An Overview of Continuous Process Improvement
Your strategy is a living document. A work of continuous progress. Leave it alone for too long and it will rot. Nurture it and you’ll be rewarded.
How? By applying this simple process improvement methodology to your strategic processes.
Here is the truth.
The old way of doing strategy with static tools and poor habits did wonders in the past when the world wasn’t moving as fast. But just because something worked in the past doesn’t mean it will work in the future.
In today’s world of Netflixes and Airbnbs, the old way of doing strategy comes up short.
But, don’t be confused. The enemy of large organizations today is not some hidden, unnoticed rival. The enemy is complacency.
Blockbuster didn’t wake up one day and find itself dethroned. It knew about the new player but gravely underestimated its rivalry. It got complacent. Until it locked up its stores.
Complacency manifests itself in strategy as stagnation. And stagnation can’t be fought using the old tools and tactics. It needs new tools and improved habits and processes.
In this article, we’ll discuss the following topics:
- What is process Improvement in strategy?
- The process improvement methodology for your business strategy
- Workplace culture: The secret to process improvement for strategy
- The 3 benefits of the process improvement methodology for strategy
What is process Improvement in strategy?
Process improvement in strategy is the set of organizational habits that enables the development, review, adjustment, and execution of the organization’s strategic plan.
Continual process improvement is the nonstop iteration and evolution of those organizational habits.
The main objective of a continual process improvement in strategy is the proactive adaptation to environmental changes by aligning the workforce with the strategic plan for a lean, focused execution.
In layman’s terms, it’s how the organization is improving and adjusting its strategy to stay relevant in today’s changing world.
It’s the modern way of doing strategy to address the modern needs of companies.
The 4 parts of the process improvement methodology you need in your strategy
The methodology to improve your organization’s strategic process involves building habits in four key stages of your strategy management process:
These are where your process improvement efforts should focus on.
In most businesses, senior leadership meets once per year to develop the company’s strategy using resources like a strategic planning template. That’s when they structure their plan and determine where they’ll concentrate their focus.
However, that’s rarely effective today. When the world changes so fast, you can’t hope to lead the market if you visit your strategy yearly.
So, to improve the process of planning, you need to develop flexibility. To be able to detect the waves of change early, so you can evolve to ride them. You need to install a new habit to visit your strategy more frequently.
Commit to a quarterly strategy planning meeting.
Don’t review every part of your plan every single quarter, but focus on what’s relevant, challenge your assumptions every time. Make sure that your business’s trajectory makes sense.
Here’s a tip to be successful in improving your planning process:
Get out of excel.
Discussing your strategy’s performance so frequently is a demanding process. Static tools just won’t cut it. You need a dynamic platform that can support every stage of the strategy development process.
However, if you’re not ready to move out of excel yet, use this gap analysis template to make an honest internal assessment and figure out exactly where you should focus your efforts.
One of your business's toughest challenges is to have your teams focused on executing your strategic plan. Especially the updated version. Because, what’s the point of having a flexible planning process if your workforce doesn’t execute the new initiatives?
Your enemy to executing your strategy is business-as-usual. The daily actions of your people. That’s what you’ll have to continuously improve and eventually change, your people’s current behavior.
And the most effective way to do that is by changing the metrics you use. People won’t change their activities because you instructed them to, unless you change how you measure their performance.
So, align your metrics to your current goals. Every time you require a significant change in your people’s activities, make sure you measure the things that matter.
Then empower your people by assigning each metric to a clear owner. Make it a habit never to leave a metric or a project without an owner. The clarity that comes out of it drives accountability and improves the execution process of your strategy.
One of the hardest organizational habits to build is regular reporting. It’s also the most rewarding. A commitment to continuous assessment of your strategy’s performance has profound results in building alignment throughout the organization.
What are the reporting needs of your business? Determine them and make it a habit to report on what matters most. Stay focused by building the agenda beforehand and forcing the conversations to “next steps.”
The reviewing process of your business improves when you commit to regular reporting on every level of your organization. Start with something simple to keep your people engaged with your strategy and everyone on top of the plan.
Choose the KPIs you’ll assess before your meetings and build clean, concise and easy-to-read reports. Use this guide on how to create a KPI report to save time in your preparation for the reviewing process.
Changing things in your strategy is tough. It feels like admitting to a mistake. But that’s not true. Changing parts of your strategic plan means you found a better way to reach your destination.
Being decisive is how you dramatically improve the refining process of your strategy.
When a strategy discussion leads to adjustments, don’t doubt it. Move forward with your decision and commit. This is the habit that you need to develop. Commitment to change.
