The “Maslow’s Hierarchy” of Continuous Improvement

Companies that are just beginning their lean journey will often talk about the company culture they would like to instil into their organization. For some companies, this dream is going to take more work and time than with others. Today we will look at the “Maslow’s Hierarchy” of Continuous Improvement that is needed to create a Lean culture where continuous improvement and innovation are part of the fabric of the company.

Getting the Basics Right First

Before we can expect our people to provide input into continuous improvement and innovation, we need to get the basics right first. Our team need to have a feeling of trust and security that they will continue to have a job. Their work environment needs to be safe, for both our physical and mental health and checking our teams aren’t being overburdened.

innovation in Lean implementation

Secondly, the team need to have the basics skills to complete their assigned tasks, with the right level of quality. Materials supply and having the tools required to complete the assigned tasks are also part of the basic elements that are required.

Thirdly, each team needs to be involved in the daily communication of how the business is going. Daily meetings and visual control board, with QCDSM metrics, are fundamental aspects of this communication. It helps each person feel they are part of a team, and their team is a part of the larger organization.

If any of these three fundamentals are missing, they are the first elements that need to be fixed to ensure stability in the workplace. At TXM, we strongly urge all of our clients to work with cross-functional teams during the lean journey to assist with building trust and improving the company culture. We understand that we can’t shut down your entire business for days to discuss improvements, so its important to have representatives to take part if these discussions. then a good communication plan is needed so the representatives have a lean process for communicating with their teams.

To build in safety and organization, Practical 5S implementation alongside value stream mapping will help our teams determine what their workspace looks like and what tools and materials are needed at different stages of a build or assembly. The 5s mantra of “a place for everything and everything in its place” needs to be visible at every desk and workbench.

Lean daily leadership and visual management are the third elements which will support your team leaders to effectively communicate with their teams. Over time, daily meetings across each shift are put into place to ensure every person in your company has a forum to hear what’s going on and be able to offer an opinion. The visual boards also assist by displaying the important information discussed where our team can review and consider the information in their own way.

Once these elements are in place and being sustained, you will have the basics in place for building a continuous improvement culture.

The Heady Heights of a Continuous Improvement Culture

Creating a culture of continuous improvement can seem like a pipe dream when you are beginning on your lean journey, but it is achievable. Like any other cultural change, it takes time, patience and a willingness to do what it takes to get there.

Once the basics are in place and your business is reasonably stable (leadership turnover minimized, no new capital equipment or software changes on the horizon) you are ready to take the next step with developing the continuous improvement skills in the team. Set goals to help drive the need and communicate the urgency. Set aside time for the team to discuss continuous improvement in their area. Be patient; initial ideas may be small and seem inconsequential but you need to start with small improvements that your team initiated to build trust and “Stress test” your support team’s ability to assist with the implementation of these improvements. Show your team you are willing to listen and act on their ideas. This will improve the trust and confirm to people you will take their ideas and concerns seriously.

Be a good coach, as well as a manager; ask questions, understand the underlying issues and help your team work through their challenges. Set aside the “Mr Fix-It” mentality of trying to be the one who knows everything and how to fix everything. Instead, be curious and see what your team can come up with. Provide a framework which may include money that can be spent (or not; having little move can help creativity) and a timeframe to develop ideas and implement them.

Over time your team will get better at looking at their work area and tasks, and begin to see the opportunities that are there. Often these are in the form on things that annoy them, but that is part of the stability phase.

To reach the ultimate innovation stage, your continuous improvement needs to have a proven track record, which shows patience and trust, in addition to examples of gains made through the implementation of continuous improvement ideas.

Assessing Your Current Situation

So where are you currently? Gather your leadership team and have an open discussion to determine where you currently sit in the “Maslow’s Hierarchy” of Continuous Improvement, then determine where you’d like to be in 6 to 12 months. TXM can help facilitate these sessions, as well as helping to create a plan to achieve your goals.

Work on the three foundation levels of stability first and get your people involved in the Lean journey; build the understanding of your vision and their part in it. Take the time to be visible and talk with your team. Check your listening habits and make sure you are open to suggestions, not jumping to shut people down, or proving they are “wrong”.

The forum of your team’s daily meetings then becomes the logical place to introduce daily problem solving which provides a framework for the beginnings of continuous improvement. Once this gets some momentum, you will begin to see who has the ability to take the next step. They can then be involved in higher-level discussions to begin to look for true innovation within your workplace.

Good luck!

Robert Chittenden

Author: Robert Chittenden

Robert Chittenden is a Senior Lean Consultant at TXM Lean Solutions