How to create a continuous improvement culture

by Mascha Westen-Reinders Folmer, Reinders Folmer Consultancy, 26 February, 2021

In last weeks blog I talked about Lean leadership and its 5 main components:

  • Improvement culture: Striving for perfection. Failure in order to improve and learn
  • Self-development: Lean leaders lead by example. New leadership abilities are vital
  • Employee development: Long-term education of employees. Continuous learning
  • Gemba: Shop floor management. First-hand knowledge as a basis for decision making
  • Hoshin Kanri: Customer focus. Aligned goals on all levels

Today I will elaborate on the improvement culture and how to get there. Remember, this is never a quick fix, changing your organisation’s culture takes dedication and time.


Why would you want to develop a continuous improvement culture?

In our ever faster changing world, it is key that your organisation can keep up. In a continuous improvement culture everyone in the organisation, from the janitor to the CEO is always looking how his or her job, process, workplace, product can be improved. They are constantly looking for opportunities to do better.

Some of the benefits of such a culture are:

  • Higer profitability – less defects, returns and QA issues will show in general yield.
  • Higer quality of sevices and products – resulting is more satisfied customers and increases mouth-to-mouth advertising.
  • More competitive advantage – being able to quickly respond to changes can help you stay ahead of the rest.
  • Better imagination – encourages problem solving and out-of-the-box thinking.
  • More new ideas – each thought is taken seriously, regardless of who suggested them.
  • More cooperation – helps eliminate walls between departments and increase joint efforts.
  • Better generalf organization culture – enables representatives to have an effect, making a common feeling of satisfaction.

Does this sound interesting to you?

How can achieve a continuous improvement culture?

Next to all known cultural change tools and techniques you can apply, these are some of the steps specifically related to Lean continuous improvement cultural change:

1. Create a vision that includes a description of your Lean organisation and culture

In your long term plans include a detailed visualisation of your Lean organisation. What does it look like, what do you see people do and how do they act, how does the process go, how do you feel when walking around. Visualising you ‘to-be’ situation, helps you to focus on the right things in all decisions you make.

2. Translate this vision to all levels in the organisation

It is important for everyone in the organisation to understand what they are part of and how they contribute to the bigger picture. Most people like to understand how the ‘belong’ and what their added value is. By clarifying this you can channel the improvement energy that you are about to unleash.

3. Train all your managers how to encourage continuous improvement

Only when leaders on all levels can make the change from traditional management styles to a continuous improvement management style, will your employees be able to make the change as well. A continuous improvement (Lean) manager ask questions like: “What is happening?”, “What improvements were made?”, “What are you going to do different?”, “What support do you need?”. This requires employees to think for themselves, instead of sitting back and listening what solution or approach their manager has come up with. So this is essential to ‘activate’ your employees.

4. Use a week- and daystart structure as a platform for improvement

The consistent application of standardised week- and daystarts, in combination with the PDCA improvement cycle, is an ideal way to keep focus on continuous improvement. The combination of looking back and evaluating and looking forward how to improve will help everybody in the organisation to keep looking for potential improvements, and develop continuous improvement skills.

5. Focus on execution of improvements and celebrate successes

When using the week- and daystart structure and/or improvement boards, it is crucial to make sure that suggestions made will actually be executed. Nothing will discourage people more than asking them to be involved, and subsequently doing nothing with the ideas they come up with. When issues cannot be solved by the team, a multi-level week- and daystart structure can help get the issue to the right level for decisions-making and quicker solutions.

When improvements are made, make sure you celebrate (big or small). Acknowledging and thanking the ones coming up with the idea, as well as the ones realising the improvement, will energise many to follow in their footsteps.


Of course all of these items will only work when you apply them in a disciplined manner.


Are you interested, but not sure how to do this, or do you have any questions? Feel free to contact me for more information.