A Continuous Improvement Mindset

It was the first day for three interns. Baxter had the most impressive pedigree based on the schools he attended and his GPA. Carlos had impressed the recruiters by his work ethic, and how he was financing his education with a part-time job. LaShawna was high spirited but yet very genuine. The recruiters were impressed by how she talked about her values.

“For the first two weeks, we want each of you to work at a processing station”, explained the plant manager. “There are areas where we need to make improvements, and the best way for you to learn the job to improve it is to actually do the job.”

Baxter was not happy. He wasn’t brought up to be a laborer. When he was trained on the process, he treated the trainer with disdain. Throughout the two weeks, it was clear that he hated the assignment.

Carlos, on the other hand, was enthusiastic. He was tireless and his productivity was off the chart. In fact, some of the full-time employees cautioned him to slow down.

LaShawna didn’t have Carlos’ speed, but what she did have was a more thoughtful approach to the job. She eliminated some wasteful steps and rearranged the work place. Every day she seemed to come up with a new idea.

At the end of the two weeks, the interns were asked to make a presentation on their suggested improvements. Baxter’s presentation was a disaster. Basically he just presented a series of complaints about the job itself, but offered no improvement.

Carlos did a better job, but his focus was entirely on how to make production faster. Many of his ideas were valid but would have exhausted the employee.

What LaShawna did was present her daily improvement diary. She showed each day the ideas she had for making the job not only faster to do, but also less taxing on the employee. Over a two-week span, she had made remarkable improvements.

The plant manager was clearly impressed by what LaShawna had done. “How did you develop this approach?” he asked.

“My mother has a small restaurant. Each day, she features one dish. When the day is done, she takes notes on what she wants to do to improve that dish the next time it is featured. I guess I just grew up by thinking improvement is never enough.”

Continuous improvement is a widely accepted practice in most aspects of our society. It’s accepted, but not often practiced. What LaShawna’s mother did is rarely done. Continuous improvement must result from a reflection on how to do better as soon after the effort as possible. If you don’t capture improvement ideas at the moment of an effort, you are unlikely to remember the improvements once time has lapsed.

Capturing improvements at the moment also ensures that this effort will continually be improved from that moment on. When you wait to capture improvement ideas until a later time, you are essentially continuing less than best practices.

Continuous improvement is a mindset, not a hollow concept as so often practiced.

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“Continuous improvement is better than developed perfection.”– Mark Twain

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