Continuous improvement is among the foundations of Lean. Yet, it is the principle most teams are struggling with because it’s easy to get started with at first, but quick to reach a plateau.
Many leaders fail to understand that continuous improvement is more than process optimization. It is a constant drive to learn and apply. Therefore it is fair to say that continuous improvement = continuous learning.
Achieving continuous learning on a large scale (e.g. company level) is not an easy task if you don’t know where to start and how to guide your team in the process. In reality, you can set your company on the way to continuous learning by following a simple 3-step model that we’ll cover in this article.
1. Define Clear Company Goals and Break Them Into Initiatives
When it comes to continuous learning on a company level, everybody needs to be focused in a direction that will be of help to the whole organization. Even if your employees are constantly reading and following their professional passions, there may not be a direct benefit for your company.
Therefore, you need to involve your team as much as possible in the company’s strategy and be very clear about the direction you want each of your teams to progress in.
A good way for this to happen is to apply Hoshin Kanri. It is a lean method for strategic planning that will help you define a long-term company vision involving every person in the process. With its help, you will be able to prepare a long-term strategy that is agreed on by every person who is going to be working on it.
Afterward, you can break it down into annual goals and top priority tasks with the help of the Hoshin Kanri X matrix. Visualizing your strategy will help you identify areas where you need to improve and therefore give directions to your teams where they will need to focus their learning efforts.
2. Apply Pull in Learning
After it becomes clear where your team needs to improve, you need to encourage them to spend time learning. This has to happen during office hours if you want to see a notable effect in a short amount of time.
You need to be aware that people are less likely to spend significant amounts of time on work-related stuff (and they shouldn’t) in their free time. You must make it clear that you trust your team and give them the liberty pull knowledge when they have the capacity.
Most companies trying to implement continuous learning are constantly pushing courses and trainings in the hands of their employees. They schedule them at times that may or may not be the best for each person to attend.
By doing this, they disrupt the workflow of the organization and harm the productivity of the whole team involved in these events. As a result, the process of continuous learning becomes not something exciting that every person looks forward to but a mandatory activity that takes away their time.
This makes it harder for each person to take away all the knowledge available in these trainings and the efficiency of the learning process drops.
Applying pull in learning is similar to implementing a pull system in your production process. You just have to allow your team to take ownership of the process. To help them with that you need to:
- Allow teams to find the content that will be of greatest value in the continuous learning process
- Give them control of the learning sessions
- Limit the time they spend on learning (similarly to applying WIP limits)
By limiting the time dedicated to learning (e.g. 3 hours per week) you will be able to keep your team focused so they don’t turn the process of continuous learning into a waste activity for your workflow.
3. Provide All the Necessary Resources
Giving your team control of the learning process doesn’t mean that you should stay uninvolved. As a leader, you need to make sure they have the necessary resources to make the most of the continuous learning efforts.
Although there is an enormous amount of free knowledge available online, there are tons of resources available in the forms of books, courses, conferences and so on.
As we pointed out earlier in this article, you shouldn’t push such knowledge on your team but rather help them understand that you support them. Make it clear that you are ready to invest аnd encourage them to request such resources in order to achieve continuous learning.
For example, we are maintaining a substantial company library hosting books on topics from the expertise areas of every department in Kanbanize. We are constantly updating it based on the needs of the teams and each person in the company is encouraged to request new books.
In order to make it as flexible as possible, we are storing them in 3 different formats – paperback, audio, and Kindle so everybody can learn in the most convenient way for them.
Constantly looking for ways to increase the expertise and enhance the way your company operates are vital elements of continuous improvement. As the leader, you are responsible for making sure that your organization is on the right track.
By following this 3-step guide, you’ll be able to involve more people and help them become better professionals and achieve continuous learning.