Creating a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Supervisor coaching employeesBy Jennifer I. Tougas, CAPP, PhD

In emergency management circles, it’s called a “hot wash.” In the Army, it’s called “lessons learned.” In manufacturing, it’s called “continuous improvement.” What is it? It’s a process for reflecting on a process or event; capturing the good, the bad and the ugly; and taking corrective action to improve the process and avoid similar mistakes in the future.

Creating a culture of continuous improvement is critical to the success of an organization.  If we merely maintain the status quo, we fall behind because the world is constantly changing around us. Assumptions that worked one year may fail the next. Personnel changes mean knowledge and skill levels of our team change. If we are not vigilant, we fall behind as well. Without effective corrective action, operations are destined to repeat the same mistake again and again. Service to customers falls short of expectations and leads to frustrations at best, or loss of customers at worst.

As a leader, it’s important to build trust within your team so you can have honest discussions to identify problems and determine root causes. Sometimes, these can be uncomfortable conversations, particularly if someone made a mistake. There’s a balance between discipline, accountability, and coaching that allows lessons to be learned from those mistakes –and those lessons keep the organization moving forward. Forward progress is needed to make improvements.

How does your organization deal with problems? Do you find ways to reflect upon lessons learned and make changes to improve “next time?” To avoid repeating costly mistakes, develop a culture of continuous improvement within your team!

Jennifer I. Tougas, CAPP, PhD., is director of parking and transportation services at Western Kentucky University.