Some months ago I had a small chat with a senior executive who had some challenges according to the lack of innovations in his organizations. I asked him how is the work within continuous improvements? He answered that that the company was more than enough occupied with operational issues and had not had time to work with their business process. I then said how can you then expect your people will and can build any environment for innovations?
Into a certain point continuous improvements and innovations overlapping each other. Innovation is about what’s new and what’s next, same as continuous improvements. Innovation is also about what works better, same as continuous improvements. It’s about that incremental step forward that makes old ideas new again and repurposes the familiar into the unexpected.
Innovation—whether small or incremental, large or disruptive—is about change, same as continuous improvements. For most of us the idea of “innovation” is laced with positive and desirable assumptions about something that will be shinier, faster, cooler, better than whatever we have. For some, innovation also comes with questions about whether we really need so much that is “new”—and if the new things are so great, then how do we help everyone to get them?
While the focus of many improvement and innovation efforts is often on tools and skills and using a well-known or named approach, a key part of the success in implementing change initiatives is paying attention to the ‘soft skills’. To successfully build a culture for continuous improvement and other change initiatives, people in the organization need to be engaged and a part of the process.
Continuous quality improvement (CQI) can’t be an end in itself. It is a means to an end and to be successful, it must be tied to the larger goals of the organization – for example, achieving less work to administrate the National school fruit subscription, enhancing the consumption of fruit and vegetables among children, reducing bureaucracy, or increasing stakeholder satisfaction. Innovation and improvement approaches can be useful in the implementation of strategic planning goals and strategies. It is important that those in the organization view improvement and innovation as approaches to move the organization from where it is to where it wants to be. Sending this message generates more energy and enthusiasm than using improvement and innovation to fix problems. A future-oriented perspective, talking about leadership and vision, can link individuals to the organization and be a crosswalk between day to day work and the broader organizational goals.
If you want to change the results, you need to change the system as we did with the National School fruit organizations (https://www.dr-glennhole.org/how-we-turnaround-the-whole-supply-chain-management-of-the-national-school-fruit-in-norway/) . As the saying goes, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” Look at what the organization values, rewards, and recognizes. Tinkering at the edges of the system without examining the core processes for hiring, evaluating performance, promotion and rewards, will not lead to significant change in the organization. The system must be changed and new behaviours accommodated. Integrate CQI into the core processes of the organizations – how you hire, what you reward, what you communicate, how you measure, and how you develop faculty and staff. What gets measured is what gets done, and what’s valued is what is rewarded.
Leadership needs to champion and support organizations change initiatives. They need to invest time and resources and use their bully pulpit to reinforce the message. Efforts that lack support from the top and depend upon the good will of front line employees to do the right thing because it is the right thing, don’t stand the test of time. Those who are closest to the processes being addressed should be given the education, training, and tools to facilitate change. These are individuals who know what’s working and where there are opportunities for improvement. Customers and stakeholders also have knowledge about where there are opportunities for improvement and should have an input. The organization is there to efficiently use fiscal, physical, and human resources to provide consumers with a service or product.
This Innovation insight is adapted from my practical experience for working with creating a culture for continuous improvement the last 14 years within several organizations and sectors.
Share information about improvements throughout the organization. Sharing learning may trigger ideas for similar improvement opportunities and innovations elsewhere. It will also demonstrate that the organization is serious about moving in this direction and committing resources to improvement, innovation, and change. As your approaches to innovation and improvement become established, monitor how the organization, environment, and world around you is adapting and evolving. As the organization becomes more mature in dealing with improvement and innovation, your approaches also need to mature. What’s important is that the organization continues to grow as a learning organization, is able to adapt and is not wedded to any one approach. Focus on the outcomes and results. Listen to the organizational leadership. Keep the momentum going by focusing on long-term goals, listening to all of the organization’s stakeholders, both internal and external, and monitoring the pulse of the organization.
Weave innovation and improvement into the culture of your organization. The goal of improvement and innovation is not the number of improvement initiatives or CQI teams that have been started. The goal is to be a more effective and efficient learning organization. Incorporating the cultural concepts above, and appreciating the balance between order and change, will make improvement and innovation a part of how people think on a daily basis, and help the organization accomplish its goals and move closer toward achieving its vision.