True Performance Measurement Requires a Continuous Improvement Philosophy

May 12, 2015 by Stacey Barr

Measuring performance isn’t about ticking boxes to say you’ve implemented your strategy. It’s much more about continually improving the results that are currently most important to your organisation’s success. So when you find resistance to performance measurement, often it’s because there isn’t a continuous improvement philosophy.

new leaves and flower buds on a tree

When we have a continuous improvement philosophy, we recognise that staying the same really means going backwards. It’s like standing in a rushing stream: you can just stand there and resist the current for a while, but eventually the current will get just strong enough that it will sweep you away with it. But if you know how to swim or stride into the current at an angle, you can make forward progress.

In business, our results will go backwards if we leave everything the same.

That’s because the world is changing whether or not we want it to and whether or not we’re aware it is. Continuous improvement has to become the norm, or our results will be swept backwards in that current of change.

Continuous improvement means continually making things better, by working on our business processes, not just in them.

It means changing the way our work is designed, not just how hard we do the work. So a very important skill in continuous improvement is process thinking. That’s the ability to see how all work happens in a series of steps, and a series of steps is a process.

Seeing our work as a system of processes, most often drawn in a flowchart or process map, gives us the power of perspective. We can more easily see where the design of our process is constraining or sabotaging the results we want the process to produce.

Fundamental to a continuous improvement philosophy is the absence of judgment, blame and excuse-making.

These behaviours suggest that people are taking performance personally. They are either treated in a way that suggests they are the cause of under-performance in the organisation, or they hold this belief themselves. Either way, it’s not useful. It makes people behave in ways that hide or ignore the real performance problems, as a form of self-protection.

A true continuous improvement philosophy requires that we don’t take performance personally.

It requires that we accept that the causes of under-performance are in the design of our business processes, and that we work collaboratively to find these causes and change the processes to remove them.

It’s easier to instill a continuous improvement philosophy when we also practice a results-orientation, scientific curiosity, and a relentless solution focus.

DISCUSSION:

Does your organisation have any of the artifacts of a continuous improvement philosophy, like process flowcharts or process improvement teams or Six Sigma projects or the like?

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  1. Jeff Wilkins says:

    I work in a small electronics manufacturing facility as Operations Manager. Everything in this article is dead on correct. In the almost 5 years I have been in charge of operations we have adapted a continuous improvement philosophy. This really is a mindset and some are slow to adapt than others. But once an employee gets it he/she is quick to get on board. This transformation has been a big part of growing our business in an old industry. Thank you for the article. I can use this with new employees as part of orientation. Best regards, Jeff

  2. Really great post! Thanks!
    And if you have a Continuous Improvement attitude in your organization you are much less likely to misuse metrics! Instead of having a “knee-jerk” reaction to an indicator, you will investigate and find out if there is something to improve.

    LOVE IT!
    You are definitely one of my heroes!

  3. Julie Dahl says:

    I like your point about how people behave when measuring performance. The personal performance review style of managing DOES tend to lessen the systems approach to performance improvement. We have added the extra contribution offered by the guided conversations between manager and individual with success. We were influenced in developing these conversations by Dr Tim Baker’s work and your strong leadership in this area. Much appreciation!

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