25 Key Leader Behaviors That Encourage Continuous Improvement

Continuous Improvement Webinar

I had a chance to listen in on Dr. Greg Jacobson and Mark Graban of KaiNexus as they gave a very informative webinar last week for Gemba Academy about “Leadership Behaviors that Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement.” They laid out 25 leadership behaviors that are essential for all leaders to abide by as they work towards encouraging continuous improvement in their organization.

You can listen and view the original webinar here for approximately 30 days from the original broadcast on August 14, 2013.

It’s Not the Boxes Fault

Before getting into and breaking down the 25 key behaviors, Graban and Jacobson have a very strong introduction that really gets us back to the basics of Kaizen. They discuss there frustration with certain flaws that while on the outside may seem like they are meant to promote continuous improvement, but in reality, are counter intuitive. Take the suggestion box approach for example, Graban uses a masterful quote from Bruce Hamilton (President of GBMP) to make his point.

Many companies assume that the failure of the suggestion box approach is with employees that don’t care, but if we dig a little deeper we find it is the system itself that squashed enthusiasm.

-Bruce Hamilton, GBMP

The problem is the system itself, as they both point out. An “opaque” box with a “lock and key” are not very inviting to an employee who hopes to voice his or her idea for improvement. Especially, if it takes a year for it to even be acknowledged. The scapegoat here is not necessarily the ugly suggestion box collecting dust in the corner of the break room. It’s the barriers that Graban points out that promote a ‘check your brain at the door’ culture within an organization.

In the culture of continuous improvement there’s a huge disconnect from what people say they are doing and what they are actually doing, it needs to be about taking something that is written on the wall to something the front lines believe in.

-Dr. Greg Jacobson

A big theme leading up to the 25 keys and throughout was that “leaders need to lead and lead differently” and “create and environment where people can speak up and take action.” This doesn’t come easy and overcoming the common barriers to continuous improvement holds a lot of people up. Their 25 keys to leadership behaviors are not in any specific order of importance, in fact they should all be considered equally, as one evaluates their own leadership qualities.

The Toyota Way

Leaders develop people by:

  1. Surfacing problems
  2. Solving problems
  • Create environment where this happens

Okay, okay the moment you’ve been skimming for.

Drum roll please…

Continuous improvementThe 25 Key Leader Behaviors:

  1. State your belief in Kaizen– Believe that everyone can participate in continuous improvement.
  2. Explain why Kaizen is important– Everyone should have an idea of the organization’s direction.
  3. Empower, but be a servant leader– Have a balance between your willingness to step-in and delegating or simply letting staff come up with and test their ideas.
  4. Participate in Kaizen yourself– Don’t just lecture, demonstrate.
  5. Ask for Kaizen ideas(and opportunities)– Don’t allow a “check your brain at the door” mentality
  6. Don’t require everything to be an event or a project– This can be counterproductive.
  7. Emphasize small ideas– Little wins gain confidence, focus on things you know can be accomplished from time to time.
  8. Ask for more than just cost savings– Avoid the “crash diet,” quarterly goals sometimes overlook long-term sustainability goals.
  9. Look at the process instead of blaming people– People will be more willing to point out near misses if they don’t feel threatened.
  10. Keep asking for Kaizen– “Developing a culture of continuous improvement is not a project it’s a way of being.”Keep asking!
  11. Don’t hide ideas (be transparent)– Improvement is infectious.
  12. Quickly respond to every idea– Acknowledgement is key.
  13. Work to find something to implement– Find away to address every concern an employee has.
  14. Turn “bad ideas” into better ideas– Find core of why idea was brought up.
  15. Coach, but don’t nitpick– Let ideas develop and get redesigned throughout the process.
  16. Help people see the bigger picture (don’t suboptimize)
  17. Turn complaints into ideas– What can you do to turn complaint into action?
  18. Help create time for people to take action– There’s always time!
  19. Help share and spread ideas– Look for opportunities share with other departments.
  20. Don’t forget the “SA” in PDSA- Study and Adjust!
  21. Don’t overdue the “P” in PDSA– Less planning more doing.
  22. Be prepared to fail (and learn from failure)– Failures are learning opportunities.
  23. Be careful with rewards and quotas– Extrinsic motivation can kill intrinsic motivation.
  24. Give people recognition for ideas (effort, not just results)– Less monetary rewards and more recognition can go a long way.
  25. Compile the results and celebrate them– People can connect what they are doing to long-term goals.

Additional Resources