What are the benefits of continuous improvement?
Change can happen in many different ways within an organisation. A major shift in working practices or output demands could require months of planning and a significant reshuffle in the business.
But in the best-performing organisations something else happens – continuous improvement. Often overlooked and undervalued, this process of gradual change is essential for increasing efficiency and reducing waste.
It’s not without its own costs and effort – hence why we should consider what the benefits might be in a bit more detail. Setting up a continuous improvement programme doesn’t just ‘happen’ – it requires planning and resources, such as training time or bringing in consultants to lead the change. But these initial costs will pay off as you find the benefits of continuous improvements more than justify the investment of time and money.
Benefits of continuous improvement
Continuous improvement is the approach embodied by the ‘kaizen’ principles of management. It can be found in many different improvement models, such as Total Quality Management, but the idea is simple; to get better all the time. Critically, it asks of each worker to help make these changes, establishing a more empowered and engaged workforce.
Less waste – kaizen or continuous improvement techniques can help establish and be complementary to lean production models. Lean means less waste, more value.
Greater efficiency – by seeking new ways to reduce waste (of time and money), the organisation can become more efficient all the time. Total input costs can be lowered because you are operating leaner.
More engaged teams – employees are more involved and have more say in what they do and how they do it. By empowering them to make small, incremental changes you get a workforce with better morale.
Retention – as staff are more engaged and feel more connected to decision-making, you will be able to hold on to skilled employees for longer.
Competitiveness – increased productivity and more efficient workers tend to help lower costs, thereby making the goods and services more competitive.
Culture – undoubtedly the greatest benefit is creating a culture of improvement; embedding in the organisation the belief that things could always been done better. An organisation that is not always improving is not just static, it’s going backwards.
But just as the process itself needs to systematic and analytic in its approach, so too do we need to be measured in what we want to continuously improve.
We should always first question whether processes, teams or whole organisations should be disrupted, as well as customise how we approach continuous improvement for each setting – one size does not fit all. We must make sure that the continuous improvement occurs within the wider context of the wider business goals.
Still not sure of the difference between continuous improvement and continual improvement. Read our post for more information.
Image from DarkDay published under creative commons