It happens to every improver at some point in their continuous improvement professional life. They fall out of love with continuous improvement.
Sometimes it happens after a failed project. You’ve dedicated so much time and effort to a project that either failed to see adoption or failed to see the anticipated benefits. Sometimes it simply happens after you’ve heard “I don’t have time for that” one too many times. Continuous improvement is a tough job. It’s tough to constantly be in a place where you are asked to have influence but don’t have any authority. It feels like you are constantly banging your head against a wall. Here are strategies you can use to rekindle your passion for continuous improvement.

Walk Away

If you are feeling disengaged and just burnt out, you are not alone. In 2020, 29% of people who fully worked from home reported burnout very often or always according to a Gallup poll.
In 2020, 29% of people who fully worked from home reported burnout very often or always according to a Gallup poll.

It’s been tough for managers too. Gallup also reported that, in 2020, manager engagement, already low, declined from 34% to 33% in the first to second half of the year.
Whenever my kids are struggling and get frustrated with something in life, I tell them “Walk away, take five deep breaths, and do five jumping jacks”. Now….you may not need to do five jumping jacks, but this is a great strategy for adults as well. Sometimes, as they say, distance makes the heart grow fonder. If you are not feeling engaged, take this time to take a few days of vacation. Give yourself some space from the office, sticky notes, process maps, and give yourself time to regroup.

Shift Your Focus to Professional Development

Often, professional development comes second in our careers. Process improvers are so focused on getting results and completing projects that often we don’t take time to focus on our own professional development. Work with your team leader to hit the pause button on projects and restart your professional development. This is a good time to take an online course or work on a new certification
It is also a great opportunity to learn more about the operations of your business. Continuous improvers, not just managers, must get to the Gemba. Now, put this into practice proactively. See if you can take a few days to sit with your customer service department and listen to customer phone calls. Do some ride-along’s with your front-line employees as they provide service to your customers. Take a day or two to do some shadowing on the shop floor. Not only will you get a much-needed mental break, but you will get new perspectives to make you a better process improver in the future. These experiences will help you better understand the stakeholders in your company, will also help you better understand upstream and downstream impacts of any future projects that you are going to do…plus you may uncover some huge opportunities for future improvement.

Work on Improvements Within Your Own Team

Your process improvement and continuous improvement team probably has a long list of to-do’s. Start tackling some of those to-do items. Work on the communication plan. Refresh training materials. Create standard tools and template. Update project documentation (you know it needs to be done!). These tasks may seem mundane, but you can rebuild your confidence by making improvements in an area where you can see the results quickly. Plus, you’ll have the added benefit of making your own team more efficient and more effective.
In 2021, nearly 60% of leaders reported they feel used up at the end of the workday, which is a strong indicator of burnout.

Journal

After you’ve done the first three things on this list, start to journal. Take some time to pull out a paper and a pen – that’s right, an actual piece of paper and an ink pen – to write down your “why’s”.
Brainstorm all the reasons why you love continuous improvement. Write down all of those times when you witnessed the lightbulb turn on in someone’s mind during training. Write down every time you have helped an individual save an hour or two in their day to give them more time to be with their family. Write down every time that you saved money that has directly impacted your company’s customer. Write down all of those experiences, document them, and then put them in your office or a place where you can see them. That visual reminder, having that “why” posted in front of you, will help give you motivation on those frustrating days. Remember, we’re going to have a lot of frustrations. We’re going to have a lot of failures. When we’re frustrated we focus on the negative. But, those small wins and those successes are what keep us going.
Find someone within your company who you trust or find a peer who works in process improvement at another company. Together, you can commiserate on all of your frustrations, but together you can also help motivate and encourage each other.

Confide in a Peer

Find someone within your company whom you trust or find a peer who works in process improvement at another company. Schedule some time to meet with them, maybe on a weekly basis. Sit and have a cup of coffee or have lunch. Together commiserate on all of your frustrations, but also help motivate and encourage each other.  You can share your “why’s” — why you love continuous improvement so much. Create a safe place where you can air your frustrations, without having those frustrations go back and impact your work at your company. You need that safe place to air your concerns, vent, yell if you need to, but leave the negatives and take that renewed energy and motivation back to the office. At CII, we often do this during CI Cafe for our DAM Good members
In the end, it’s all about reminding yourself of why you fell in love with continuous improvement in the first place. It’s about the passion, it’s about the difference that you make in the lives of your customers and in the lives of your fellow employees. It’s about being part of something that’s bigger than just you. And it’s about leaving that legacy of a continuous improvement culture.You are leaving an impact on your company that is going to help them continue moving forward for decades to come.
Author: Allison Greco

Author: Allison Greco

Founder, CII

I created my foundation with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and MBA from the University of Oklahoma. Over the past decade, I have held Continuous and Process Improvement roles for Black Hills Energy, Williams, the US Air Force and BNSF Railway. I’ve started new CI programs and reinvigorated stale ones. Along the way I earned a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and became a licensed Professional Engineer.