Most business leaders claim they want continuous improvement, but saying you want it and pursuing it with tenacity are worlds apart.
If you want your team to improve it begins with you. You have to be critically honest with yourself and be willing to change. The more public the better.
When you do this your team sees a few things:
- It is ok to make mistakes or fall short, especially when you turn around and improve the next time
- The leader is humble enough to change, so I should be too
- If the leader still needs and wants to get better, so should I
- Perfection is not expected
- Continuous improvement is about action not words
- Failure to admit a mistake is worse than making one
Like most things, continuous improvement begins with a mindset. But how do you actually make it happen? Every business is different, but here are some fundamentals I’ve seen work well:
1. Provide a safe platform to speak
This could mean roundtable discussions or it could be as simple as listening on a daily basis. Solicit feedback and listen without judgement. Reward those who speak up and offer ideas for the betterment of the organization.
2. Lead a culture of mirrors and windows (sincerely)
Most leaders are familiar with the paradigm, but those who live it are rare. Egos can easily fog up the mirror and lead to blame instead of responsibility. Giving away credit to other people is a difficult thing to do, but important if you want to drive improvement. Most importantly, do it sincerely. Your people are smart and can easily differentiate sincere and manipulative praise.
3. Encourage ideas, reward action
Continuous improvement has two parts: identifying opportunities and making them happen. You need both, but the action part is more important. A bunch of ideas for improvement sounds a lot like complaining. Reward those who take action and drive real change.
Lastly, build the permission to change deep into your culture. Right or wrong, too many people are afraid to make changes because they don’t feel they have permission. Make it abundantly clear that change is good and your team will surprise you.