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Have you noticed how a pendulum swings from one extreme to another making the best practice of yesterday seem out of place? Few things have been the subject of such fads for as long as transformation and continuous improvement. Continuous improvement has its origins in the 1940s Total Quality movement. Whereas transformation is much more recent, only being enabled with the advent of big consultancies and technology. Of course, both have existed for as long as business has existed, we just didn’t have management books and the internet back then.
While we have lured you into this month’s piece with a click bait title suggesting conflict and controversy, the best position is somewhere in the middle. But not a static one sizes fits all solution, rather with the agility to pick the best method at the time. So here are some thoughts on the best use of each approach.
When should you continuously improve?
All the time. External factors never sit still whether they are the economy, competitors or customers. Your products, services and customer touchpoints must flex with changes or you will be left behind. So, improvement should be continuous unless continuous improvement won’t have the impact you desire or need. Here are some red flags for continuous improvement:
- Staff are fatigued. Change must be people-centred and when your people can’t keep up with change, your continuous improvement becomes a continuous drain.
- Legacy systems – whether a filing cabinet or old apps – cannot support the change. You may have to build work arounds in the short-term, but you need to give your staff a fighting chance of managing your business.
- Minor changes cannot meet the challenges set by external changes. Pandemic anyone?
- When roles, processes and systems intertwine making many changes at once can be confusing.
- You are leading or responding to disruption.
The first situation is best served with a period of consolidation, reflection and lessons learned. The others suggest transformation is the way forward.
When should you transform?
Most transformations (digital and otherwise) fail. So, let’s consider what you must have in place to transform – if these factors are missing, put them in placed or stick to continuous improvement. Or to put it another way, only transform when you have:
- A clear shared purpose and plan.
- The know-how to bring your people with you and benefit from their experience and insights.
- Willingness to learn from the experience of others.
- Readiness to invest in the change process and prevent disruption to your customers by minimising disruption to your employees and supply chain.
Transformation without these basic readiness steps is likely to fail.
What do continuous improvement and transformation have in common?
They both introduce change, duh! More importantly, the critical success factors for change apply to both.
Change management –change management brings your people with you and improves your chances of success. You need a compelling vision, communication and top-notch listening skills.
Method – for any size change you need a framework. A framework such as six-sigma or the Design Council Double Diamond pulls together good practice into a story of change that makes sense to the people delivering it and those on the receiving end.
Planning – not just scheduling – consider your change from many angles and define your change activity.
Metrics – you shouldn’t change for the sake of change, or without an objective. Good metrics help you confirm your change has delivered its goals and had the desired effect.
Governance – whether choosing your changes, keeping track of progress or supporting your teams, governance smooths the path of delivery and benefits realisation.
So continuous improvement vs transformation isn’t a real question. It’s like asking car vs bicycle, the answer depends on your situation and needs.
What has change got to do with Customer Experience?
When managing customer experience, you will find opportunities to change, earn more loyalty and thereby improve business performance. Ad hoc or unmanaged change can work, but more through luck than judgement and often at greater cost than managed change.
Deciding how to manage change and when to continuously improve or transform can mean the difference between retaining customers or watching them move to your competitors. I, for one, prefer to deliver one successful change than half a dozen disruptive changes.