How To Create A Culture Of Continuous Improvement In Manufacturing

by Mike O'Neill

One of the most effective ways to increase quality, operational efficiency, and profits in manufacturing is to create a culture of continuous improvement. Creating this culture involves taking established production processes and looking for multiple ways to improve them. Incrementally improving processes builds a culture of change and encourages innovation.

The right improvements reduce defects, decrease production time, and boost client satisfaction. For organizations experiencing rapid growth, finding innovative approaches to everyday issues helps your plant operate at full capacity. Every business can take advantage of new ideas, technologies, and best practices that fit the existing business model. 

What Is Continuous Improvement?

In manufacturing, there is always room for improvement. Continuous improvement is the ongoing effort to enhance processes, goods, or services through incremental steps over time or through breakthrough developments that happen all at once. The foundation of continuous improvement includes implementing new opportunities for improvement, measuring the impact, and sharing knowledge across the organization. 

Continuous improvement means searching for and resolving defects, deviations, and other roadblocks within a manufacturing plant to improve production. You can incorporate various strategies, but you must find one that fits your business model and manufacturing vertical. Bench Builders has developed eight steps to creating a culture of continuous improvement in manufacturing.

1. Lead By Example

Continuous improvement starts from the top and goes down through the organization. Show your support by embracing lean management and best practice principles. Participate in initiatives, and act on ideas. Discuss any setbacks and evaluate progress. Leaders need to be seen by employees as fully committed to building a culture of continuous improvement. 

2. Regular Communication

Talk about the benefits and importance of continuous improvement to create buy-in across your organization. You build confidence and inspire a sustainable improvement culture with regular and consistent communication. This is also a great time to develop the right mindset with employees. One of the biggest challenges in building a culture of continuous improvement is the resistance to change. However, encouraging a growth mindset and encouraging continuous learning will drive long-term improvements. Look into coaching and training sessions to encourage new behaviors and build skills like effective problem-solving.

3. Ask For New Ideas

Employees want to know that their opinions and ideas matter. They want to feel valued. Because your frontline employees are best placed to identify process or systemic issues, ask them for ideas and respond to them quickly. Don’t limit yourself to only asking for ideas that directly affect your bottom line or meet a specific dollar amount. Create an environment where all improvement ideas are welcome. Getting employee buy-in by empowering employees to help identify areas of improvement encourages innovation and accountability.

4. Empower Employees

Make continuous improvement a part of daily work. Encourage employees by providing tools, training, and time to look into existing processes so that they continue to identify opportunities for improvement. Once an improvement is implemented, ask employees to document the process and make it the standard going forward. That is until further improvements are identified.

5. Emphasize The Importance Of Incremental Improvement

Making every improvement into an event or project is not a sustainable approach to creating a culture of continuous improvement. Instead, encourage small and incremental improvements in all functions and levels of your organization. These small improvements are valuable and create a sustainable culture of improvement because all employees are actively engaged in the process.

6. Share Ideas

Share improvement ideas and those implemented via email, newsletter, noticeboards, or any other channel your organization uses for communication. The success of creating a culture of continuous improvement hinges on effective integration throughout your organization. New ideas, production line, or team performance improvements should be shared and easily accessible through digital dashboards or newsletters. Sharing ideas, implementing them, and clear communication bolsters team participation, motivation, and morale.

7. Celebrate Success

Whether formally or informally, celebrate success by recognizing the teams and individuals involved in implementing the improvements. This ongoing recognition increases employee engagement and motivates other employees and teams to find ways to improve their processes too. To encourage even more participation, create incentives with a reward or recognition program to acknowledge achievements.

8. Encourage Participation

Keep your methodology simple enough that everyone can participate and identify opportunities for change. While there are many frameworks you can choose (Six Sigma, 5S, Kaizen, etc.), the most successful organizations implement the one that makes the most sense for their business model and vertical.

The Impact Of Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s dynamic and changing consistently. By creating a culture driven by encouraging employees to provide ideas, communicating from the top down, and celebrating the little wins, you’ll experience positive impacts. There are too many benefits to list here, but the top benefits are:

Increased Productivity —The continuous improvement approach improves product quality and customer service, eliminating waste and driving efficiency. Implementing efficient processes is crucial in manufacturing. Adopting a continuous improvement approach gives employees the tools they need to get work done and experience less frustration with inefficient processes.

Improved Quality — Most improvements impact multiple areas. For example, an idea that improves efficiency likely improves customer satisfaction. One of the fundamental purposes for implementing a continuous improvement approach is to streamline processes that produce quality products.

Reduced Cost — Implementing a cost-saving idea tends to impact your ROI within the first year. Your staff is an excellent source of ideas to improve processes that reduce cost and create greater efficiency. Talk with employees on the shop floor and discuss ideas for process improvements. Because they are on the ground floor and performing the processes, they are the best source of insight into how things can be simplified or optimized and generate value.

Improved Delivery Time — On-time delivery is one of the essential expectations from customers. Many manufacturing businesses must provide high service levels to meet demands. Many metrics help increase a supplier’s performance, but if you can’t meet your customer’s expectations and deliver on time, they’ll likely find another supplier who can.

Better Employee Retention — Turnover is expensive in terms of time, energy, resources, and more. You must pay for recruiting, hiring, and training someone new when you lose an employee. Depending on the job, this can take a few months to several years of on-the-job training for an employee to gain the knowledge to excel at their job. When employees actively participate in improvements, they gain a sense of pride and accomplishment, a cornerstone of continuous improvement. This leads to a greater sense of belonging and gives employees fewer reasons to leave.

The Takeaway

Continuous improvement doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It takes participation from everyone in the company and demands a cultural transformation. Recognize that every employee and leader knows improvement is a key part of their job, and they approach it with the same emphasis as they would any other KPI. 

As the founder of Bench Builders, I understand the challenge of change within a company. I have worked with many manufacturing companies to help foster employee engagement, improve efficiency, and grow. Call me to discuss creating a culture of continuous improvement.

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