Continuous improvement programmes

We’ve got smart employees, so why do we need an improvement programme?

Since the beginning of history, mankind has had a passion for making life easier and doing things faster and better; resulting in inventions such as the wheel, the steam locomotive, the internal combustion engine and personal computers.

This combined with the fact that no-one goes in to work every day intending to do a bad job (except for professional saboteurs) could lead us to expect that businesses would be self-improving as employees constantly seek an easier and better life.

However, in reality customers are often dissatisfied, products are defective and costs spiral out of control, while the different departments in a business often seem intent on stopping each other doing their job.

This apparent contradiction is a direct result of the way businesses have changed following the industrial revolution. For example, before this a person making clothes for a customer would have a direct link with the customer, understand what they valued and know how the way they did their job impacted customer satisfaction. Nowadays, clothing is designed to fit the average person, material is bulk cut by machine and many people sew different parts and are measured on quantity produced and have no idea how the way they do their job affects the customer.

This disconnection from the customer combined with a drive to maximise profits for shareholders has resulted in many departments and individuals having no idea how they impact customers.
Frequently this is compounded by them being measured on counterproductive targets which drive them to improve the wrong things. Many call centres, for example, are targeted on call length which means they try to get customers off the phone as quickly as possible. Customers may have to phone back multiple times to get a problem resolved.

In another example, the sales team are targeted on selling as much as possible, so need lots of stock and for customers to have a high credit limit; yet the purchasing team are targeted on keeping minimum stock levels and the finance team keep credit levels low to minimise risk.

As all of these disconnections have been built into the structure of modern businesses as they have grown over time and it is not possible to change them overnight. In fact, it is not advisable to change them at all in many cases as modern businesses have complex end to end processes and it is not feasible to train employees in all the specialist skills required to run the whole process.

This leaves us with the dilemma of how to effectively improve the end to end process to deliver better quality, faster and cheaper while improving the customer experience.

This is where continuous improvement programmes come in. A good programme starts by providing a clear link between the customer and the business activities; enabling you to identify where and what needs to be improved to effectively improve performance and drive costs out. Combining this perspective with the expertise of your employees enables them to make the right improvements that benefit everyone and delight your customers.

This is why 95% of Fortune 1000 companies and UK Government departments have continuous improvement programmes and they are seen as a necessity by many leading businesses.

Which type of programme and which methodology will be effective is dependent on the business structure, culture and strategy. It is imperative, however, that some form of programme is in place if your enterprise is going to overcome modern complexity and enable your smart employees to really deliver a better service.


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