Achieving Continuous Improvement for your business
By Ekohwo Orogun, London UK
Your business performance can always be improved, you should never settle for your current situation even if you feel you’re doing fine. Urhobo use words like “obaro” and “enenu” when seeking inspiration and encouragement in our endeavours whether commercially or socially. Obaro means forward, it is the representation of progress in the business environment which is achieved through continuous improvement. Very often you will hear “obobaro wọ ra” in the Urhobo setting, whether used during a praying or in other situations, it is our way of wishing for progress and always going forward. The challenge all businesses regardless of size will encounter is being able to always make progress.
For your business to move in the right direction, there are a few important things to remember and always seek to inculcate into the culture of your organisation. But before we start to explore these steps, let’s understand the relevance of “enenu”. “Enu” simply means up, but when Urhobo people use it, they will say something like “enenu wọ ka ra”, meaning you will always head for greater height. This is a way of saying you will sustain your continuous improvement efforts. The goal for your business is to grow it and increase your successes incrementally. The keyword here is “incrementally”. It is critical to know that improvement is sustainable when it’s small and manageable and this will give your business enough opportunity to embed the change and celebrate successes.
We want to help Urhobo businesses get on a success journey by embracing continuous improvement (enenu) and striving for growth (obaro) by recommending the following six steps:
- Always make gradual and small changes
The first advice is to focus on small gradual changes rather than large changes. Small changes can be made quickly, on a daily-basis, and should not cost you too much. By focusing on small changes, you can remove barriers to starting a continuous improvement process. This focus will allow you and your staff to reap the benefits of “small wins” right away and enjoy those “low hanging fruits”. As more and more small changes are applied, your team will see an accumulation of benefits from them. This will give them more confidence to suggest more ideas. Remember to celebrate successes and embed them. You can do this by documenting changes in ways of working or updating operational manuals.
- Focus on ideas that are inexpensive and attainable
By going after the ideas that do not require a large amount of investment, you can remove the financial barriers of your continuous improvement efforts. This process can empower your staff to suggest and implement ideas that can improve their working process because they know that their changes do not need major approval. Some ideas such as reducing waste, eliminating unnecessary steps, and re-organising the work processes fall into this category. Continuous improvement is all about eliminating waste to boost productivity and ultimately profitability.
- Gather ideas from the people doing the work
In a progressive organisation, employees are the greatest asset and should also be the source of generating new ideas for improvement. No one knows the work better than the person who performs it every day. As a result, the best person to suggest ideas for improvement and to implement them is the employee who is at the forefront. The principles apply just as well if you do not employ staff, you are effectively your own asset, so try to explore problems by using techniques such as the 5W+1H which stand for Who, what, where, when, why, and how.
- Empower your staff for improvement
Although employees play a vital part in the continuous improvement process, it is your role as the leaders or owner of the business to train and empower them. Your workers may not be aware of business improvement principles such as Lean and tools such as 5S, the 8 wastes, value stream mapping, visual management, Kaizen, etc. As a result, they may not realise that many of the processes they perform every day and the frustration that they feel at work are due to unnecessary waste which can be improved. Additionally, some workers are modest and reluctant to share ideas especially if they feel there will be barriers for their implementation. It is your role to educate them on tools and techniques that can be applied to achieve continuous improvement. You should explore ways to help your employees overcome any personal or psychological barrier that prevents them from trying out new ideas.
- Seek and use regular feedback
An effective continuous improvement drive needs continuous measurement and feedback. Before you can start, you need to understand the baselines of your business’s performance. Only by understanding and establishing a baseline can you evaluate new ideas for improving upon it. One effective way of gathering feedback on your continuous improvement efforts is to apply the Plan-Do-Check (PDCA) cycle. The cycle ensures continuous improvement by measuring the performance difference between the baseline and target condition. This gives immediate feedback on the effectiveness of the change. If the idea was effective, the next cycle of improvement will start with the new baseline and your goal is to move towards a new target condition as part of aiming for “enenu”. The main thing to have in mind is to have a plan, this way you can begin to think about the steps you will need to achieve it.
- Measure the impacts
Measuring the impacts of your continuous improvement efforts is the most important aspect of sustaining it. By understanding the return on investment in your programme, you can begin to get more support and even external funding for future improvement initiatives. Here are some questions to ask when measuring the impacts of your improvements:
- Did the change reduce costs?
- Did the change increase revenues?
- Did the change decrease the amount of time required?
- Did the change improve worker’s safety?
- Did the change improve worker’s satisfaction?
- Did the change improve quality?
- Did the change improve reliability?
- Did the change improve sustainability?
Because not all changes can be measured quantitatively, you should always find qualitative ways to document the impact of the change on your organisation. You can use a range of observation techniques to monitor your staff and even you customers. It is important that you capture both quantitative and qualitative impacts of your improvements, this will help to easily demonstrate to your team the impact that they are making and recognising star performers which will increase workers’ morale.
And finally, workers need to be engaged in their work and be challenged to come up with small gradual improvements each day. By applying these principles, your company will be able to start and sustain your continuous improvement efforts. This will help your business to become more economically competitive, implement more efficient work processes, and more importantly, achieve sustained growth.
If you need assistance implementing these techniques get in touch so we can put you in contact with a continuous improvement coach.