Eight ways to maintain momentum
Continuous improvement takes time and resources, determination, drive, and persistence – and feedback to and from staff on what is working well, so they will be encouraged to maintain and improve standards.
1. Spread the news
Sustaining improvements is more about people than about techniques. It is important to tell people what is being changed and the resulting benefits, so that those not directly involved realise there is continuing work. This will encourage the snowball to grow rather than allow any perception of ‘stop/go’ that might foster cynicism. Certainly, encourage colleagues to learn new quality skills, but the idea is to build commitment at the same time as capability – doing well those things you already do before you move on to doing new things.
2. Encourage complaints
This means from both internal and external customers. Many firms think they welcome feedback, but how many genuinely treat complaints as learning opportunities. Yet this is the first step towards becoming a learning organisation – one that changes the way it does things as a result of its experience, rather than defending the way it does things despite its experience.
3. Make quality everybody’s business
You may have quality teams or experts. If so, change the team often enough to avoid any feeling of elitism, and help spread the expertise throughout the organisation. It can be a good idea to coordinate quality activity. A co-ordinator can provide a focal point to:
- Reduce the risk of the same wheel being invented in several parts of the organisation
- Send out consistent messages about improvements made
- Keep managers at all levels on side.
4. Keep leaders ‘on message’
Leaders and managers should consistently encourage quality activities. They should allow teams to make decisions about how to do their work and avoid interfering unintentionally. A leader can crush innovation by a single thoughtless remark. Sometimes, people may not bother because they don’t see how their job matters to the organisation; at such times, leaders can raise morale by helping them understand that ‘big picture’.
5. Measure change
If you have no objective measure of improvement, how will you know which, if any, changes have made a difference? If you have statistics, check them to see if the original issue is now resolved. Keep asking your customers for genuine feedback – it gives you information and strengthens your relationship with them too.
6. Experiment on a progressively larger scale
Scaling up successful small-scale changes is a robust route to larger success. Once they have seen real change working, you can encourage the original change implementers to instigate more change, using the same concepts. Give them opportunities to tell others. Real experience will launch a thousand ships! If people who were not involved in the initial process change understand the principles and hear about genuine benefits, they will be more willing to pick an issue that matters to their part of the organisation.
7. Dedicate time
Spend some time every day keeping the place shipshape.
8. Finally, be patient
Quick fixes tend to come unstuck sooner or later – you can deliver specific projects, improvements and changes to a timescale, but quality is a never-ending journey. When you reach a plateau that you thought was the summit, look back and see how far you have come. And – walk until you feel justifiably confident about running.