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Continuous improvement – Making a 1% commitment

How many times has an impending milestone rolled around, say a New Years or a momentous birthday, and along for the ride are the numerous but very rarely achieved resolutions (e.g. get fit, save more money, make more time for people, get that promotion)?

Unless you are a member of a small minority who are naturally consistent, goal-orientated high achievers, maintaining motivation and the commitment to achieving your goals is often hard and gruelling work. Without a plan in place or support behind you, the road to personal growth and development can seem like an arduous path to tread.

This is where the principles and thought patterns instilled through the practice of continuous improvement can make a huge difference to your personal life. By applying the principles of continuous improvement to your own goals, you can activate the concept of “1% improvement” to the big things you want to achieve in life.

The phrase “slow and steady wins the race” is a perfect summary for continuous improvement. If you truly desire a successful life where you are thriving, the first thing you must do is embrace the length of the journey towards self improvement you are embarking on. It is a lifelong journey of learning, self discovery and growth – it cannot be achieved through random bursts or moments of enthusiasm. On the contrary, only consistent and constant gradual changes that will have impact over time.

Once you are ready to step off the self improvement roller coaster, it’s time to embrace the philosophy of small, continuous improvement.

Start by setting your goals based on the philosophy of 1% incremental achievements. Keep in mind that setting the goal is the fun part. Staying motivated, focused and on track to achieving any goal is the hard part that requires day-to-day action. While the idea of 1% improvement may not seem like much in the short term, the concept of Kaizen (1% improvement from Japanese philosophy) works with the notion that over time, the smaller increments will add up to the achievement of any goal you set. No matter how small the amount of progress you make each day, you are guaranteed to feel a step closer to reacher your goal.

In the next piece  we will be looking into how to keep yourself motivated on your daily 1% journey.


Continuous improvement – Keeping your 1% commitment

No matter how hard we tell ourselves that good things come to those who wait, our instinctive need to see big things happen fast is a part of our human nature. While many of us make a commitment to change in theory, in practice it can be much more complicated than simply setting a goal and working to achieve it.

Fortunately, by following the concept of Kaizen (1% improvement) every day, it will enable you to get off the roller coaster ride of feeling like a failure and being angry with yourself because you have given up on achieving your big goals. Instead, the 1% improvement philosophy will reward your efforts towards daily achievement, not momentous change in short bursts.

Despite the immense positive aspects of the incremental improvement model, it is still worth constructing a system around your new commitment to ensure yourself the highest probability of success.

For example, if one of your goals is to eat healthier, this is not something that can be achieved by doing it once or twice off. To achieve a better diet is a day-to-day commitment to yourself and your health made through the conscious choices you make with your food with each meal.

To put the concept of continuous improvement into action, the first thing you need to do is not focus on how much weight you wish to lose, rather focus on creating a system or process that enables you to cut back on the more negative food groups you gravitate to and replace the with positive options instead. This may by through a journal, a calendar or an app, just as long as it is a system that works for you and keeps you self-aware of the day-to-day commitment you have made and the progress you are making.

Once you have created the system that works, you can then break down your system into small actions or behaviours that will allow you to progress with the least amount of resistance and effort. Commit to these actions on a daily basis until your original system is habit. For example, commit to changing junk items from your shopping list to positive alternatives for each week and then increase the number of items each week after that.

Along with setting clear, incrementally focused goals, the other important factor about incremental achievement is that you must be able to evaluate your 1% successes. We will look into some of the ways you can measure your progress in our next blog.


Evaluate and measure – Recognising your commitment to 1% improvement

Continuous improvement does not focus on making huge gains or big improvements in one go. Instead, it focuses on long-term, steady progress towards your larger goals. This means that as a user of continuous improvement, you must also hone your ability to effectively focus on the progress you are making day-to-day, 1% at a time.

The greatest strength and weakness of the Continuous improvement model is that change will inevitably be slow, steady and consistent. As we discussed in the previous blog , it is human nature to look for obvious and substantial changes in ourselves or the situation around us for us to validate our efforts. Being able to evaluate and measure your improvements is important for your own motivation and ongoing commitment to the journey. If you are not measuring your progress, your subconscious brain will likely kick in and delay your progress by convincing you that you are not making any progress at all.

