The Continuous Improvement Blog

How to build a continuous improvement culture with Lean and Six Sigma

Written by Colin McArdle on 15 Nov 2017

continuous_improvement_culture.jpgHave you attempted to implement Lean and Six Sigma in your organisation but failed to see results?

It could be that you’re not paying enough attention to a key component: culture.

Lean and Six Sigma isn’t just about changing the way work gets done by changing processes. It’s about building a culture of continuous improvement. Where a continual drive towards solving problems and finding better ways of working becomes part of your organisation’s DNA.

If you’ve been using the same processes for years, you might find your workforce resistant to change. Or, they may welcome the opportunity to have their say about the way things work.

Either way, developing Lean and Six Sigma mindsets and behaviours will be key to your success.

In this blog post, we outline five things you should be doing to create a Lean and Six Sigma culture of continuous improvement in your business.

Communicate the vision

A strong culture is one in which everyone across the organisation shares the same beliefs and values. Where everyone is working to the same goals.

Communicate your vision and strategy so workers understand what is driving change and can get on board with new ways of thinking and working. You’ll need strong leaders who can motivate and inspire workers to believe in Lean and Six Sigma and how it will benefit them, the business, and the customers.

Give the workforce a voice

Implementing Lean and Six Sigma relies on giving a voice to the people who know your processes best - your people.

They run the processes of your business day-in, day-out. There will be things that frustrate them on a daily basis. Whether they’ve voiced it or not, you can be sure that they’ll have thought along the lines of “wouldn’t it be easier if…” on at least one occasion. But, have you ever given employees a forum to voice these opinions?

Whether it’s a monthly meeting or a physical ideas board in the workspace, you need to provide a safe environment where employees feel comfortable and confident putting their hand up and saying “I have an idea for a process improvement”.

An important part of implementing Lean and Six Sigma is the diagnostic assessment to identify areas in need of improvement. As part of this, it’s a good idea to carry out Value Stream Mapping. This is a method of recording the key people, resources, activities, and information flows required to deliver a product or service. By depicting each process graphically, you can create a snapshot of performance, and identify opportunities to reduce waste.

This is the perfect opportunity to involve your workforce. Make sure there is a forum for them to share ideas, for example, create improvement communication boards either on the company’s online system or even on a notice board or white wall where everyone can see.

Build momentum with quick wins

If you jump right in and start making big changes across the entire workplace all at once, your workforce will feel overwhelmed and uncertain, and you’ll lose any hope of getting them on board.

By piloting initial projects to make small changes to processes, your workforce will see the positive impact of Lean and Six Sigma early on. In turn, you’ll create a positive energy around further change. And you’ll be able to learn from what worked and what didn’t, so you don’t make the same mistakes with the next change.

Again, encourage your workforce to be part of this process. Collect their feedback and use it to inform future Lean and Six Sigma projects.

Provide comprehensive training

Training the workforce should be a big part of implementing Lean and Six Sigma. They need to be trained in the fundamentals of Lean and Six Sigma, so they can identify waste, and generate ideas to improve processes. And when new ways of working have been established, make sure training is given on new standards and best practice.

Recognise progress and achievement

Your workforce need to see that changes are paying off. Make ‘before and after’ metrics visible to everyone, and recognise teams and individuals for meeting KPIs.

People want to work for companies that recognise achievements. By recognising successes in new ways of working will make people feel valued, and engage them better with the business. The result is they’ll be more energised, more productive, and more likely to remain within the business.

Creating a culture of continuous improvement is more than just making a few changes to processes. It’s about redefining culture to make sure everyone in the business is committed to continuous improvement. It's about making team work central to driving sustainable performance.

By following the advice in this post and focusing on engaging your workforce, you can reinvigorate your attempts to deploy Lean and Six Sigma across your organisation.

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Topics: Business Improvement, lean, six sigma

Colin McArdle

Written by Colin McArdle

Colin McArdle, the Founder and Managing Director of Kaizen Kulture is a Lean and Six Sigma Master Black Belt who has over 30 years industry experience. Kaizen Kulture's mission is to be true to the ethos of continuous improvement.