A Proven Method for Building a Continuous Improvement Culture

Toyota receives more than one million operational improvement ideas from its employees each year and implements 90 percent of them.

There are two powerful messages in this short statement worth noting: 1) One million ideas submitted each year tells us that Toyota, a company revered for setting the standard in how to run a successful business, is always looking for ways to improve, and 2) When such a highly respected company implements 90 percent of the ideas submitted by its employees (many of whom are not C-Suite executives), it’s not only an indication of how insightful and intelligent its employees are, but it is also a sign that those employees are truly interested in the success of the company.

Building a culture of continuous improvement, innovation and job satisfaction invariably leads to higher worker retention, performance, and an ability to attract high-quality people. And although this may be widely known, some organizations struggle to create such a culture.

All Ideas Matter

At Seroka, one of the many tools we encourage our clients to implement to improve their culture is an All Ideas Matter (A.I.M.) program. A.I.M. encourages leaders, managers and employees at all levels to offer suggestions for organizational improvement. In nearly every case, the results of A.I.M. have been overwhelmingly positive for numerous reasons that go far beyond the quality and quantity of ideas submitted to management:

  1. Employees appreciate knowing their opinions are requested and that their opinions matter. The mere fact of senior-management implementing such a program prompts more positive than negative feedback from all.
  2. People feel more connected to, and are more respectful of, leaders who acknowledge their ideas, even if some ideas are not implemented. When ideas aren’t implemented and employees understand why, they have a better understanding of how the company is led and what its true purpose is. Hence, management/employee relationships become stronger.
  3. The diversity of perspectives not only alerts management to how much employees do and do not know about the organization, they also provide management with insights into what is and isn’t working in different departments and/or areas of the organization.

Implementing a Successful A.I.M. Program

  1. Continuously promote it. The success of the A.I.M. program is largely based on its continuous promotion. Without it, the flames of enthusiasm and participation would turn to embers, and embers would turn to ash. Don’t let this happen. As with anything worth doing, the flames need to be consistently stoked. To that end, make the A.I.M. program part of your culture, your meetings and communications. Make it competitive, present awards and give recognition for the best ideas submitted or implemented. In other words, keep the motivation to provide ideas high and the payoffs will add up substantially over time in the form of improved efficiencies, performance, morale and new business opportunities.
  2. Create and maintain focus. For specific issues or topics (e.g. how to improve the onboarding process), run an internal campaign/contest to acquire the best ideas from your people. Make sure to involve even those who are not directly tied to the issue or impacted by it. In our experience, we’ve found that some of the best ideas come from those not buried in the minutiae of the problem or challenge.
  3. Create mechanisms for idea collection, filtering and approval. Based on the size of your organization, you may need to establish channels for idea submission so that final decision-makers don’t become overwhelmed – especially with ideas that would never fly, are not properly thought through, or those that are anonymous and inappropriate. Appoint and empower others to filter ideas and make decisions.
  4. Recognize successes and the people behind them. This is a non-negotiable. If people (even those who claim they don’t like attention) are not recognized for their thoughts and contributions in front of their managers and peers, the program will die quicker than a campfire in a torrential downpour. As Dale Carnegie once said, the greatest need people have is the need to feel important. Such recognition and appreciation could be expressed in a meeting, company newsletter, or it could be as simple as being vocal about it in front of others.

If you don’t have anything in place right now to improve your culture, I encourage you to consider implementing an A.I.M. Program for your company. Also think about your employer brand and what your strongest value propositions are. If you’d like some assistance in this area, please contact us today.