Have you ever seen those reality TV shows where a contestant goes through a transformative process in order to improve themselves? These types of extreme self-improvement show tap into our human desire to want to improve ourselves. However, this fairytale-like transformation that seemingly happens is neither realistic nor maintainable.
Most of us realize this and understand that a significant amount of groundwork needs to be laid in order to accomplish whatever lofty goals we may strive towards. Real, long-term self-improvement is more comparable to an athlete’s journey to success. Sports professionals make consistent gains that lead to continuous improvement and success in reaching their long-term goals.
Simply put, continuous improvement is a constant, ongoing effort to improve something. This ‘something’ can be a product, a service, one's skill set, or a team's way of working.
As the name suggests, these efforts are not once-off initiatives or endeavors but sustained work.
The results of continuous improvements may be incremental, it may be subtle, or it can be highly noticeable due to some eureka or breakthrough moment.
Whether we like to admit it or not, work is a major part of our lives, and those who are ambitious or enjoy the career they find themselves in, are likely to have an innate desire to improve and develop. Strong leaders and dutiful managers will likewise aim to help lift those around them up and put processes in place that help their teams and colleagues to succeed.
Does that clear things up? Perhaps not. Ok so is there some way we can give a clear and concrete example of continuous development? Of course we can!
Employee training, skills development, cross-training programs, educational benefits, and courses can all be seen as examples of continuous improvement.
Most employees will come into a job with a particular set of skills and competencies and develop some more in their day-to-day work. Offering them the opportunity to build upon those skills with courses and training is just one way they can bolster their existing skills and hone some new ones.
Improving internal processes, ways of working, communication, and collaboration are ways teams can look to consistently improve. Running regular workshops, feedback sessions, and conducting surveys can be the best way to highlight areas that require improvement while plans and strategies will help streamline teams to keep them running as smoothly as possible.
User or client interviews and reviews can help determine what areas of your product or service may need tweaking. Gathering as many insights as possible from tests and experiments will help to build a culture of continuous improvement and help keep a product or service innovative and adaptive.
The Japanese term Kaizen directly translates to ‘improvement’ or ‘change for the better’, but its definition is far more complex and nuanced. In essence, Kaizen refers to the concept that constant, even slight, positive changes can lead to major improvements further down the line. Creating an environment or ecosystem that supports this process need not be overly complex or difficult, and we have ample examples we can turn to as a source of inspiration.
Everyone means everyone. One key element of Kaizen, which was famously foundational to the ‘Toyota Way’, is to involve every employee, from the CEO all the way down. Everyone needs to be part of this communal and combined effort in order for it to succeed and for it to become commonplace in the workplace.
If your goal is to improve together as a team, making sure that you are working as a team is important. When embarking on a journey to improve your team you should focus on some team-building exercises or even conduct some kind of social activity to help your team get to know each other.
People need to be encouraged and inspired to improve, it won’t come with fear or intimidation. If you trust your hiring process then your workplace will likely feature people who have the drive and ambition to produce strong and high-quality work. Providing them with the support and backing they need to reach their own personal goals will be crucial in ensuring continuous improvement.
Transparency can mean a number of different things but in this case, it heavily relates to the aforementioned point about including everyone. Creating an environment where business decisions and strategies are openly discussed and walked through will go a long way to building trust and developing the buy-in of everyone involved.
If everyone in the workforce sees top-level executives and managers operating in an honest and open manner then they can feel encouraged that nothing is being hidden from them and they are an important part of the process, not just a cog in a machine.
A core part of learning and developing is asking for and giving regular and structured feedback. Working in a vacuum and receiving little input and insights from others can leave us bling as to areas where we may improve. Creating an environment where giving feedback is the norm can start by organizing structured feedback sessions; coaching people on how to properly give detailed constructive feedback and how everyone can go about asking for relevant feedback from their peers.
For many, receiving or giving feedback can be daunting and requires people to be open and receptive. Actively listening to what others have to say, making notes on the feedback, and taking a look at how you can turn this feedback into action points, are all important steps to make this feedback train run smoothly.
For those looking to run some feedback sessions but are unsure where to start, have a look at some of our feedback templates.
Sometimes it is not always possible to collect feedback from others, thus self-assessment can be very useful in the quest for constant improvement. Often times we do not look at our work or our effort in a fair and measured way. Many of us are our own harshest critics. Coaching teams on how they can better self-assess their work can help to increase morale and can lead to improved feedback sessions.
If individuals can take the time to properly and fairly assess their own performance then this skill should translate over when it comes time to offer their co-workers all-important feedback.
Big goals are not great motivators. Rather, lofty goals can be demotivating when you soon realize just how much work it would take to even take one step towards what you want to achieve. Instead, set manageable and realistic short-term targets. This will be more motivating for your team, as they will be able to reach milestones and reflect on both improvements and accomplishments.
For example, if your goal is to create a positive work environment, don't just set a goal such as “make the office a more positive place", instead create smaller goals such as “greet everyone in the team when you arrive in the morning” or “eat lunch with a colleague you want to get to know better”. These smaller improvements will help you to reach your overall target in the end but will help your team to see the improvements straight away.
We have mentioned a number of steps and some examples of what exactly continuous improvement is - from encouraging feedback to being open and transparent. Developing this process need not be an arduous and tedious one. The four stages of the continuous improvement process are 1. Plan 2. Do 3. Check 4. Act. - also known as thePDCA cycle. We think that Mentimeter can help you facilitate each of these steps.
We have a wide variety of templates that can help you get started in both the planning and the doing stage of the process. For more information about how you can run some surveys and gather more useful insights, then be sure to survey your employees or your users.