IF you can improve yourself, the processes in your company, and if you can help improve your colleagues, you become valuable in an instant. So focusing on continuous improvement is a vital key for personal success.
In modern management philosophy, ‘Principles of Lean’ is an important way of thinking for businesses. In simple terms, lean principles focus on creating more value for customers with fewer resources. It is about increasing a business’s value proposition.
As individuals, we can take a leaf out of these lean principles for personal continuous improvement.
Value creation happens when the quality of service you deliver is perceived by your superiors as being higher, compared to your cost. This means providing what your company wants, but doing it better, faster and cheaper.
Years ago when I was the chief executive of a private institution of higher learning, I had a distinguished gentleman who applied for a position as our operations head. He had retired from the government service having had a sterling career as a teacher, principal, and a federal inspector of schools. At the interview I saw that he was an accomplished technocrat.
My initial response to his application was to think that he would not fit into my institution. Ours was a bootstrapping start-up college, manned by people in their twenties. I was the chief executive, and the oldest member of staff at 30 years of age.
But, at that time, my greatest challenge was to drive business into the institution while managing compliance issues with the Ministry of Education, our international education partners, and to ensure that my young team of academics grew professionally.
While I was able to increase the enrolment numbers through innovative ideas and programmes, I knew I lacked the discipline to be meticulous with compliance. I made what turned out to be an inspired choice, by hiring this fine gentleman.
Mr. Krishnan K Ponniah, showed up at our college, sat at his desk and with a sense of immediacy proceeded to take my vision for the institute and legitimize it from a licensing point of view. He would listen to my ideas on what programmes I wanted to launch. He would then figure out the mechanics of getting it approved by the authorities. And by and large, he succeeded.
The most interesting part is that he was in the retirement phase of his life. So instead of asking for more money, he opted for less with a limited role. He truly created value for me, because what he brought to the table, was far greater than what he cost.
The next thing that will help you decide how you can add value by continuous improvement is by doing “action research”. Meaning, evaluate what you do during your daily grind. Record your actions and reflect on whether anything you did could have been done better.
Once you know what your own workflow looks like, take a second look. But, this time with a keen eye, looking out for any step in the process that doesn’t directly create value for your customer, who is your employer. This way you can manage and improve your workflow, eliminating all the non-value-added activities.
Remember that when you waste time, you add no value. Many tasks on a daily basis are necessary. Things like reading emails, attending meetings, writing perfunctory reports and so on. However, as you do action research on your daily activity, you can figure out which of these tasks can be reduced or even eliminated. Accepting them as a fait accompli will just perpetuate a cycle of time wasting.
Similarly, I know people who take unnecessarily cumbersome steps to do simple tasks, just because they have not thought about how they can simplify things. I just came back from a short vacation in India. During the holiday, we shopped a little. I found it very interesting that in some old-school businesses in India, they maintain some very tedious “check-out” processes.
You pick your items of choice; then you get taken to a counter where the bill is printed out; next you move with the bill to another counter, where you make the payment; once you have paid, you get taken to the packing area where you’ll need to show your proof of payment, upon which you get your stuff. Now in some outlets, these counters are all over the place.
Duplication of effort is another workflow problem. I was in a restaurant recently, and four service staff asked me the same question at intervals of four to five minutes. The question in itself showed that they were all well trained. But the lack of communication between them meant that I was getting progressively annoyed at this relentless badgering. So, minimising duplication of effort, is another area where you can improve.
The best tip I can offer you is to learn and understand how the Pareto Principle works. It’s also known as the 80/20 rule. Read about it and do a Pareto analysis on your daily work life. If you do the analysis honestly, you will be astounded at how much time you spend daily doing things that do not add value to you.
When you focus on continuous improvement for yourself, your workflow, and for your organisation, you add value for yourself.
Are you adding value?
*Shankar R. Santhiram is a managing consultant and executive leadership coach at EQTD Consulting. He is also the author of the national bestseller “So, You Want To Get Promoted?”