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Continuous improvement: how to get started

Is continuous improvement just for manufacturing companies that need to cut costs? The short answer: No.

Continuous improvement is a testament to consistency—to making changes (sometimes big, often small) each day. Sometimes those changes can be so small, and the organizations implementing them so big, that the power of their impact can only be seen well after their implementation. Given that, it’s no surprise that continuous improvement is often misunderstood and underestimated.

Here, in the first post in our myth-busting series, we discuss a common misconception.

Myth: Continuous improvement is just for manufacturing companies that need to cut costs.

Reality: Companies across industries benefit from a continuous improvement culture. The continuous improvement archetype is the most common type of healthy culture in our Organizational Health Index of nearly 2,000 companies, with 83 percent of high-tech/media/telecom, 76 percent of banking, and over 50 percent of consumer companies identifying as continuous improvement organizations.

For continuous improvement companies, eliminating costs is the byproduct of a much loftier goal—employee empowerment directed towards efficiency and topline growth via product/service innovation.

Consider the case of a large international theater/cinema chain that undertook a continuous improvement transformation with the goal of creating an “inspiring entertainment experience for every guest” amid an increasingly competitive market as streaming services changed consumers’ entertainment consumption. To deliver on this vision, our client turned to their greatest source of insight and innovation—their frontline theater/cinema employees.

Here’s how they did it—and how you can, too.

    1. Communicate a compelling vision and connect it to each employee’s daily work. Our client’s leadership team went on an international roadshow communicating the company’s new vision of providing customer delight and the underlying values, such as minimizing time away from guests and maximizing real-time problem-solving to identify and fix any obstacles that could get in the way of delivering an exceptional guest experience. This vision and these values were reinforced through an annual “Sharetember,” where employees take part in daily challenges that connect the company’s work to their daily experience of “making a guest’s day” and where they share their own stories of what being a part of this company means to them.

    2. Make it easy for employees to innovate and share feedback. Company leaders gave each employee three tokens per day that could be given to customers for snacks or upgrades. This had the effect of making clear, achievable goals—at least three “above and beyond” customer interactions per day and demonstrated implicit trust in employees’ judgment to use these tokens as they wished, which gave employees confidence to extend well beyond the tokens to inspire customers.

    Additionally, our client deployed a simple, multichannel approach comprising of iPads, surveys, and Google communities for employees to share innovative ideas, collaborate around common challenges, and share feedback directly with leadership on the company’s direction and vision. Simply deploying iPads at each location to make feedback more convenient created a huge lift for our client.

    3. Celebrate culture heroes who embody the new way of working. Our client reimagined frontline employees as “brand heroes with a passion for delivering an inspiring entertainment experience for every guest” and the “Kapow factor” to generate innovative ideas for delighting guests. The company used storytelling to elevate these heroes, for example, using a story of a cinema employee who helped a young child find a missing teddy bear in internal training material to bring to life the vision of going above and beyond for customers. These stories were supplemented with incentives such as whimsical thank you scratch cards with surprise awards and cinema team funds for celebrations of “teams caught being good.”

These small efforts amounted to huge impact in both employee and guest satisfaction. Our client has seen a 50 percent reduction in employee absences and a steady increase in quality and quantity of applicants. After undergoing this continuous improvement culture transformation, our client saw a whopping 80 percent increase in operating performance, 13 percent increase in attendance, an improved Net Promoter Score in all markets, and reclaimed the top market position in several markets.

Don’t take our word for it. Hear from five industry leaders on how continuous improvement led to a sustainable performance edge.

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