The Case for Continuous Improvement
By Cixx Admin Date Posted.. 2009-12-09 23:44:58
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What is Continuous Improvement? 

In their never-ending quest for quality, the Japanese coined the term "Kaizen", which means continuous improvement. They reasoned that if a product or process could be improved, then that improvement could be measured and monitored.

In response to this theory, a set of statistical tools was developed to measure the progress of their continuous improvement efforts. These quality initiatives were then cascaded down to the lowest levels of the production process and expanded to include suppliers of component parts - who were also required to adhere to the same strict quality standards.

The Total Quality Management paradigm that emerged from these early efforts has fundamentally transformed the global manufacturing community.

Japanese firms understood that small but sustained continuous improvement efforts can generate long-term competitive advantages. The same discipline that creates competitive advantage on the manufacturing floor can be applied to other aspects of our lives - such as career development.

Continuous improvement can and should be a major force in the career management process. It is through continuous improvement that we are able to compete and thrive in a rapidly changing world.

Requirements For Continuous Improvement

Commitment to excellence

If you are not fundamentally committed to excellence, then you will find it very difficult to motivate yourself to accomplish anything of grand consequence. To achieve real success your commitment must be sufficient to inspire you to action in the face of distractions and adversity. You've heard it said that "excellence is it's own reward", but for most people excellence in and of itself is not a sufficient reward to justify the means necessary to obtain it. Fortunately, the determined pursuit of excellence virtually guarantees rewards that far exceed the mere achievement of excellence.

Willingness to embrace change

Continuous improvement implies continuous change. And even though by definition this change is always for the better, change can be an uncomfortable thing. Being committed to continuous improvement will require that you become comfortable with the idea of change and personal progress.

Alignment of goals and efforts

Continuous improvement requires an understanding of the cause-effect relationships which underlie your various activities. By undertaking only those activities that are calculated to move you toward your objectives, you will avoid frustration and wasted effort. Learn to identify and focus on the critical few - that is, the few activities that are most critical to your success. Over the years I have become a firm believer in the 80-20 rule which suggests that 80 percent of your results are related to 20 percent of your activities. Or conversely, 20 percent of your activities are responsible for the majority of your results. The key is to understand which of your activities are most critical and then do them well.

Measurable goals

One of the keys to Kaizen is the ability to measure and monitor progress. If a goal is not measurable, then it is not achievable. If it is measurable but not measured, then you forfeit one of the most important components of your personal motivation - a sense of progress. It is important to set measurable goals and then periodically measure your progress toward the achievement of those goals.

Consistent effort

By applying a measurable but manageable amount of effort on a consistent basis, real progress can be made without resulting in burn out. Keep in mind that regardless of what else happens, if you continue to incrementally improve your skills and increase your level of education and training, you will become more marketable over time. And you will be more prepared to step into positions of greater income and authority - either at your current firm or at another firm.


The achievement of small, incremental improvements is not always glamorous - or psychologically rewarding. However, it is the cumulative effect of these modest improvements that creates impressive results and tangible value over time.

Involve your employer in your career planning process

Always remember that you are not in complete control of your career. You are only in direct control of one component of your career - yourself. There are a myriad of other factors at work which, to one degree or another, will influence your career. These include your employer, the economy, the state of the healthcare industry, technology, timing, and luck.

Most of the career activities you engage in will be focused on increasing your own capabilities. However to the extent that you can influence one or more of the other factors that shape your career, you will improve your odds of success. Unfortunately, most of these factors are not within your control. The most significant opportunity for you to exercise influence externally will be to involve your employer in the career planning process.

Engaging a supervisor in a frank career discussion can be an intimidating experience for many people. It is certainly not something to attempt without any thought or preparation. However, if properly managed, career planning sessions can create significant new opportunities.

As an employee you have the right to request periodic performance reviews with your supervisor. Ideally, these reviews should be conducted at least twice a year. These sessions provide a forum to review your achievements of the past six months, set goals for the next six months and establish performance incentive programs. Most supervisors will be grateful to see this kind of proactive career management - particularly if it improves your productivity and reliability.

The idea behind these planning sessions is to establish performance benchmarks that are tied to some clearly defined rewards. That is, you agree to put forth some extra effort and become a more reliable, flexible, available and productive resource to the organization in exchange for some tangible benefit - such as a promotion, supervisory or oversight responsibility, team leadership, training opportunities, or increased income.

Involving a supervisor in driving your career forward requires two things: trust and a mutually advantageous arrangement.


If your relationship with your supervisor is not currently built on trust, then you must begin by recognizing that the responsibility for changing that relationship rests with you. Regardless of the personality of your boss, you have the power within yourself to improve your relationship and become a person that your boss can rely on and trust.

Trust will strengthen your relationship and ultimately make it easier for you to express your career ambitions and enlist the help and support of your supervisor in achieving your career goals.

Mutually advantageous arrangement

This is frequently referred to as win-win psychology. It is unreasonable to expect that your boss will subordinate her own objectives to your personal career ambitions. You must find a way to demonstrate to your boss that it is in her best interests to improve your capabilities and advance your career.

As you engage in career discussions with your boss make sure that you present your goals in a way that demonstrates sensitivity to her needs as well as your own career objectives. Your message should be that any increases in skill, education, training, income or authority that you receive will ultimately translate into improved productivity and add value to the organization.

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