Continuous Process Improvement

One prevailing premise of the LSS or DMAIC perspectives is that there is always a better way. There is no such thing as the perfect process. There is no such thing as the perfect organization. It is this search for the “better way” that we become involved in with continuous process improvement. It means as we work our way through a given process, we are looking for obstacles which hinder the flow of materials and data through the supply chain.

We can construct a formula as shown below to explore the necessary ingredients to achieve the CPI within your organization.

Continuous Process Improvement consists of four interdependent components. CPI will not be achieved without the integration of each of the elements. Miss any one of the four elements and continuous process improvement fails to happen. The missing element serves as the anon of continuous process improvement efforts.

The first of these elements is the organizational Management Style (MS). The organization’s management style refers to how the С-Suite and middle management office holders treat the other human capital assets of the organization. Reviewing the business knowledge base, we find that most scholars divide the field into two very different types of management styles. The first is that of the command and control manager. We have all had them. Does this sound familiar?

“I need this done and need it done now.”

“Never mind what you learned in that seminar, do it this way.”

In one of my program options we offer a program titled “Who Am I?: The Role of Human Capital Assets in the Global Workplace.” The program begins with asking the participants how they categorize their human capital assets. If the responses say they are expenses, or that they are a ledger issue, they are command and control advocates. Human capital assets are considered a necessary fact of doing business but are not really an integral part of the organization. If one leaves, that is okay, we will just find a replacement.

The second element in the formula is Empowerment (EMP). The empowered organization realizes that your human capital assets are non-owned leased corporate assets. They play a vital role in your organization and must be respected for that role. In today’s marketplace, they can take their skills anywhere at any time. In the later chapters and in the next formula we will look at this point in more depth.

The third element in the formula is that of Engagement (ENG). In order to create an empowered organization involved in continuous process improvement, we need to have an engaged workforce and a customer base. Engagement looks at whether your human capital assets’ sole purpose for coming to work is collect that paycheck.

CPI requires the intercession of problem-solving teams. So, the final element is that of Teamwork (TMG). As we will see, the key is the type of team that is involved. Is it a closed process where groupthink rules or are the teams open to looking at alternatives? Does it involve external resources to reach an appropriate resolution of the problem?

If we review the above formula, each of the elements could most likely create its own mind map of the components that make up the broader factor. However, since we are primarily concerned with the concept of empowerment, let’s consider that more in detail.


Like the discussion of Continuous Process Improvement above, we can create the same interdependent formula for the area of empowerment. Unlike its sister formula above, this one consists of only three factors.

As in CPI the first element is that of Engagement. It considers the active role that the various stakeholders play in the organizational processes. It is both the external and internal stakeholders. It is worth our time to stop for a moment and define what we mean by stakeholders.

In 1984, Dr. Edward Freeman2 suggested that stakeholders are any entity that is either affected or can affect the business processes. Dr. Freeman’s concept suggests that we take a broader view of the organization to take into consideration how our actions and processes affect the entire global perspective of the outputs of our organizations.

Engagement is a critical factor in both the CPI and Empowerment arenas due to its descriptions of the roles of each contributor to the end result. Engage for Success states that engagement is a

workplace approach resulting in the right conditions for all members of an organization to give of their best each day, committed to their organization’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organizational success, with an enhanced sense of their own well-being.3

According to the 2018 Engagement Research from Gallup * about half of your employees are not engaged, meaning your organization is not being as effective in resolving problems as it needs to be to reach continuous process improvement on a meaningful level.

The second element of the empowerment formula is that of Teamwork (TMG). In the chapter on cross-functional teams we will delve more deeply into this issue. But at this juncture it is important that the concept of teamwork be construed as broadly as possible. The ideal team is comprised of both internal and external stakeholders. It needs to express diversity in regard to skills, backgrounds and thoughts as much as possible.

The final element of the Empowerment formula is that of Ownership (OWN). If I see something wrong with a process, what is the path to correct it? tells us that one of the definitions for ownership is legal right of possession. In our view this means we need to address who has control over the processes. From this frame of reference then, when a problem is uncovered does the responsibility for resolving the issue reside only with the C- Suite or does it permit the real SMEs in the company to make the correction? We will cover this question of process ownership in Chapter 8.

