The CIO is often wearing many hats. They have to be tech whizzes and also strategic visionaries. And in my opinion, they now have to be the Continual Improvement Officer for their teams, their organizations, and in their careers.
Continual improvement is about improving the quality of products and services by learning from past successes and failures and making incremental changes over time. It helps IT align and realign its products, services, and activities to meet ever-changing business needs. Continual improvement can be the key to large-scale growth.
When done correctly, continual improvement can improve product and service quality, boost productivity and creativity, increase teamwork and create a competitive advantage.
It sounds simple, doesn’t it? We should learn from the mistakes – and the successes – we have. But, in a business environment, it’s never that simple. Why? Because many leaders don’t want to admit to mistakes. They don’t want to explore why things aren’t working as well as they should. They settle for “good enough”. They don’t want to examine what could be done better because they want to plunge ahead into that next project and hope that people forget about whatever mistakes were made or problems that were encountered.
For continual improvement to have success, it has to be embedded into the culture of an organization. It has to be accepted – and driven – from the top-down so that everyone is empowered to look at failed initiatives and missed KPIs as learning and improvement opportunities.
How can the CIO become the Continual Improvement Officer and build a culture that supports this?
Continual Improvement in IT
If a CIO wants to become the Continual Improvement Officer, she has to start with her own teams. One of the most important things a CIO can do then is allocate the time for continual improvement. IT is often (usually?) inundated with day-to-day work. They often are putting out fires or working to meet aggressive delivery deadlines and objectives. There is rarely-if ever- time for that “be back” work that inevitably comes up.
It’s up to the CIO to ensure continual improvement becomes a standard mode of operation and allocate adequate time to address continual improvement. How? It could be frequent projects or sprints with an objective to reduce technical debt. Perhaps it is establishing a cadence of regular meetings or time to discuss and implement continual improvement initiatives. Or it could be requiring that teams take the time to reflect on completed projects and initiatives and identify gaps, issues, and what could have been done differently.
Make these efforts inclusive by encouraging team members to bring their ideas to the table — and then identify opportunities to implement those ideas. Companies with a strong culture of continual improvement implement about 80% of their employees’ improvement ideas, according to KaiNexus. By implementing the improvement ideas from those that do the work establishes a mindset of continual improvement and encourages the team to identify and suggest further improvements. It’s a win-win for both the team and the organization.
Continual Improvement in the Rest of the Organization
IT is only one piece of the improvement puzzle though. To really build a culture of continual improvement, the CIO has to be the continual improvement champion within the rest of the organization and that requires communicating with and motivating other leaders.
CIOs can share their own continual improvement learnings and lessons. CIOs must be open about the setbacks and the growth from continual improvement activities, and when able, connect how continual improvement enhanced another department’s initiatives. Invite other executives to your continual improvement meetings to demonstrate how building a culture of continual improvement within IT is working. Offer to provide coaching and the expertise to help those leaders establish continual improvement efforts within their teams.
Continual Improvement as a CIO
I think the CIO needs to be the Continual Improvement Officer because it will not only improve their organization, but it is a critical skillset and approach that will benefit the CIO’s career.
Unfortunately, the CIO role has one of the highest turnover rates among the C-suite. According to TechTarget, the average CIO tenure hovers around 4 years. That means CIOs are frequently moving into new environments and navigating new work cultures. The best thing any CIO can do when they first step into a role is to bring an attitude of continual improvement. Not just for the new organization, but for their own individual actions.
It’s a powerful move to reflect on what could have been done differently in a past role as you move into a new role. This will help you embody the culture of continual improvement that you want your team to adapt as well. Be willing to address and share your own opportunities for improvement with your team as you begin implementing new initiatives.
What continual improvement successes have you had within your organization? What advice would you give to other leaders working toward a culture of continual improvement? Share your thoughts with me on LinkedIn!Share