Continuous improvement is commitment to the journey, not the destination. In the spirit of this philosophy, one of the best ways to evaluate your 1% changes is to conduct a weekly review and document your findings. In this review answer the three following questions:

1) Where have I succeeded? What things did I improve upon this week? Acknowledging your progress and small improvements will you encourage you to take future positive actions.

2) Where did things get derailed? What things could you improve next week? By identifying the areas you believe you have to grow, you will be able to focus on making gradual changes to improve them.

3) Where to now? Even if you are happy with your general progress, you need to keep asking yourself what you plan to do as your next step forward. By identifying what you are going to do in the next week to improve, you are ready to commit to those improvements.

These evaluations are pivotal to your success. If you aren’t evaluating your progress, you won’t be able to see your own growth and you are more likely to resume old habits. Gradual improvement is generally fairly hard to see in the short term but huge in the long term. By evaluating our progress we can allow ourselves to see these little improvements.

By taking up the philosophy of Continuous improvement, your life won’t radically change overnight, but over time with consistent and constant improvement and dedication, you will find that you are directing your life along a path with the greatest possibility of success.

The wheel of life

Continuously Improve in 2019

At this time of year, we all tend to reflect on the year that was and also start thinking about the year ahead.  As you consider 2019, what you would like to achieve and the changes you would like to make, please realise that you have the power to determine and control the outcomes and results for the year.

Our theme for the first quarter 2019 is Continuous Improvement:-  Continuous Improvement in your personal and professional development as an individual and Continuous Improvement in your leadership skills and workplace results.

Individual Continuous Improvement for Success in 2019

Consider this definition of success. 

“Success is the progressive realisation of predetermined, worthwhile, personal goals”  – Paul J Meyer

Most of our readers will have seen and heard this definition before.  In 2019, set new, challenging and worthwhile goals in all six areas of life using the Total Person Concept you were introduced to in your LMA program.  Break these goals down into action steps with realistic deadlines.  Make these goals “SMART Goals”.

Commit to living a life of personal and professional goals accomplishment and Continuous Improvement.  Accept that you have the untapped potential to develop your current skills, abilities and qualities, as well as developing new and exciting ones.  This is only natural as we are all hard wired to strive for improvement in what we do.   

While the tools and practices of Continuous Improvement are often seen as ways to improve business systems and performance, they also apply to our own personal development and growth.  Embrace the concept of becoming a better you in all areas of life in 2019.

Workplace Continuous Improvement for Success in 2019

Much has been written in recent years about the concept and practice of Continuous Improvement in the workplace.  The pursuit of never ending increases in productivity, quality and profit underpins most strategic as well as operational plans.  In fact, Continuous Improvement is often presented as a methodology or set of systems that successful organisations embrace to ensure that they survive and prosper in a competitive and ever-changing market.

But Continuous Improvement is more than a system or a process applied to an organisation, department or a work team.  It is a state of mind, a set of values and a commitment to never accepting the notion that “things can’t be done better”.  Continuous Improvement begins with the idea that there might be a better way.  It involves people, processes and persistence to provide an ongoing means of remaining competitive and successful.  It relies upon effective teamwork, willing management and vigilance from the people at all levels of an organisation.  Importantly, it works on the premise that improvement will come from anywhere and anyone within the team, department or organisation, not just from the top down.

In 2019 you and your team can build a framework for continuous improvement within your area of responsibility.  This is the choice that you, as the leader, can make.

Encourage your team to look for new and better ways to do things – to accept an “Above the Line” attitude for their actions in your workplace.  Promote innovation and change.  Motivate individuals to risk, learn and grow their professional competencies.  In short, accept the challenge in 2019 to engage them in the positive group dynamics that evolves when everyone is focused on, and seeking, Continuous Improvement.

During the next quarter we hope the ideas and content we provide will be of significant value to you as you make 2019 your best year ever.

Grant Sexton
Founder and Chairman


Gemba walks

As a lean leader, you recognise that the vast majority of the value generated by your organisation is by the people with their hands on the product and their ears closest to your clients and customers. While leading through example and finding creative solutions to problems is part of your role as a leader, it is just as important for you to get out of your office and go to the gemba – the place where things are really happening in your workplace.

The translation of the term from the root Japanese word is “the real place.” It also is known as “the place where value is created.” The Gemba walk technique involves leaders or managers going to the physical place where work gets done and observing and identify possibilities for improvement. Only after the walk is complete and a period of reflection has occurred are changes implemented.