Adjusting your strategy doesn’t guarantee a win, nothing really does. It does, however, increase your chances of maintaining market leadership by anticipating future market changes.
In a world full of disruptors, complacency is the business killer. Don’t let your strategy stagnate. Instead, change your course, your tactics, decisively.
Workplace culture: The secret to process improvement for strategy
Culture activates the beneficial aspects of this methodology. Any attempt to build these habits will fail if your workplace culture isn’t fertile. The first improvement project for your strategy should be focused on your people, your culture.
How leaders shape the workplace culture
Here’s a good rule of thumb (or more like a law of business strategy):
When strategy opposes culture, it loses.
Adaptive organizations that continuously improve their strategic processes have built cultures that value flexibility and treat failing and correcting-course as part of the journey.
That’s what leadership should aim for. Leaders may not dictate the culture, but they do set the tone.
Safety and trust between employees enable flexibility and leads to speed. These things take time to cultivate, but your business will significantly improve its strategic processes when its people feel safe and trust each other.
It’s up to leadership to initiate the change and foster a growth culture.
The difference between market leaders and followers is their workplace culture and their capacity to adopt habits to continuously improve the strategic processes.
With that said, what is the first step to developing a flexible attitude towards the organization’s strategy?
Strategy exposure: how to improve your communication process?
Most companies communicate their strategy to their people. But few are good at it.
Don’t take my word for it. Just look at how many companies fail at executing their strategy.
The truth is a big part of the continuous process improvement of your strategy is finding an effective way to communicate your strategic plan to your people.
People need more context to execute it.
Pitching your strategy or sharing a document with illustrations doesn’t suffice as a communication technique.
Besides, suppose you’ve improved your planning process and now change your strategic plan quarterly. In that case, you’ll need to update the document and redistribute it internally. That takes weeks with tools like Excel.
It defeats the purpose of having more frequent assessment meetings.
Strategy presentations are ineffective at aligning your people with the plan and changing their behavior at the front line.
Let’s face it. The traditional way of top-down communication of strategy is not working. The further you go from the top, the less effective it becomes.
So, how can you improve the communication process of your strategy? There must be a better way to communicate your strategy to your people than just presenting it.
What if you could make your strategy available to them 24/7?
What if you could ditch all the sheets and slides and instead have one single source of truth for your strategy?
A digital platform sophisticated enough to handle the complexities of strategy and also easy-to-use for every member of your workforce.
Cascade is built with that vision in mind.
You insert your strategic plan and give your people all the resources they need to inform their decisions. They work on things directly lined up to what the leadership team said that they want to accomplish.
Exposing your strategic plan to your people facilitates every stage of the continuous improvement process, from planning to refining.
The 3 benefits of the process improvement methodology for strategy
What should you expect when you adopt the habits in the process improvement methodology for strategy?
Adapting rapidly in this fast-paced world is ultimately the goal. Being lean and agile to keep up with the trends is a losing strategy for large companies. Instead, they need a proactive approach to market trends.
That’s why developing operational flexibility is so important. The process improvement methodology unlocks the adaptive capabilities of organizations.
To put it simply. Install these habits in your organization and you’ll manage to shift and adjust your strategy before your rivals even detect the trends.
You’ll be the one to initiate the change, innovate and lead the market.
Increase the visibility of your strategy and your people will change their attitude towards it.
They will start to show up in meaningful ways. They’ll start challenging it and improving it. They’ll want to engage with it.
That’s a huge win. It means that your people will bring useful and actionable improvement ideas to the table and stay on top of the plan.
In the long term, the execution process will become leaner since people will be focusing on activities that drive progress by eliminating waste. The alignment with your strategy will be company-wide.
We know a lot of leaders who struggle to develop true transparency in their teams. They encounter too many problems.
The continuous improvement process eliminates or addresses most of them. The exposure of your strategy in a dynamic environment makes the overview easier and breaks silos.
Regular reporting reinforces accountability and people become more transparent with their processes, blockers, and judgment calls.
Fostering a culture of safety and trust cultivates honesty and motivates people to share everything and anything that could impede the execution of the strategy.
Strategy is an iterative process. Its biggest enemy, stagnation, lurks nearby.
It needs constant attention and revisiting to keep it alive.
Here are the key takeaways from this article:
- Adopt the 4 habits to improve your strategic processes: Planning, Executing, Reviewing, and Refining
- Culture is everything. No habit will stick if your culture isn’t prepared for it
- Expose your strategy to your people to communicate it better
- With this methodology, you’ll build an adaptive, transparent organization that achieves lean execution of its strategic plan.
Eliminate the old and static tools you use to plan and execute your strategy and improve your processes in the dynamic environment of Cascade, your single source of truth.