5 Solutions for Overcoming ‘Continuous Improvement’ Challenges

1. Simplify your effort. To succeed with continuous improvement, make it a natural part of every employee’s daily work ethic. For that to become reality, your approach can’t be complicated. If it is, new employees will need special training to understand your improvement method, you will need additional support resources to keep progressing, and backing it up will demand a great deal of your managers’ time. Time is probably your most limited resource. Keep it simple and you will save time while also giving everyone a chance to contribute.

2. Drill deep into a single challenge. A common reaction to recurring problems is bombarding them with solutions. Instead, focus on one problem and dig deeper to find the root cause. Imagine what would happen if I took you and 10 of your colleagues to a junkyard and asked you to build whatever you wanted. The most common reaction would probably be to just stand there looking around, not sure what to do.

“When you continually highlight progress made and focus on the strengths people have, you create a safe environment where improvement potential can be expressed without people becoming defensive.”

Imagine instead that I asked you to build a vehicle that could transport all of you at least 10 yards without any of you touching the ground. Instantly you would become more creative and could start to organize and divide the work among you. Some people think that creativity grows best when all boundaries are removed. The opposite is true. When we limit and clarify the task it becomes easier for everyone to contribute.

The same principle applies to problem solving. When you zoom in, dig deeper, divide into smaller pieces and discard the unessential, the aha moment will come, and that’s when you find easy-to-implement solutions with great impact.

3. Visualize good examples and positive results first to inspire action. In an environment where managers constantly tell or show people how they are inadequate, nobody wants to be the center of attention. To draw focus away from themselves, people will start pointing out faults they see around them instead, and before you know it, you have developed a culture of blame.

If you start by visualizing good examples and positive results, you will create a positive atmosphere and give people a chance to adopt a behavior worthy of praise. But even more importantly, when you continually highlight progress made and focus on the strengths people have, you also create a safe environment where improvement potential can be expressed without people becoming defensive.

4. Give up control and listen more. If the board members told you exactly what to do when it really mattered, you might start to question your own ability to handle difficult situations. The same is true for your executives. Monitor the number of questions you ask vs. the number of statements you make. If you double your question-to-statement ratio, you will both learn more and get more out of your executive team.

5. Use a systematic approach to build organizational improvement competence. Running an idea campaign is a popular method for tapping into the creativity of an organization. There is only one problem with them. They kill creativity. If there is an unmet need to be listened to in an organization, an idea campaign might create a surge of ideas, a surge so big that only a fraction of all ideas can be implemented. This means the majority of people will get yet another confirmation that no one listens to their ideas, and next time they are less likely to contribute.

A systematic approach not only will make sure that improvements are made and problems are solved daily, but also increase the improvement competence of your organization every day.

By implementing these 5 solutions, you will generate more results from your continuous improvement strategies.


Joakim Ahlström is head of Consulting at C2 Management and an inspirational speaker and business coach, particularly among manufacturing and service organizations. In Sweden, How to Succeed with Continuous Improvement is one of the most read books on the topic. For more information, visit http://www.SucceedwithCI.com and connect on Twitter and LinkedIn.