Continuous improvement is key to business success

Continuous improvement is fundamental to business success. Training and management consultant Derek Stockley explains how leading by example and creating the right culture can engage and motivate your employees as well as generate new ideas.

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Continuous improvement is in Derek Stockley’s DNA.

“My father started out as a carpenter, but he was so committed to developing new skills and finding better, more efficient and safer ways of doing his job that, by the time he retired, he was also skilled in plastering, cabinet making, welding, concreting and tiling,” says Stockley, a training and management consultant who teaches the principles of continuous improvement to business owners. “He was known for the quality of his workmanship and invented a few tools along the way and even developed mass-production techniques for the ones he used regularly.”

Stockley found himself applying the principles in his own career.

“When I was working as an auditor with a firm of accountants I learned that systems could always be streamlined and improved,” he says. “I moved on to developing policies and procedures and introducing new computer systems, which brought home the importance of keeping pace with changing technologies and business environments.”

He points to three different ways a commitment to continuous improvement can help a business to grow.

1. Personal development

As a business grows and matures, different sets of skills are required.

“Upgrading your technical know-how is important but you should also focus on building so-called soft skills,” says Stockley. “For example, you should constantly review and develop your ability to relate to, and communicate with, different groups of people – clients, partners, lenders and, particularly, your staff. Good leadership is vital, and it’s unrealistic to expect continuous improvement from your employees if you’re not striving for that yourself.”

2. Team development

Everyone in an organisation has the potential to generate useful ideas. A culture of continuous improvement can provide the motivation.

“The most routine tasks become more interesting when you’re constantly reviewing the process and looking for a better alternative,” says Stockley. “If you encourage your people to think in a creative way, and make it clear you’re listening to their ideas, they will be much more engaged and productive. The business will benefit from their suggestions and you’ll also have a more loyal and enthusiastic workforce.”

Continuous improvement is a cycle – do something, consider whether it could be done more efficiently, have an idea, then feed that idea back into whatever you’re doing. It’s an effective way of growing a business but there’s also room for genuine innovation.

“Continuous improvement would have given us better and better horse-drawn carriages,” says Stockley. “Someone had to step right outside that paradigm to come up with the motor car, so you should also encourage your people to think outside the square.”

3. Technology

Technology is evolving so rapidly that many small business owners are missing out on the benefits.

“If technology isn’t your strong point, it can be hard to keep up with the changes that drive continuous improvement,” says Stockley. “You can’t be an expert in every area so I recommend using consultants to fill the gaps. There are people who can show you how to make the most of everything from your smartphone to your software. I recently paid someone to teach me how to use my email system more effectively. It was a small investment – it took just a couple of hours – but it’s already having a very positive impact on my productivity.”

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