Gemba walks are normally informal, casual opportunities for leaders to get a sense of what’s really happening in the powerhouses of your organisation. Research shows that championing of ideas from the executive level is a key component of practicing continuous improvement. However, executives cannot fully support initiatives wholeheartedly if they don’t understand the problems and mechanics behind them.

The Gemba walk technique offers leaders a chance to observe the difference between what they assume is happening day-to-day, and what is actually happening. It also gives them a chance to interact with their team members while they are doing the job, as opposed to only getting updates in scheduled meetings.

While the Gemba walk is a powerful technique for getting to the source of work, it is important to remember a few key ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’t’s’ regarding a Gemba walk:


  • Focus on observation
  • Perform each walk with an open mind
  • Keep it loose – walk at different times of the day


  • Point out faults to team members while on a walk
  • Try to implement change on the spot before reflection
  • Discredit or disregard a team member’s input

The main idea behind Gemba walks is that team members on the front lines of any workplace are the ones most equipped to recognise ways to incorporate continuous improvement into their roles, since they’re the ones doing the work. The face-to-face time that comes from Gemba walks sends the message that leadership is interested in how these ideas for improvement can be integrated into the daily functioning of the workplace. By getting out of your office and talking to people on the front lines, you show your own dedication to rapid continuous improvement, which gives others the sense that they too can prioritise this work.


Continuous Improvement Tools

Having the right continuous improvement tools and strategies in place is essential to the long-term success of any business. These tools can be anything that helps ensure the quality improvement process can move forward successfully. Over the next few blogs, we’ll be delving deep into some of the more well-known continuous improvement tools and how leaders can best use them to implement significant change in the workplace.

1) The Kanban Method – Visualise and Harness

The Kanban Method follows a set of principles and practices for managing and improving the flow of work. It is a non-disruptive method that promotes gradual improvements to an organisation’s processes and outcomes. If you follow these principles and practices, you will improve flow, reduce cycle time and increase value to your customer, with greater predictability – all elements which are crucial to any business today.

Kanban helps users to harness the power of visual information by using notes on a whiteboard to create an overall “picture” of your work under general headings of “To Do”, “DOING”, “DONE” and “BACKLOG”. Seeing how your work flows within your team’s process lets you not only communicate status but also gives a contextual understanding of the work being completed.

There are four foundational principles in Kanban:

1) Visualise the flow of work

By visually laying out the work, either on a physical board or an electronic Kanban Board, your team can then process steps that are currently used to deliver the work or services. Depending on the complexity of your process and type of work, your Kanban board can be very simple to very elaborate. Once you visualise your process, you can then visualise the current work that you and your team are doing in the form of different colour-coded notes for separate staff members or tasks.

2) Limit work in process

By limiting the number of tasks being completed at any one time, you encourage your team to complete work at hand first before taking up new work. By creating a focus on getting work in progress completed and marked done, the system is geared towards a “Just in Time (JIT)” approach, reducing various forms of Waste.

3) Focus on flow

A Kanban board’s core purpose is to manage and improve your team’s workflow. By setting up your Kanban board with 3 basic stages to begin with (To Do, Doing and Done) you will observe how quickly or stagnantly your team’s workflow of tasks move from one section of the board to the next. The power of the Kansan system lies in its ability to highlight bottlenecks and pinpoint areas for improvement.

4) Continuously improve

Remember, one of the primary goals of your Kanban board is to serve as an informational radiator, so make sure it is in place that is visible and used by all team members who are working on it. The Kansan will work as another member of your team, constantly evolving and developing around your team and the work they complete. In other words, it is a continuous improvement board. By editing and updating your board when necessary to suit the team or task, you are allowing the process to consistently improve to better support and assist your team to complete their individual and organisational goals.

Next blog we will look closer at another imperative continuous improvement tool, 5 Whys.


5 Whys

Originally a tool utilised by the car manufacturer Toyota, the 5 Whys system of questioning is now a popular practice in the world of lean development.

At its core, 5 Whys is an interactive thinking tool for identifying the root causes of problems. By using the 5 Whys, teams practicing continuous improvement are able to move beyond blaming one another for problems occurring and think beyond the specific context of a problem. Instead, the 5 Whys helps to identify a sustainable, coherent solution to resolve the issue.

