Now that your company is well established, you’re starting to see opportunities for improvement. You can see the need to improve your processesgain efficienciesstandardize your procedures and elevate your organization to the next level.

The statstics are compelling! According to KaiNexus, “the average impact of a cost saving idea is $31,043 in its first year of implementation.” And, those time-saving improvements can give you back 270 hours in the first year. The cost and time savings potential is incredible. 

Before you start a brand-new CI program, here are four things you need to do to get started.

1: Find Your Why

So many organizations start continuous improvement or process improvement programs purely as a means to save money. Hearing the enticing statistics about cost savings, leaders can see CI as a way to quickly improve the bottom line. This approach has a critical error. When the focus is only on saving money, you end up sacrificing quality, customer service or employee engagement. Ultimately, it drives negative behaviors instead of promoting the long-term cultural change that can truly transform an organization.

Instead of starting a program solely for saving dollars, find the true “why”.

An excellent why for starting a continuous improvement program is to become more customer focused. Leverage continuous improvement as the motivation to find ways to better engage with and listen to customers. You can learn to better capture their voice and to always be aligned with their changing needs and wants.

Another great why is to engage employees in improving and growing the business. Employees are your most valuable resource, so a continuous improvement program is a great way to provide a method to get their ideas and get them committed to improving the business. The employees closest to the problems often have the best ideas for improvement. And engaged employees are the ones empowered to make positive change.

The third great reason to start an improvement program is to achieve operational excellence and efficiency. If you want to truly excel in your organization and run efficiently, then a continuous improvement program can elevate your strategy.

Ultimately, the goal of a continuous improvement program is to change the way business is done. It’s about creating a culture that constantly seeks improvement.

2: Gain Leadership Support

The most successful continuous improvement programs have support from the top levels of leadership. Starting a program without the support of C-suite leaders results in a constant battle trying to gain support and to sell the merits of the program. Instead, start at the top first.

Ensure the entire leadership team supports the why. Then, find a leadership team member who is passionate or enthusiastic about improvement and assign them as the sponsor of the company’s initiative. That person can then take the lead in forming the program, keeping alignment with company strategy and communicating back to the leadership team. The sponsor can gain commitement from their peers. Finally, the sponsor will serve as the conduit to the rest of the organization.

If you try to start a program without the support of your C-suite leaders, then you’re going to have a constant battle trying to sell the merits of your program. Instead, start at the top first.

3: Empower a Core Team

It’s possible to start a successful improvement program without having dedicated, full-time employees. Start by asking high-potential employees to take on continuous improvement roles in addition to their regular duties. This group can serve as a steering team to guide the organization’s activities, and to build the structure and framework for establishing continuous improvement. The sponsor should take an active role in recruiting the core them, then clearly and explicitly empower the team to plan and create a roadmap for the organization’s continuous improvement efforts.

This team should have diverse representation of the entire employee population. Drive towards representating both supervisory and non-supervisory employees as well as new employees and seasoned employees. Strive to represent several different departments or functions.

This diversity will give your core team more credibility, and give them the insights they need to create a robust CI program that works for your entire company.

4: Research and Benchmarking

Finally, the sponsor must enable the core team to conduct research of peer organizations, as well as organizations that excel in continuous improvement. The core team should reach out to other organizations to learn about the successes and failures of their improvement teams. Benchmarking the existing organization against other similar organizations will allow them to see culturally where the biggest areas for improvement lie. This type of research can also take place at conferences or networking events.

So many organizations have gone through decades of continuous improvement programs and many are open to sharing their experiences with organizations who are just starting their own improvement programs. Look for ways that you can create a mutually beneficial partnership.

Plus, services like CII’s Virtual Program Office can give you the foundations you need to accelerate your implementation using best practices that deliver lasting results.

Keep in mind that each organization has unique needs, so each will have a unique improvement program. The key is creating a firm foundation – find the why, gain leadership support, empower a core team and conduct research and benchmarking. So, before you start your continuous improvement program, make sure that you have done these four steps to set your program up for long term continued success.

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.