Sunday, February 8, 2015

How to Cultivate a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement goes hand-in-hand with one of  the digital principles, "to learn constantly so we continually improve."

Digital means change, learning is the only way to adapt to changes. To become a "learning" organization and grow as a Digital Master, you must first have the right culture to encourage learning with growth mind, from the top-down commitment to human capital investment, and ensure employees have the tools and resources that support it. Here are more perspectives on Big Hows:

Culture Diagnosis: A good starting point is to consider what the "culture" of the organization actually is and then determine what kind of "culture" would be appropriate for the business you are in. Only then are you in a position to consider what learning and development might be appropriate. Do a root cause analysis of the current state to find out how all those gaps you see came about. Genuine buy-in is ever so critical to any change. Will it be more important than skill to succeed in any endeavor? No planned change or improvement can ever take place without the top leadership owning and leading the way. HR leaders in the 21st century need to recognize that building their organization’s leadership capabilities is going to be one of the major differentiators for future success. The study and practice of leadership development continue to be a work in progress. You should not think only about what you know and what you have but also what you aspire to become.

Senior Management Sponsorship: Learning and development occur when it is encouraged and supported by Senior Management. An organization's philosophies, core values, and organizational objectives drive learning and development. Performance Management Systems must hold managers accountable for "growing" their people and hold employees accountable for developing the skills needed for the organization to remain competitive. The bottom line is that there must be an organizational culture from top leaders all the way down the leadership chain that promotes continuous improvement, learning, and development and follows through as the top priority. Programs cannot be implemented as a one-time class but must be created and executed with effective assessments in place to measure their effectiveness. They can work with the rest of their organization to help them understand that learning and development don't mean attending training courses! That most learning happens 'on the job.' That the people who know best how to develop themselves on the job are individual employees, not their managers or HR.

A systematic process: A culture of continuous improvement needs to be implemented by systematic processes. Adapting learning and continuous improvement culture involves gathering data, analysis, defining areas to be improved, and a measurement scale for the culture improvement. So talent managers can make a difference by making personal development plans and planning a process that is the responsibility of each and every employee. It is their responsibility to create an action plan for what development assignments, coaching, and skills training they need to achieve this. HR can, and should provide every employee with the tools, resources, and skills to do this...and every manager with the tools, skills, and resources helps their team members be successful at it.

Digital Principles: Continuous improvement goes hand-in-hand with one of  the digital principles, "to learn constantly so we continually improve." One of the most important attributes of leadership is "showing by example". Whether a leader is from HR, or in any facet of an organization, taking an interest in employees via showing by example is of utmost importance. This means an employee feels that their leader has a vested interest in their goals and the leader also takes the time to invest in his/herself. Employees will then know the value of their own development.

Leading by example should mean that the leader utilizes their time effectively and include employee development as part of ongoing learning on the job activities. Many times when leaders have to wear many hats to complete development plans in addition to their many other responsibilities; and they have no time because of their many obligations, their employees become secondary in the area of learning and development. If the leader doesn't have any time because of so much work, and doesn't take the time to invest in themselves or their employees but just finishes the required development plan reports in the time allotted by HR to meet the requirements deadline, then employees may feel the leader doesn't care. The better way can be in the form of delegating some of their work to employees for the sole purpose of helping them sharpen their skills and not just passing along their work to get rid of it. Leaders can also encourage their employees to provide solutions to common problems by placing them on task force teams for specific projects. Another continuous improvement opportunity could be to offer job rotation programs where employees could have the chance to learn from their internal clients and colleagues about what they do. This is a low to no-cost way to provide learning and development opportunities in-house that contributes to high employee engagement if the program is structured correctly.

Communication, communication, communication: HR people have to communicate constantly and consistently to encourage knowledge acquisition and skills development by researching, reading, listening, and promote ingenuity among all employees. The culture of continuous improvement means to continue to discover that "there is always a better way." Use these "discoveries" to improve individual and organizational competence by having the more senior people (and those on their way to becoming one) in operations and technical services incorporate these new inputs or outlooks into in-house training programs so that the knowledge is shared with others who can then try them out and hopefully improve them. This is one way of developing a continuous cycle of improvements and learning. The task of HR, therefore, is to team up with management, operations, and the service units to gather all of the knowledge, convert them into libraries and technical courses or just encourage sharing through team activities. This is one way of having a no-frills continuous learning system that is beneficial to the business, to management, and to everyone else in the organization. And customers get to enjoy the benefits of better service/products and the company helps build the economy.

Despite your well-intended objective, strategic and proactive efforts, be cognizant of the consequences, in particular, your own 'discouragement' of failures resulting from inertia and lukewarm support especially from the level that claims to be "leaders." Too many talent managers think that their mission is to send messages to the organization or to create and deploy some programs. Then it is the right time to start making the distinction between training and learning, between input (training) and output (learning), between an intervention (training) and process (learning). Maybe it is the right time to start thinking in term of "return of learning" ROL. There is a need for organizations to understand the value of their manpower & how to promote it. And always keep the end in mind - to build a learning organization to maximize customer satisfaction, employee relations and improve business maturity continuously.