In practice the 5 Whys is very simple, but can be more complicated in practice. Start with a problem statement, and then ask “why” until the root cause is revealed and the answers become absurd. Start by bringing your team together after an issue has arisen that needs an answer. Be prepared for intentional and unintentional bias in the answers you discuss here. Make sure the room doesn’t try to shy away from an uncomfortable truth, or try to reach an easy consensus. If there isn’t one definable problem, you’ll need to dig a little deeper to agree on which issue to focus on. This process in itself can be quite revealing regarding the mechanics and thinking patterns of your team. Once you have agreed on a single problem to focus on, continue along a line of questioning similar to the below:

Problem: The Sales Team isn’t meeting its monthly targets

Question 1: “Why is the Sales Team struggling to meet its targets?”

Answer 1: “There aren’t enough people following up leads.”

Question 2: “Why aren’t there enough people following up leads?”

Answer 2: “Because some of the Sales Team are also working on logistic issues in Operations.”

You get the idea – keep drilling down to new problem statements until you’ve asked “why” five or more times. Most of the time, large issues have many factors contributing to them. The last response in a long time of questioning get a little absurd, but it is worth pulling out answers from the team at each “why” point to highlight the complexity of the problem at hand.

At the end of this 5 Whys exercise, your team should have a good understanding of the problem and the factors contributing to it. As a team, discuss the resulting problem statements from each question. Odds are, you would have traced a path from the symptom of a much larger problem you need to address as a team.

It’s important to reemphasise that the purpose of the 5 Whys line of questioning isn’t to place blame. Rather, it is to reveal the root cause of why something unexpected or unpleasant has occurred while also uncovering small, incremental steps to ensure the issue doesn’t happen again.

Next blog we’ll be investigating another powerful lean leadership tool, Gemba walks .


Effective Communication for Effective Coaching

Communication is our first act of interaction when meeting people. Communication builds and maintains friendships and is the glue that binds relationships together. Communication is essential for us to achieve what we want out of life. In a coaching or mentoring relationship, open and effective communication is a must. It is the inherent foundation upon which the whole relationship grows and develops.

Successful communication is a two-way process, sending as well as receiving. You must first present your ideas in a form others can understand and then listen to others to understand how your message is being received. This mutual understanding is necessary if the purpose of any communication is to be achieved.

In other words, effective communication is a process that involves 5 basic steps:

The speaker must:

  1. Identify a meaning they want to express
  2. Code that meaning into words and non-verbal cues

The listener must:

  1. Accurately receive, or hear, the words and non-verbal cues
  2. Decode the meaning of the words.
  3. Respond to the speaker in a way that indicates accurate understanding of the message

In coaching conversations it is critical that both parties are on the same wavelength and understand each other because we don’t all feel, think or speak the same way. People have different values, views, expectations, opinions and prejudices based on their past experiences, education levels, political viewpoints and cultural or economic backgrounds. When you send information it won’t necessarily be heard the way you intend. People hear what you say through filters and will interpret your message in a way that is meaningful to them and makes sense from their perspective.

Always be aware and sensitive to possible filters that will influence your individual. Plan the message you want to convey, ask questions that aid clarity and understanding and provide feedback for reinforcement. Feedback achieved through effective questioning helps you check the listener’s level of understanding. Feedback given and received is the catalyst for making appropriate adjustments in the communication process to ensure you achieve mutual understanding as you strive to identify and reach important goals with your individual.

To progressively strengthen the coaching relationship and to achieve the greatest value and meaningful communication from coaching sessions, coaches must listen attentively and use empathy to understand the other person’s message. As a coach, making the effort to understand your individual’s feelings and beliefs doesn’t mean that you have to accept or agree with his or her point of view. Undoubtedly, you have heard empathy expressed in the saying, “Put yourself in the other person’s shoes”. Through exercising empathy we show others that we understand and appreciate them. Empathy is the ability to look at a situation from another’s viewpoint and understand that person’s feelings and beliefs.

Check out LMA’s Above the Line Coaching and Mentoring course to explore these concepts in more detail and to further develop the coaching and mentoring relationship.


Develop your Skills to Develop your People

In business today, coaches or mentors are being increasingly used in performance management strategies to facilitate workers to perform at higher levels. The coach/mentor primarily acts as a guide to help clarify and articulate the individual’s goals. They work by encouraging the individual to achieve tangible results, whilst helping them learn through self-directed motivation. The context of the relationship is therefore results-oriented and involves goal setting to encourage behavior change and personal transformation.

