The Magical Key to Building a Culture of Continuous Improvement

By: Scott Seroka

In the mortgage and fintech industries, many companies are actively placing a large focus on their cultures. They strive to create cultures of continuous improvement because they realize that’s the only way forward if they’re going to win, do great things that translate to a better experience for clients/customers and make their investors happy.

You can see this scrolling through your LinkedIn news feed and viewing pictures of team events, people having fun at work and CEO’s and managers calling out various teammates for their work or personal achievements. Interestingly, many of them are some of the fastest-growing companies in the industry.

These companies and those that run them, or started them, have figured out that celebrating their people and their team and creating an incredible culture focused on constant innovation is what makes their companies thrive.

In fact, a glimpse into one of the world’s most well-known and respected brands can teach us a lot about how a culture of continuous improvement is built.

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

There are two powerful messages here worth noting:

  • 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
  • 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’s 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 understand how to build such a culture.

Start Here: Create an All Ideas Matter Movement (A.I.M.)

At Seroka, one of the many tools we encourage our clients to consider implementing in their quest 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 submit their ideas for organizational improvement.

In nearly every case, the results of A.I.M. have been overwhelmingly positive for reasons that go far beyond the quality and quantity of ideas submitted to management. For example:

  • Employees appreciate knowing their opinions are not only requested by leadership, but that they also matter.

The mere act of senior-management creating, implementing and continuously promoting such a program prompts great positive feedback. And, as employees begin to witness the implementation of ideas they submitted, the quality and significance of their ideas improve substantially over time.

Note: To further boost morale, consider recognizing and rewarding employees who submit ideas that are implemented.

  • People feel a stronger connection to leaders who request and acknowledge their ideas, even if some of them are not selected for implementation, as long as they are told why their ideas were not selected(this is key).

The reason is that once leadership provides those explanations, employees will benefit in several ways:

1) it provides an opportunity for the leadership to engage in a positive, respectful and productive dialogue with employees,

2) employees will walk away with a better understanding of the company’s vision and how it is led, and

3) employees will have a better understanding of what the company’s purpose is. In other words, even a “no” becomes a win-win-win.

  • The diversity of perspectives submitted by employees to leadership not only alerts management to how much employees do and do not know about the organization, but they also provide management with insights into what is and isn’t working in different departments/areas of the organization.

This is precisely what facilitates a continuous improvement culture. No one person and no one group could possibly do it alone.

Would you like to implement a successful A.I.M. program? Here are the 4 Requirements:

1) Continuously promote it. The success of your A.I.M. program will be largely based on your leadership’s continuous promotion of it. Without its promotion, the flames of enthusiasm and participation will turn to embers, and embers will turn to ash. Don’t let this happen.

As with anything worth doing, the flames need to be consistently fanned. To that end, make the A.I.M. program part of your culture, your meetings and internal communications.

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.

Appoint and empower others to filter ideas and make decisions. As time goes on, ideas will naturally improve.

4) Recognize successes and the people behind them. This is a non-negotiable. If people (even those who appear shy) 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.

Make it competitive, present awards and give recognition for the best ideas submitted or implemented. This keeps the motivation high and the payoffs will add up substantially in the form of improved efficiencies, performance, morale and new business.

A well developed and implemented A.I.M. program will boost morale as productive paths of communication open up between leadership and employees.

Think of how much you have to gain and how many great ideas are out there you never thought of. After all, you hired smart people. Let them help you build a killer brand!

If you would like some assistance getting started, contact us today.