Why Do Continuous Improvement Initiatives Fail?

Why Do Continuous Improvement Initiatives Fail?

This question is a complex one and there is not a single answer.  However, based on 20+ years of assisting organizations with continuous improvement, there are some common themes that can be observed.  One of the primary problems is that organizations don’t consider the issues of organizational culture and strategy.

All too often, senior leaders announce with great fanfare a new continuous improvement initiative and then launch into training their employees. Then they sit back and wait for success to rain on down upon them.  It almost inevitably fails. The problem is that no initiative, whether it be an IT initiative, HR initiative or a continuous improvement initiative will be successful if the issues of culture or strategy are ignored and the initiative and the associated processes are not integrated into them.  Only by ensuring that the continuous improvement initiative is integrated with the organization’s culture and strategy can you have successful implementation and sustainment.  The graphic below illustrates the required state.

If strategy is disengaged from culture and process, we have ineffective results as we are not working on what is strategically important to the organization.  If culture is disengaged from strategy and process, we have an initiative which is not sustainable as culture will always overrun strategy and process. And finally, if continuous improvement processes are dis-engaged from strategy and culture, we have the right vision, but are unable to effectively act upon it.   Only be integrating all three can we have a successful and sustainable continuous improvement initiative.

It is for this reason that I and eMRI always seek to work with the organizational leadership team before the continuous improvement initiative is launched to ensure we have (or are working toward) the integration of these three keys to success.  Our seven-phase approach to initiating, managing and sustaining a continuous improvement initiative helps leaders ensure that they consider these types of issues, so they can maximize the benefit to the business. Failure to do so can be overcome, sometimes, in the short-term, but will always result in long-term failure of the continuous improvement initiative.

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