Eight Lessons for Sustaining Excellence

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Achieving initial improvements in any organization is a commendable step, but the true challenge lies in sustaining those enhancements and continuously fostering excellence. Through years of collaboration with a diverse range of professionals and organizations, we've distilled essential lessons for maintaining and building upon initial successes.

Lesson 1: Beyond Tools

Continuous improvement tools across Lean, Six Sigma, and other methodologies are invaluable. Yet, the essence of sustaining excellence transcends the mere acquisition of these tools. It's about nurturing a mindset geared towards improvement, where the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills takes precedence.

Lesson 2: The Power of Education and Engagement

Training and education are fundamental, but their real value emerges when combined with immediate application. Balancing theoretical instruction with hands-on problem-solving ensures that new knowledge is effectively utilized and retained.

Lesson 3: Clarify the Problem

A clear definition of the issue at hand guides effective learning and tool application. Focusing on solving a few, specific problems can help clarify why certain tools or concepts are being taught, encouraging ownership and application of new skills.

Lesson 4: Quick Actions, Not Rushed Solutions

While it's crucial to act swiftly, discernment in solution implementation is key. Avoid the trap of applying new tools to every problem indiscriminately. Instead, aim for a rapid yet thoughtful application, learning from each step forward.

Lesson 5: Results Matter

The balance between seeking results and fostering engagement is delicate. Emphasizing participation without losing sight of outcomes ensures that improvement efforts lead to tangible benefits.

Lesson 6: Daily Improvement over Programs

Sustaining excellence demands the transition from structured programs to embedding continuous improvement into everyday activities. Programs may kickstart the journey, but lasting success is achieved when improvement becomes an integral part of daily work.

Lesson 7: Trust, Verify, and Be Present

Empowerment is crucial, but so is leadership presence. Regularly engaging with teams on the ground—the gemba—allows leaders to verify improvements, provide support, and identify new opportunities alongside their teams.

Lesson 8: Continuous, Not Controlled

Accepting that processes naturally deteriorate over time shifts the focus from trying to control improvements to continuously seeking small enhancements. Recognizing and addressing minor declines prevents major backslides, embodying the spirit of continuous improvement.

Continuing the Journey

The path to sustaining excellence is cyclic and ever-evolving. Each of these lessons points towards a culture where continuous improvement is ingrained in every action and decision. By adopting these practices, organizations can ensure that improvements are not only achieved but maintained and built upon, fostering an environment of enduring excellence.

To go further in sustaining excellence in your continuous improvement journey, explore resources such as The Lean CFO by Nicholas Katko and The Financial Controller and CFO’s Toolkit by David Parmenter.