While many businesses have already rolled out continuous improvement processes, few of them can say they have managed to set up a real culture of continuous improvement across their entire organisation. Why is this? Does the way we communicate about initiatives and the resulting transformations tend to give them a bad press, rather than truly promote the associated value creation?
According to the ISO 9000 standard, continuous improvement is a “recurring activity to enhance performance”. However, these days, to many minds, the expression “continuous improvement” is more closely associated with a conventional cost cutting programme, rather than the enhancement of performance, and therein perhaps lies the problem.
The issues surrounding effective communication therefore lie in the ability to clearly define objectives and the approach, without overlooking the benefits sought and already obtained, to motivate teams to commit positively to change.
While the first announcements when launching a process often do set the right tone, communication is subsequently taken over by the people running it day-to-day, who naturally have a tendency to reduce it to a more “restricted” picture focusing on operational aspects. If communication then talks only about the streamlining and cost-cutting side of the business, it could go down badly with employees, and generate resistance to change instead of acceptance.
Creating a long-term continuous improvement process is therefore a significant challenge. If it is to be met, the process model with all the underlying principles, methods, systems and value-creation targets needs to be clarified. Ensure that subsequent staff communications are consistent with these aspects.
Continuous improvement acts on all levels of the business:
The continuous improvement process is not therefore an end in itself. It supports the company’s desire to function better and, as a result, to change. However, as we have already said, resistance to change is one of the biggest challenges to be met in management terms. The whole business is affected, and the whole business must be involved and strive to improve the organisation and how it works.
Relevant, continuous communication is therefore necessary, and it cannot rest on the shoulders of just a handful of people. It must form an integral part of your in-house communications and meet four key objectives, namely to inform, raise awareness, galvanise and secure support.
To communicate effectively about your continuous improvement process while staying focused on value creation, we advise you to follow these four basic principle.:
This is the aspect requiring the most attention. The “why” of the process means firstly the reason for its existence, then how the process is run, how action plans will be managed, the form of the expected results and first benefits seen, and so on.
For communication to remain focused on value creation, it should always relate to the foundations of the continuous improvement process and make all observable results available to everyone. Change absolutely must be visible if employees are to be helped to understand it, thereby instilling a climate of trust.
The format used for communicating about continuous improvement naturally varies depending on the target audience and the nature of the information communicated itself. While meetings, working parties and workshops are a good way to drive initiatives and action plans forward, they cease to be appropriate whenever large-scale communication is needed, when conferences, an intranet or social media will be the best method. A combination of direct communications channels can be supplemented by flyers, posters or banners in offices and other premises to serve as a constant reminder that the process exists and is part of the business’ day-to-day work.
It is all too easy to break out the jargon in the world of continuous improvement. However, your employees do not carry a full glossary of management systems terminology around, and jargon can quickly create distance; communication must be inclusive and readily understandable by everyone it reaches. All terms and acronyms used must be defined, and the Communications Department must ensure a balance is struck between words such as “optimisation” and “reduction” as against “gains”, “benefits”, satisfaction” and “improvement” to avoid painting a bleak picture of measures emphasising “less” rather than “better”.
Lastly, as regards communication, adapting the message to match the audience is now the order of the day. Each message must provide a clear response to the questions or concerns of those targeted, otherwise it will be ignored. If it is to hit home, communication about the continuous improvement process must first and foremost show how it supports employees and improves their working environment.
For the continuous improvement process to continue to form an integral part of the company’s culture and stay in the forefront of employees’ minds, it must be kept alive by people other than those running it day-to-day, and for it to survive long term, it is essential to set up an effective communication process focused on value creation.
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