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10 Steps to Create a Continuous Improvement Culture

“When you are attempting a cultural change, it’s a bit like a cultural war…but it’s a good war,” said Steve Olsen, executive vice president at Camcraft. “Like any meaningful change, it takes work.”

Camcraft began its continuous improvement journey four years ago. And, as Steve Olsen, executive vice president, shared, it was not a smooth ride for the automotive components supplier.

“When you are attempting a cultural change, it’s a bit like a cultural war…but it’s a good war,” Olsen said. “Like any meaningful change, it takes work.”

In August 2012, when the continuous improvement effort began, only about 10 percent of employees were immediately on board. It took another three years to get complete employee involvement.

Today, Camcraft averages 425 completed improvements each month, and the company had 5,000 improvements last year overall.

Olsen, during his presentation, “Create a Continuous Improvement Culture in 10 Easy Steps!  … and four … long … years,” at the 2016 IndustryWeek Manufacturing & Technology Conference & Expo, shared 10 tips to develop a continuous improvement culture.

Get help.

Camcraft visited other companies to see how their continuous improvement cultures worked and to learn best practices for creating their own culture.

Choose what fits.

Olsen said it’s important for companies to choose a program that works for the size of the company. Everyone often turns to Toyota, but programs that work at a company of that size don’t always transfer as well to smaller companies, he warned.

Explain why (over and over and over).

“You’ll be answering a lot of questions,” Olsen said.

At Camcraft, about 200 people wanted to know why the company was making the change it was. So, to help alleviate confusion, the company developed a flywheel explaining why the change was important to the company.

Keep it simple.

“We learned again very early to keep it simple, especially if you’re just starting continuous improvement,” Olsen said. “Keeping it simple is very, very important, especially at the beginning.”

Olsen urged companies to keep language and forms simple.

Camcraft referred to its continuous improvement culture as E2B2 (everyone ever day getting better and better).

Help people see.

“When people say, “I don’t know what to improve,” essentially what they’re saying is they can’t see it,” Olsen said.

He likened it to counseling and how you try help those being counseled see themselves and their lives more clearly.

Find allies.

Olsen said his company realized too late that they needed allies – early adopters – in the plant who could set an example for the other employees.  

“Because you’re asking people to change, and a lot of people just like things the way they are,” Olsen said.

Camcraft reached out to eight to 10 people to start and asked them to be group leaders. The group leaders then were able to encourage employees to participate and helped bridge language barriers.

Be open.

“They have to trust you,” Olsen said. “The best way I think to engender trust is just to be open.”

Camcraft posts company performance stats on the lunchroom wall in an effort to be transparent.

Be generous.

Camcraft every quarter holds a meeting during which it recognizes all of the people who made an improvement in the plant in each of the previous three months.

In doing so, “you’re telling people you’re recognizing their efforts,” Olsen said.

Be creative.

“Do different things at different times,” Olsen said. “Surprise people.”

That helps keep employees from develop an entitlement mindset, he said.

Camcraft, for example, has awarded employees participating in the program with tickets to sporting events.

“It didn’t cost a lot of money, but the energy that came out of it was incredible,” Olsen said.

The company also branded water bottles and gift cards with its E2B2 logo.

Be patient.

Remember that change takes time, Olsen said.

(Be amazed.)

“Every month, the plant looks better. It’s really neat to see that change over time,” Olsen said. “If you could come see us every year, it’s almost like watching a child grow.”

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