistic expectations of leaders regarding these initiatives (because they don’t understand it ) is a deadly recipe for failure. The unfortunately part is it’s the continuous improvement methodology that gets the blame when it’s often  the leader not supporting, through actions, the initiative in the first place.

If you’re about to embark on the journey of continuous improvement or are in the middle of one, take my points below and email it to the ‘captain of your ship’. It’s a list of tips for leaders to ensure the success of continuous improvement initiatives in your organization.

Tip 1: LEARN about the improvement methodology that you’re implementing. I know this sounds like a no-brainer but lots of leaders are so busy with other things that they leave this up to their direct reports to know the in’s and out’s. For most traditional business items, this is fine. The problem with continuous improvement is that you’re using methodologies that are NOT traditional and are about creating a paradigm shift in areas of implementation because in order to be better you need to think differently.  Leader’s need to understand what is being implemented so they can properly support it.

Tip 2: Be DISCIPLINED with the improvement. As Jillian Michael’s from the NBC’s TV show Biggest Loser says to her weight loss clients, “Don’t phone it in”. Meaning you can’t get the body you want by sitting on the couch and willing it to happen. You have to get up and work out. The same is true with improvement initiatives. You must give it the proper amount of time, resources, budget and follow the program to a T to make it a success. It takes work to make it happen!

Tip 3: Give it TIME to take shape. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were your problems that the continuous improvement initiative is trying to fix. Too many times leader, especially when they don’t understand HOW improvements work, gets anxious when the improvements don’t deliver to their unrealistic expectation. Like all change, it takes time. There’s usually a dip in productivity because people are learning new ways of working. Don’t kill the improvement because of it. Give it time to go through the cycle of change. Productivity will return and will be better.

Tip 4: Start SMALL. Don’t try to tackle the biggest issue in your organization…just yet.  Pilot the concept in a small area. See how it works. Too many times the leader wants to fix the biggest problem in the organization. When starting out, you need to get used to the new ideas and new ways. Starting out small allows you to manage the new ways of thinking and understand what’s needed for success in your organization. When this happens, then you can go big!

Tip 5: LISTEN to and IMPLEMENT the idea’s that come from those who will be impacted by the change. Those individuals who work day in and day out in the improvement area have amazing insight into the root cause of the issue. As a leader, DO NOT assumes you know the answer. Listen and, implement their recommendations. You’ll be amazed with the great ideas people come up with when they know they will not be ridiculed for thinking out of the box.

To all the leaders who are reading this article, the take-away is: if you want to ensure improvement initiatives will work and be sustained in your organization, you need to ensure YOU are not the roadblock. Follow these 5 tips and I promise you’ll see a positive result. Continuous improvement really does work when it’s properly supported.


What stories do you have of continuous improvement initiatives at you workplace? Feel free to leave a comment below or shout out to us on Facebook or Twitter. Of course, you could always write your own blog post on the subject and share it with us… We’d love to read it!

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Adriana Girdler is a project manager, productivity specialist, entrepreneur, professional speaker, facilitator, visioning wizard, and author. As President of CornerStone Dynamics, Adriana is one of Canada’s prominent business productivity and project management specialists—helping both individuals and businesses do what they do, only better. She is a certified master black belt lean six sigma with over 20 years’ experience improving how companies work.

She also holds both PMP (project management professional) and CET (certified engineering technologist) designations. She’s a Tedx speaker, as well as a HuffPost and Thrive Global contributor. She has been interviewed on Global, CBC, CTV, CHCH, 680News Radio, Newstalk 1010, Sirius XM and published in the Globe and Mail and numerous industry magazines. WANT ADRIANA'S FREE ONLINE TRAINING? In 45 min, learn Adriana's 5 project management secrets she use on EVERY project. Sign up for the Free Webinar here: THE FAB FIVE FUNDAMENTALS OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT

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