By Dr. Harry Tennant


by Harry Tennant
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How to keep continuous improvement continuous

Everyone knows how New Years Resolutions go...frequently they fizzle out by January 15. It's tough to change yourself. And it's at least as tough to change an organization like your school.

If your goal is continuous improvement, of first importance is keeping it going, which is to say, keeping it continuous. There are two main risk times: getting over the initial hump, and keeping it going in the long term.

Personal Goals: The initial hump
When making personal change, you can help yourself get past that January 15 slack-off by

  • Keeping track of your process daily (am I exercising daily?, am I eating healthful meals?, am I drinking water?)
  • Keeping track of your outcomes (am I losing weight?, have I increased the number of pushups I can do?)
  • Reminding yourself of your goals every day (I like something automated like a file of goals that pops up daily on my computer as a scheduled task)
  • Reminding yourself of the motivation for your goals daily...why it's important to achieve those goals

Personal Goals: The long haul
You've made it when your process (exercising daily, drinking water, skipping dessert) has become a habit. For personal habits, that usually takes daily repetition for three or four weeks. Once you've made a good habit, just keep it up and benefits will accrue effortlessly.

Organizational Goals: The initial hump
Making changes to your school is similar to personal changes, but with a few key twists. First, as with personal goals, organizational change has an initial hump to overcome. Here are some tips.

  • Involve the people who will be changing in planning the change. Orders to change from on high typically meet with resistance and little success. But when the people who are going to change are deciding how, they will be more eager to cooperate.
  • Start small. Small changes are less threatening than big changes so they meet with less resistance.
  • Set some short-term targets and accomplish them. Then publicize them. When progress is being made, even the cynics are more eager to get on board.
  • Keep track of process and outcomes.
  • Keep attention on the process of change through the critical short term. If the attention of leadership flags after a week or two, don't expect the enthusiasm of others to continue. Ask about it, remind everyone of the importance of the goals and the progress that's being made.

Organizational Goals: The long term
People build habits. Organizations build processes. Processes are institutionalized by being explicit about what the process is (typically a checklist of items will suffice), by keeping track of when the process is executed and by scheduling when it will be reviewed.

Make sure everyone involved understands the new process. That doesn't mean just telling everyone, but demonstrating it, practicing it and following up when the process breaks down.

Institutionalizing a new process for change for the long term not only nurtures improvements, but it helps assure that the processes for continuous change continue without you. Continuous improvement is continuous. Even after you're gone.


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Keywords: continuous improvement

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