Continuous Improvement

Table of Contents:

The overall goal of a continuous improvement program is to learn from previous activities and events; reduce the overall risk to company and employee; ensure compliance with all regulations and laws; and continue to provide quality products and services to its customers. A comprehensive improvement program strategically targets all elements of that program. According to Alston, Millikin and Piispanen (2018), the elements of a continuous improvement program are (1) define a performance baseline, (2) establish improvement goals and objectives, (3) identify and implement actions to meet goal and (4) measure and evaluate performance. This model has been revised and shown in Figure 10.10 to specifically address a continuous improvement for environmental compliance. Implementing an effective improvement program requires an improvement plan. A continuous improvement plan contains a set of targeted activities that are designed to produce gradual changes to an organization within a specific area through review, measurement and analyzing performance data. Without a plan, leaders and workers are not sure what to focus on or where improvements are needed or what is most important to the organization. The framework outlined in Figure 10.10 forms the basis for the continuous improvement plan. Each element should be explored thoroughly throughout the chain and once the end of the chain is reached and the information communicated to the entire workforce, the process begins again.

When an organization loses the propensity and desire to improve continuously the way business is being conducted, they have made the decision to stifle growth, productivity and sustainability. Continuous improvement should always be at the forefront of all business strategies, and workers should be encouraged by leadership to participate in the practice of always seeking better and more efficient ways of completing their tasks.

Environmental compliance continuous improvement chain

FIGURE 10.10 Environmental compliance continuous improvement chain.

10.3.1 Using Knowledge and Experience to Drive Improvements

We often hear the adage that knowledge is power. This is true because knowledge provides the means to advance and empower people to achieve results. Knowledge is at the forefront of process improvement initiatives and has a significant role in a company’s improvement strategy. Lasting knowledge can be gained through experience, direct exposure and education.

In order to learn from experiences effectively, it is necessary to reflect upon the experience that was encountered. This reflection can and should entail a detailed analysis of the event, causes, actions taken, preventive measures, positive and negative outcomes, etc.

Continuous improvement requires the effective use of specific information gained through knowledge and past experiences. The knowledge and experiences used may be obtained from internal personnel and experiences or from other organization groups or individuals. Benchmarking can be used to collect information and best practices from internal operations across a company or externally to collect and evaluate best practices within the industry. Benchmarking is a practice used by companies to compare their processes and practices to the best in the industry in which they compete. Organizations with a comprehensive and active continuous improvement program and plan can expect to discover ways of gaining efficiency and improving the processes and performance.

10.3.2 The Propensity for Change to Facilitate Improvements

Improvement can only occur when change happens. Change is thus not easy for most people; it is not easy for organizations as well. The rate and ease at which change can be implemented into a process or practice is culture dependent. Many initiatives fail because it involves change and the accompanying resistance factors seen by individuals who are comfortable with things remaining the same. The reality is that change is constant and it is often necessary to improve processes, programs and services. The same type of resistance to change can be seen when attempting to implement a continuous improvement program. Regardless of the opposition, continuous improvement involves changing processes, practices, policies, procedures and culture.

There are several drivers of continuous improvement that should be considered and embraced. These drives are shown in Figure 10.11. In order to drive improvement, these drivers must be integrated and interrelated and presented as such to organizational members and in organization documents. The drivers are

Continuous improvement drivers

FIGURE 10.11 Continuous improvement drivers.

continuously considered, evaluated and their interrelation is infused in the business strategy and plan.

Proactivity: Stay on top of how work is performed and refrain from waiting until something fails or goes wrong before improving them. Being proactive demonstrates that there is a plan and propensity to improve.

Worker Engagement: Allow the workers to lead the way toward improvement since they have the most familiarity of ways to improve achievement of the work they perform. Therefore, it is smart business practice to get worker involvement and encourage them to use their knowledge and capability to assist leadership in driving improvement.

Strategic Plan Connection: Process improvement should be integrated into the strategic plan for a company and not implemented as a stand-alone process.

Business Infusion: Integration of process improvement in all aspects of the business to achieve optimal performance.

The continuous improvement drivers coupled with the desire for continuous improvement, a strategy implemented through a plan, the engagement of the leadership team and employees form the basis for having a solid continuous improvement culture that is effective and embraced by members of the organization that will facilitate improvements.

Applied Learning

Review the case study and respond to the questions that follow.

10.4.1 Case Study

As the environmental compliance manager for a new company just starting out, you are responsible for defining the factors that are important to the company’s environmental performance and developing methods to measure the performance of these factors so that they can be included in the annual environmental report. The company is a research and development company that performs a multitude of activities for various government and private clients. During the conduct of these activities, the company generates hazardous and municipal wastes, discharges wastewater, uses products that produce greenhouse gases and is responsible for monitoring and managing industrial storm water.

  • 1. What aspects would you define as important for environ mental performance?
  • 2. Identify lagging indicators for each of these performance aspects?
  • 3. Describe the metrics you would use for measuring these indicators.
  • 4. What leading indicators might you use?
  • 5. What actions would you take if a chosen performance area was not meeting expectations?
  • 6. What should be considered in constructing a continuous improvement strategy and plan?


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