To structure continuous improvement or not to structure

To structure continuous improvement or not to structure is a question on the lies of many business leaders today. As most things in life, continuous improvement too has a life cycle, and the implementation approach thereof has gone through several iterations.

I challenge you to name one business that has the luxury of not needing to continuously improve to maintain or better its performance.

Whether a producer of widgets or provider of a service, whether transnational or operational process orientated, to remain competitive, improvement is a fundamental imperative. Striving for better performance remains a competitive priority and only second to ensuring cash is generated, and done so in a humanly safe environment.

Why then is it so rare to find organisations that prioritise continuous improvement to such an extent? And then, to structure continuous improvement or not to structure?

Many leaders express the need for it, and even go so far as to say all the right things, but fail to fully commit because of “other” priorities. Priorities that may have been better dealt with, or perhaps may not have even occurred, with a continuous improvement program in place that touches all facets of the business.

There are those organisations that have had continuous improvement programs in place and evolved in one of two directions. The first, is the organisation that has successfully inculcated continuous improvement into its culture which eventually only requires a low level of maintenance.

The second is the organisation that has had mixed results after having been at it for a few years. In these organisations one may notice an influential proportion of the employee population providing resistance, often subtle.

Often this form of resistance is underpinned by a sense of arrogance driven by “we know best and do not require your assistance”. While this may be true at a given point in time, the risk of not seeking to continually challenge to improve performance, is that complacency will set in, and with that the eventual loss of the once held competitive advantage.

Or maybe not! Is this an example of conventional structured deployment thinking?

This brings to the fore two interesting question on the Tonic of to structure continuous improvement or not to structure:

  1. Is a structured performance improvement program suitable for every organisation?
  2. Under what circumstances is it best to allow improvement to take place organically?

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