We recently presented a webinar on a topic that’s of great interest to me and most of our members: continuous improvement. One question that members asked consistently through our research interviews is whether continuous improvement needs to emerge spontaneously or as part of a formal “program”. While 65% of members polled in a recent survey report having a formal program for creating a continuous improvement culture, the debate over whether creating a “program” is the right approach when it comes to continuous improvement is alive and well.

One of the main insights I drew from this deliverable is that the primary goal of creating a continuous improvement mindset is spurring a constant flow of high quality ideas to improve operational or service performance. While a desirable side-effect of that might be increasing employee engagement, ultimately continuous improvement is about increasing the number and quality of ideas harvested and implemented by an institution. This raises the question of whether it matters if these ideas are generated as a result of a “program” or whether they are generated spontaneously by employees without any formal incentive or instruction from the institution. While I understand members’ concerns that using a program bounded by time brands an initiative as “perishable” as opposed to embedding it in everyday workflows, the law of inertia will tell us that objects at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. That is to say, if the way of life at your company has always been to go about your business without contributing ideas, unless a concerted and methodical effort is put in place to change that it’s unlikely that it will. Therefore, if through a program you can provide employees with enough incentive, guidance and direction to make contributing ideas a way of life, then maybe creating a ”program” isn’t such a bad approach after all.

Want to weigh in on the debate? Listen to our webinar replay and tell us what you think!