Since the global recession in 2008 thousands of SMEs and big businesses have closed, whilst the public and third sectors have seen massive reductions in funding threatening service delivery if not forcing total cessation. There is no doubt an economic downturn can be a company and service killer, particularly for those organisations that lack robust business practices.
There is however some positives to be gained whilst operating through difficult times. Struggling through a recession can be the catalyst to empower an organisation not only to survive but to change the way it operates forever. Adopting a culture of Continuous Improvement can be instrumental in not only ensuring survival but can create a continual journey towards a more secure future.
As Henry Ford famously stated:
"If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got."
Continuous Improvement (CI) is often referred to the Japanese term 'Kaizen' which translated means 'Change for the Better' and should be applied throughout the organisation. CI is an on-going effort to improve products, services and processes to provide excellence and added value for the customer or service user. It involves making continual small improvements to a process rather than big changes at irregular intervals. CI needs engagement and team work where everyone feels a responsibility and a part to play in affecting improvements.
Since first being applied in Japanese manufacturing processes CI is now seen throughout all manner of industries, companies and organisations, both public and private, and is a never ending approach to improving performance to meet the constantly changing needs of customers and stakeholders. Although there is not a 'one fit all' approach with CI, key features such as identifying the vision, embedding the culture and putting in place the resources needed to achieve results remain as standard for success. There are many methodologies, tools and processes that fall under the CI umbrella such as lean, kaizen, six sigma, agile, systems thinking etc however without employees embracing CI and adopting changed processes, improvement won't happen.
Once CI has been established as part of the DNA and is accepted a 'business as usual' the potential benefits are substantial, and all the more valuable at a time when financial budgets are severely constrained. To this end in 2011 the government approved a continuous improvement strategy for all central government departments, requiring them to introduce and embed continuous improvement principles. This continuous improvement also forms a key aspect of the civil service reform plan. Many local authorities, health bodies and other government agencies are now also introducing CI into their daily activities to transform services and improve performance. The private sector is some ways ahead of the public sector in terms of CI take up and there are many examples of performance improvement.
At Continuous Improvement 2014 the process of establishing, designing and maintaining a culture of CI will be examined and a series of best practice case studies from both the public and private sectors will be shared bringing the immeasurable benefits of a Continuous Improvement strategy to life.