Where can business leaders find a blueprint for transforming their company through continuous improvement? As Executive Director of one of the most prestigious Lean awards in the country, The Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence, Robert Miller has seen leaders build lasting cultures on the valuable concepts of The Shingo Model.

We asked him for advice he would give business leaders within the graphic arts industry on beginning a continuous improvement program. Of course, like anything worth accomplishing, building a successful program comes with intrinsic challenges. Robert also offers some tips on how you can focus and prepare for these challenges and get on your way to creating a prosperous Lean organization.

…Or maybe even receiving the next Shingo Prize?

Q: What is the first thing that leaders need to start doing in order to build a culture of excellence?
Robert Miller: First, leaders must make it very clear in their own minds, and in the collective minds of the leadership team, what excellence looks like. This cannot be a description of the tools people will be using or the programs that must be implemented. Rather excellence requires a clear description of the results expected and an equally clear focus on the behaviorsthat must be demonstrated by both the senior team and management teams in addition to all of the associates in the organization. With a clear picture of what excellence must look like, organization leaders must then be able to see the realities of where they currently are relative to this new standard of excellence.

Q: What guiding principles should leaders focus on? 

RM: All of the principles identified in the Shingo Model are critical in the creation of enterprise excellence, but in reality most organizations are in different places relative to these principles.  The best place to start is to identify the business outcomes that are in greatest need of improvement then determine which of the ten guiding principles will have the greatest impact on those outcomes. 

Q: What are the telltale signs that continuous improvement is not yet ingrained in a company’s culture? 

RM:  There are several issues that would signal that a company is still vulnerable:

  1. If you are still thinking in any way that building a culture of enterprise excellence is something that can largely be delegated down or out to HR or to a department for continuous improvement, you are still vulnerable. 
  2. Look around, and if you measure your progress in terms of “events” or “projects” completed … you are still vulnerable. 
  3. If senior leaders or managers or front line supervisors use words that suggest in any way that they are too busy doing to pay attention to the improvement … you are still vulnerable. 
  4. If behavior is seen as a “soft” thing, the responsibility of HR … then you are still vulnerable. 
  5. If improvement is driven by numbers or results and does not include an equal focus on ideal principle-based behaviors … then you are still vulnerable.

Q: Is there a particular principle that leaders seem to have the most difficulty taking to heart and reinforcing within the organization? 

RM: The enabling principle of “Respect for every individual” is the most critical and difficult for many organizations to fully understand and align with. I recently took a group of executives on a study trip where we were looking for evidence of how organizations were specifically applying the principle of respect. We discovered a wide range of motivations, but most were driven purely by an incentive to improve profitability. We observed that these companies actually realized the greatest improvement in profitability when the motivation came from a genuine acknowledgement that every individual had intrinsic value and an unlimited potential to improve. The difference is subtle but also fundamental and transformative for a culture.

Want to learn more?

This is your opportunity! Robert Miller, Executive Director, The Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence, is a keynote speaker at the 2014 Continuous Improvement Conference, March 30–April 2, at The Fairmont Dallas, Dallas, TX.In his highly anticipated session, Building a Sustainable Culture of Excellence Based on Principles, attendees will learn about:

  • The changing role of leaders in building a culture of operational excellence
  • How you and your managers can become more centered around these principles
  • The criteria and methods for assessing your organization’s Lean transformation progress

Find all the conference details and registration at www.printing.org/ciconference.