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Continuous Improvement: An essential component of any business

25 July 2018
Glass enclave reception area of a corporate building
Continuous Improvement is an essential component of any business, retail or other. It's pervasive and, by its very nature, should be seeped into everyday business for all involved; therefore, not a centrally run function.

Feature vs. Function

Employee Satisfaction Affects Profitability… this is a fact.

Employees who are invested in a Continuous Improvement culture have higher Employee Satisfaction… this is also a fact.

This is even more exaggerated in B-to-C businesses… such as Retail, Hospitality.

CI is a large part of a myriad of components which will boost overall satisfaction levels; these include investing in skills, reward & recognition, positive role-modelling, and other features. These all have their part to play. I am choosing CI as this can produce an immediate cultural and financial impact from the word go.

CI is an essential component of any business, retail or other. It's pervasive and, by its very nature, should be seeped into everyday business for all involved; therefore, not a centrally run function.

Harnessing ideas, observations (and often gripes) from on the shop floor is a truly valuable endeavour, as change created and driven by people inside a business has a greater chance of being adopted and sustained than relying on the services of transient consultants.

Whether focus is on producing a hyper-efficient e-commerce service, developing unique retail customer-experience, or crafting a luxurious distance selling offering, there is a sliding scale of poor to outstanding examples of how businesses have delivered outstanding value to their customers.

Having the ability to harness market best (and worst) practices and adding this to the ideas and inspirations of people within, has the ability to set a business on a different, more successful trajectory.

Gen-Z vs. the status-quo

The next generation are coming. Again. And they are changing the game. Again.

Frequently reviewing the existing internal mechanism for engaging people in all aspects of change will help establish whether the business is primed to make the most of the next generation of employees (the next on the way being Generation-Z, born between 1990 & 2000. They don't like TV as much, they want to be challenged and empowered and are more likely to call you out in public forums if they think you're full of it… so beware). Regardless of generation, all have different sets of skills and ideas that contribute to the ever-changing retail landscape.

Therefore, the two areas that need greater focus is: firstly, critiquing established CI mechanisms, making sure they are being delivered in such a way that they don't lose the ideas and inspirations of all people; and secondly, how change is marketed* internally, taking into consideration the employee's needs.

Workforce's fluctuate, this is exaggerated in the retail sector with an attrition percentage of part-time employees pushing 25%, but that should not affect the overall effectiveness of the CI framework that is in place; as not everyone has to be an expert for there to be a successful CI culture.

Here are just a few things to bear in mind: 

  • Purpose above all else – why should they help? Creating a compelling reason for their support is crucial. Purpose is created by the leadership; therefore, role-modelling is key.
  • Skills & Knowledge – ensuring everyone has easy access to on-demand tutorials and guides will help people identify and raise quality suggestions. The greater the knowledge, the better the improvements.
  • You said, we all did – operating a transparent method of feeding back what has been done will strengthen the purpose and is proven to increase repeat engagement. Incentives, if positioned correctly, can drive this further.

This does not have to be a drain on budgets; in fact, if structured with care (and a bit of creative flare), it can actually generate cost reductions quickly, mitigate risk instantly, or lead to greater sales.
*notice the avoidance of the word 'communicated' – change needs a similar approach to marketing strategy. To simplify this, I use the idea of the McCarthy's 4P's – Product, Price, Promotion and Place. Each can be interpreted to build a similar commitment from the wider organisation to adopt change. In retail there is an abundance of this knowledge. Use it.

Learn from others mistakes

Undeniably, there is a high failure rate for CI initiatives; on the flipside, extensive research has been undertaken to identify the drivers of these failures, meaning we know how to bypass the common pitfalls.

To summarise:

  • Engage your people – in-digital & in-person; this has been made easier than ever with countless platforms popping up, find one that relates to the masses, not just the leadership.
  • Role model great behaviour, top-down – leader's decisions and actions are scrutinised (and criticised in the open) like never before thanks to open platforms.
  • Give equal weight to qualitative improvements as to quantitative – it is a common thread in blogs and news feeds (and if you listen closely enough, on the shop floor) encouraging changes that improve social wellbeing, not just the bottom-line, drives an increase in productivity and commitment.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. While there is a wealth of powerful information available for free online, sifting through it, selecting the relevant practices and then knitting them together into a coherent program could be more damaging than letting nature take its course.

Having an outsider provide a dispassionate and unbiased assessment of what would be the best approach is worth its weight in gold. The lost time, the bad sentiment, the damaged trust, not to mention the immense frustration caused by failed CI initiatives is all the more reason to get it right first time.

Keep in mind that having brilliant processes, systems and people can only take you so far. Obvious examples like Blockbuster and Kodak have become ubiquitous case studies for the effect of focusing solely on the refinement of existing processes. Every business must therefore have robust frameworks in-place for both the Innovation AND the Continuous Improvement; each provide a business with the ability to transform and improve on a continuous basis.

About the author 

Ed Hunt is co-founder and Principal Consultant of DWF Consulting. He is a hands-on leading consultant working across several sectors. Generating content and sharing learnings to improve business results through re-thinking employee and customer satisfaction. 

Further Reading