Is your organization getting better all the time?
Most business owners would like to think that their business is always improving; however, very few people are willing to actually do the heavy lifting to create an enterprise that is systematically improving on a regular basis. In the world of manufacturing, these concepts have been around for awhile. American consultant Edward Deming was a pioneer in quality improvement with Japanese industry post World War II. The Japanese term kaizen has become synonymous with continues improvement and this method was popularized by Masaaki Imai in “Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success.” In his book which was first published in 1986, Imai introduced the “LEAN” philosophy to the world and shared the secrets behind the success of Toyota and other Japanese companies.
The core principle of continuous improvement is the “self reflection” process. This is essentially a feedback loop that requires a willingness to be brutally honest about your organization. The purpose of this process is the identification, reduction, and elimination of poor processes. Using a commonsense approach, minor improvements are continually made in small, incremental ways in the organization with a strong emphasis on the customer.
As a company successfully embraces continuous improvement then it moves from being a best practice to becoming part of the fabric of the organization. While these concepts may have originated in the manufacturing sector, they are rapidly being adopted by service businesses, particularly in health care and technology. There is a tremendous opportunity to gain a competitive advantage by committing your company to a path of continuous improvement.
Mississippi entrepreneur Jill Beneke formed Pileum Corporation in 2002, and she has successfully built a management consulting firm by relentlessly focusing on improving her organization. Beneke worked for over twenty years in financial services, and she was Senior Vice President of the Capital Management Group for AmSouth prior to forming Pileum. Her father was an entrepreneur as well as her husband, so it was a natural shift for Beneke to launch her own venture when the timing was right. Pileum acts as a trusted partner to companies in multiple industries to help with their information technology and their most important asset – their data management. Because of this critical role the company plays for its customers, Beneke and her team have to stay ahead of the constant evolution of technology and meet the real time needs of their customers.
While Pileum may not use phrases like kaizen or LEAN to describe their internal process, they are very much committed to the path of continuous improvement. The management team and staff continually ask the question “How can we do things better?” According to Beneke, “our management team gets together frequently, and we are open and honest about trying to improve. This means that we can’t be afraid to be self-critical.” Pileum also provides a significant amount of in-house training for its employees and pays for its employees’ external training and industry certifications. Their goal as a company is to be getting better all of the time. For Pileum, this commitment to continuous improvement has helped separate it in the marketplace and establish the company as a leading technology consulting business. The company now has over 30 employees and services a large number of clients in the Mid-South.
If your company is not embracing the principles of continuous improvement then time is of the essence because your competition probably will be soon. As a leader, you can demonstrate a commitment to continual improvement and set the direction of the organization. In order to be successful, you also need buy-in of the members of your team and for them to embrace this kaizen mindset. While dramatic changes may not occur overnight, your team will daily be embracing a way of thinking conducive for long term success.