Current research shows that the vast majority of leaders and managers are already acting, either formally or informally, as either or both a coach or a mentor. This amplifies the importance of developing sound skills in these leadership areas.


To be an effective coach requires adoption of an ‘Above the Line’ approach. Accepting personal responsibility, being focused on goals, solutions and results, whilst maintaining a positive attitude will enable you as an ‘Above the Line’ coach. You can achieve this by framing goals, discussions and action plans in a positive, future-focused, solutions-based way. Always encourage the individual to look at their situation with a possibility mindset.

As a successful coach you will need to harness and develop the power of your emotional intelligence. This concept demands that we know ourselves in order to know how to best engage and relate to the individual and their emotions.


Successful communication is a two-way process, sending as well as receiving. Coaches need to have well developed and well practised listening skills, as a large amount of time in sessions (typically 60 – 80%) is spent actively listening to the individual. You must first present your ideas in a form others can understand and then listen to others to understand how your message is being received. This mutual understanding is necessary if the purpose of any communication is to be achieved.

To progressively strengthen the coaching relationship and to achieve the greatest value and meaningful communication from coaching sessions, coaches must listen attentively and use empathy to understand the other person’s message.


Self-discovery and self-learning will be central to the individual’s motivation towards their goals and objectives. By showing the individual that you believe in them and their abilities, you can help them learn to become more self-motivated as they experience the progressive achievement of their action steps and goals. Successful coaching and mentoring is built on a foundation of inherent belief in others and their potential for personal development and growth. Successful coaches and mentors see people in terms of their future potential, not their past performance or present skill levels.

Are you a good manager?

To explore further competencies that are crucial to being a great leader and manager, take LMA’s complimentary DIY Leadership and Management Competency Analysis. The comprehensive report will outline the benefits of targeted leadership and management development activities to yourself, your team and/or your organisation.


How to Create a Positive Work Environment

An employee’s motivation to work is heavily influenced by his or her environment. The core underlying human need to feel safe, reassured and appreciated means leaders and managers must work to create safe and secure work environments for their people – not only physical safety but also personal and emotional safety, as well as a sense of being valued. Creating a positive work environment energises and enables people to perform at a higher level and will yield far better results for your company and employees.


Today more and more organisations are developing and implementing formal programs for both coaching and mentoring to support their performance management and performance improvement endeavours as well as their talent attraction and retention activities.

Supporting your employees through interaction and encouragement in the form of coaching and mentoring aims to bring about some kind of positive change to your working environment. Acting as a role model for the individual and believing in their strength and abilities can have a strong positive influence on those around you and can change a person’s career and life for the better.


The opportunity to learn, grow and develop professionally is a key factor for prospective and current employees and essential in the retention of top talent. Helping your employees to plan short and long- term goals focused on achieving results and professional development, will create positive actions and outcomes. Subsequently monitoring their progress can be particularly beneficial for the individual.

As the individual’s needs determine the goals and objectives of the coaching relationship, employers must ensure that they understand their individual’s needs. This enables them to assist in the establishment of realistic goals and objectives, supported by an effective plan of action for the relationship.


A great way to create a positive work environment is to acknowledge the work of your employees. Whenever your employee achieves an action step or focus goal, it is important to recognise their accomplishment. It also instills the notion that hard work is appreciated and encourages other employees to strive for the same recognition.

Remind your employees of all the hard work they have contributed to achieve their desired goals. However, it is also critical that you re-focus their attention towards the next action step or goal. Sometimes people lose focus and motivation shortly after the achievement of a significant goal.


Inspiring and reassuring your employees will motivate them to make the necessary changes and develop the required skills and qualities to achieve their goals. Developing your own understanding and awareness of human behaviour stimulates you to grow and utilise more of your own potential. As a result you will achieve your own personal and professional goals whilst helping the people you manage to grow and achieve their own goals and ultimately set up an ideal working environment.

Understanding and improving your team’s working environment is critical for companies operating in a highly competitive global economy. Providing an engaging experience will help organisations succeed in attracting and retaining highly skilled, engaged employees. Similarly, a strong employee experience also drives a strong customer experience. It is a real win-win all around to be striving for a positive environment in the workplace.

What are you doing for your employees to create a positive working environment?