You Don’t Build a Culture of Continuous Improvement by Waiting Until Your Culture is Totally Ready for Continuous Improvement


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When I talk to organizations about Kaizen, or continuous improvement, there's far too much self-defeating talk, where people say things like:

“We're not going to try this Kaizen process because our culture isn't ready yet.”

That's not only self-defeating, it's self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don't work on continuous improvement, you'll never have a culture of continuous improvement.

It's like saying, “I won't exercise until I'm in good enough shape to look good at the gym.”

I don't understand how people are comfortable saying, “We're not going to try continuous improvement.”

When you press the issue and ask when they think their culture will be ready, I've never really heard a good answer.

If you ask, “What would it take… what actions can you take to make the culture ready?”, there's not much of an answer, usually. Some organizations always seem to think they'll be ready six months from now… and that six months always slides back.

“We're not ready” seems like an excuse. It sounds like, “We don't want to try” or “We're comfortable with things the way they are.”

That's sad.

Or, maybe they're scared to try and fail.

I'm empathetic… I understand that people are busy (which I see as a problem to solve). I can't lecture people to not be scared… but I can encourage them to start small.

The psychologist Robert Maurer, PhD is brilliant on the idea of starting small, if you check out his books (and my podcast with him):

Learn by Doing… Start Now…

We learn by doing… at some point you have to just start. Take down the “STOP” sign and put up a START sign:

Many of our wonderful KaiNexus customers have managed to get past the point where they worry about “doing Kaizen perfectly.”

Your employees might be hesitant… scared. They might think their ideas are dumb or that they'll be labeled a complainer. As a leader, you have to coach them… be supportive… be helpful… be a servant leader.

As a leader or coach, you'll never do this perfectly when you start. Sometimes, you'll say the wrong thing. You'll make a face when somebody has a “bad idea.” You'll have to apologize. You'll learn from these mistakes (I hope) and you'll get better. You'll be practicing Kaizen if not “Practicing Lean.”

Start small. Take baby steps. Learn by doing (hopefully with a good coach or mentor).

Here's a relatively new video where some of our KaiNexus customers talk about how they got started (and how our technology can help build a culture of continuous improvement… rather than waiting to somehow magically have this culture in place before starting). I think it's powerful:

Below is a transcript of the video. What do you think about this topic? Post a comment below, if you like…

Video Transcript:

James Pryor: Sometimes when you're looking at creating a culture of continuous improvement, we may want to start laying that groundwork before your think about introducing technology. Sometimes that technology can actually help build that culture of continuous improvement.

Pam Pothoven: For us, really having KaiNexus has allowed us to drive the culture as opposed to waiting to have everything in place about Lean, all the methodologies, and the different tools that you're going to use. KaiNexus has allowed that to happen, and it's actually driving the culture as opposed to us waiting.

Linda Vicaro: I think in relation to culture, one thing is that you're never going to have the culture right, but I've found that through the use of KaiNexus, we're able to be fostering that culture. We're able to be developing that culture with KaiNexus because we have that transparency to see where those culture problems are.

Pam: The ideas are visible. Everybody can see them. Managers are able to review them. There's due dates, so it holds people accountable to getting the work done. Obviously, if we can't implement the improvement, then talking about the why, so I think that's really important for employees to understand.

James: Everybody is getting involved. There's real-time communication. There's documentation of what we've done, and can celebrate that. All of those things together is what creates the culture. The technology hasn't hindered the creation of the culture. It's actually sped it up.

By the way, check out our KaiNexus YouTube channel, our blog, our podcasts, and our webinars (including a library of on-demand webinars). Lots of free content there.

What does your organization do to get started with continuous improvement even if the culture “isn't ready yet?” What's your advice for others?

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Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.



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