Continuous Process Improvement: How Some Companies are Failing to Cash In

Empty Wallet

There is a hugely popular concept gripping insurance companies everywhere – continuous process improvement. The realization that a continuous process improvement culture can yield huge dividends is instigating a mass craze to define and deploy such programs. But are companies really seeing benefits from their attempts?

Many companies are failing to cash in. The key to seeing a return is to build a full capability of what they are striving to improve. Their returns are nominal at best, considering the time and cost going into many of these programs and the improvements they produce across an organization’s key processes.

Effective continuous process improvement programs create capabilities that permeate the entire organization and become something much greater than the flavor of the month program touted by leadership as the path to capturing market share and organizational growth. There are three critical elements you will need in order to build out a real, effective, and sustainable continuous process improvement capability.
Each of these elements must be complemented by the other in order for your capability to truly take shape and please your shareholders and top executives:

1. Support organizational competency around continuous process improvement: Many companies invest a lot of time and money building out an organization of black belts and process gurus. The reality is, a single center of excellence can never keep up with the pace of change. Companies fail to exploit the full benefits of a continuous improvement capability because they reserve competencies and tools for specialized teams responsible for the execution of critical improvement projects.

There’s no doubt that some complex projects, like redesigning critical sales roles and processes enabled with new technology, require such attention. However, many more opportunities exist that can add up to huge returns if the entire organization was able to contribute. Complex transformations will never stop happening, but why try to hit home runs when base-hits win games? Start thinking smaller.

So how do you create an organizational competency? Address continuous process improvement at varying degrees of sophistication so every employee has a chance to learn how to make a difference. These varying degrees can include anything from a simple overview that contributes to shifts in behaviors and attitudes, to how to leverage proprietary processes and tools that exist within your organization for leading or contributing to organizational change. This provides a great launch pad for natural leaders to emerge across the organization and begin contributing to innovation and change.

2. Weave it into the DNA of your culture: Many companies expend a lot of time and energy crafting and deploying exciting cheerleading campaigns that inspire people to sing the “process improvement” anthem. In reality, if continuous process improvement is not integrated within the performance framework from which every employee, from CEO to every last person on the front lines, is measured, nothing is achieved. Every employee should understand they have a certain degree of accountability for initiating, supporting, or sustaining key change initiatives across the company. No single employee is disconnected from the value chain, and when disconnects do exist, companies are failing to cash in.

Successes also need to be publicly celebrated in order to sustain new attitudes and behaviors. Employees need to be recognized and rewarded by those around them, including those in the C-suite. In fact, when integrating new measures for rewarding employees against the new behaviors, many times it also becomes a culture shift for sponsors. Specifically, in how they are measured in their ability to lead people through change. Leading complex change requires visible, vocal, and demonstrated commitment from sponsors across the company to truly inspire a lasting continuous improvement culture. In most companies, these behaviors simply don’t exist because they aren’t a part of the overall culture or performance expectations for executives.

3. Invest in building tools and processes for process improvement at all levels of the company: Many transformation initiatives are driven from analytics, dashboards, and executive agendas. The theme equates to “top down” management. What about building from the “bottom up”? One can argue there is just as much insight and analytic power in the experience and opinions of those who engage and service customers every day. Reality is, if you want to build a true continuous process improvement capability you need to create a mechanism for inspiring, capturing, prioritizing, and implementing continuous improvement ideas generated across all levels and all areas of your company.

Imagine a front line employee in love with his or her company, has a wealth of knowledge and insight into the customer experience, is completely committed to bettering the company, and has prepared plenty of recommendations for improvement, but has no opportunity to share them. Even worse, your company doesn’t have the means to orchestrate a response to drive any changes and derive value from them, even if the employee was able to share his or her ideas. Now multiply that lost opportunity to represent the workforce.

How much revenue is your company leaving on the table by failing to harvest those ideas? Leading companies have overcome these obstacles by taking the steps necessary to capitalize on their insightful and motivated employees and are reaping tremendous benefits.

The rewards and opportunities gained from having true capabilities for continuous process improvement are exponential. An organization-wide competency will inspire emerging leaders to support critical growth initiatives big and small, a performance measurement realignment will reinforce new behaviors necessary to sustain the capability, and mature tools and processes will provide the platform necessary to harvest and execute improvements with predictable quality and speed.

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