How to Move Continuous Improvement Past Flavor-of-the-Month Status
Continuous Improvement is one of those corporate buzzwords that most of us have often heard but few of us have experienced—at least not longer than a flavor-of-the-month initiative.
Many companies, including those in the metal industry, recognize the value but the tough part is trying to execute on Continuous Improvement until it actually becomes part of the fiber and sinew of the organization.
AMF determined a couple of years ago—after a few false starts—to drive this concept into the soul of our company. The jury is still out as to whether we have accomplished that extreme goal but there is no doubt that Continuous Improvement has pierced the armor of our company culture and is heading toward the heart.
How have we accomplished this cultural implementation? Perhaps the biggest key was starting from the bottom (where the good ideas really germinate) and working up.
Some of the key implementation strategies have been as follows:
- Create a cross-functional Continuous Improvement Committee that meets weekly, which does not mean every other week, every week when things are not busy, every week when every person can attend or every week when everyone is in the mood. It means every week no matter what!
Consistency is perhaps THE biggest key and right behind it is having a cross-functional team, consisting of shop and management, that has the autonomy to debate, discuss, agree and disagree about ideas and concepts.
- Recognize that small improvements are worthy of consideration—even simple suggestion like brooms, fixing small leaks or changing very minor work processes are very important. Those tiny improvements add up over time. They build upon each other. Small suggestions often lead to bigger breakthroughs (things that cannot be seen until someone takes the time to notice the impact of a small change.)
- Every suggestion, no matter how small, big, or brilliant (or even not brilliant) needs to be recognized and acknowledged. Without recognizing each suggestion, the Continuous Improvement concept turns into an old-fashioned idea box (that never gets checked and therefore never get stuffed with ideas.)
- Create an easy way for employees to submit ideas—particularly right at the moment the idea strikes them. We have implemented a CI Hotline where employees can use their smartphones to snap a picture and then text the idea the moment it happens.
- Finally, all the ideas, improvements, implementations, etc. need to be communicated inside the company in a major way. We spend resources marketing to our customers—our people need the same. AMF has set up internal Walls of Fame that we update consistently to communicate how improvements are being made and implemented.
The bottom line is we are trying to create more value for our customers and employees by getting better every day. Continuously Improving a metal fabrication company, like any other, is best accomplished by valuing what every employee might suggest, even from the smallest corner of the business.