With the work of some of the pioneers of genetics the discovery was made that DNA in our bodies was constructed from nucleotides in the form of adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine. While they don't follow the Chargaff rule, the “nucleotides of the business world are the elements of the formulas we discussed above.” As we will see later in Chapter 8, the combination of the elements determines what our organizations look like.

The question then before us is: How do you know if you are an empowered organization? We can answer that question by looking at the work of Patricia Lotich. She authored an article titled “13 Characteristics of an Employee Empowered Culture”5. In this article Patricia Lotich sets out, as mentioned, 13 characteristics of empowered cultures. Let’s review the list from the point of view of our material in this book.

Characteristic #1: Management Committed to Supporting an Empowered Culture

The organization functions based on the view from the top. If management plays at the game of empowerment then, as we will see in Chapter 5, the effort to create organizational empowerment will fail. What do we mean by playing the game of empowerment? The managers who function from the command and control perspective are playing the game of empowerment.

There can be no real continuous process improvement if management stands in its way. Consider the response from a recent Road to Business Excellence class. Part of that program is for attendees to bring a problem from work and create a project to resolve that problem. In the evaluation form submitted, the participant stated that the least valuable part of the seminar was the final project because management would never let them solve the problem the way the project was presented.

Characteristic #2: Empowerment Centered on the Voice of the Customer

There are two perspectives of the customer that an organization can have. The first is that they are, in essence, a nuisance. They are there to purchase your products and you know better than they what their needs are. The other view is that they can be a true partner to your organization. Harvard Business Review in the September 2016 issue of their magazine ran an article6 titled “Know Your Customers ‘Jobs to Be Done’.” It stresses that you need to understand your customers from the inside out.

The central premise of LSS, DMAIC and the TLS Continuum is that the purpose of each of them is to meet the voice of the customer. They tell us what is bothering them. They tell us what they need to be successful. Jack Welsh, in his presentation to a GE stockholders meeting, stated that the best Six Sigma projects begin not inside the business but outside it, focused on answering the questions—how can we make the customer more competitive? What is critical to the customer’s success? ... One thing we have discovered with certainty is that anything we do that makes the customer more successful inevitably results in financial return to us.

Characteristic #3: Management Releases Some Level of Control

I previously made reference to the command and control views of some managers. Empowerment requires that management must willingly release some of that control. In this VUCA era we are in, the success of our organizations is dependent on taking advantage of all the resources available. Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms in their book New Power talk about the new way our human capital assets operate in resolving problems which do not lend themselves to being ruled by an iron fist. Problem solvers need to be free to go where they need to get results. This release of control can also be found in the Results Only Work Environment espoused by Cali Ressler, who suggests that work should be based on results, not how we get there.

Characteristic #4: Employees Retrained

CPI and the VUCA environment both require changes to our organizations. We need to see the problems, feel the problems and create a new normal for the organization, which more often than not is a new corporate culture. This leaves you with two directions to take the organization. The first is those who can’t do the job are forced out; the second is to take the time to provide them with the new skills through specific training programs. The goal is to provide them with the tools to meet the new demands of the organization and its stakeholders.

Characteristic #5: Free Flow of Information and Data through the Organization

Empowerment means that everyone from the maintenance department to the С-Suite needs to understand how the organization functions. This only comes from the free flow of information and data on performance levels.

If asked I should be able to explain to someone how and why a particular process is either working or not working and what solutions would correct the errors.

Characteristic #6: Managerial Trust

Ever hear the statement: Why should we train them because once we do, they will leave? Ever hear the statement: Those employees are lazy, and they come to work only for that paycheck? An empowered organization requires management to trust the human capital assets to do the right thing. Not the right thing in their eyes but in the eyes of the people directly affected by their decisions. It means that management understands that this is not the age of the old-fashioned workplace and they need to refocus their efforts to reflect this change.

Characteristic #7: Autonomy Comes with Expectations and Boundaries

In no way are we suggesting that you turn your organization into a free-for- all. That is not good for your customers, your human capital assets or the organization as a whole. The ROWE method says that if you have a project due, the important factor is that you have it done when the project milestone is reached. Whether we are talking about the GE Workout or CAP process, they both come with boundaries of some sort. They both come with the expectation that the work will be completed by a certain time period.

Characteristic #8: Provision of Coaches

With the expectations and boundaries there will inevitably be human capital assets who do not meet those boundaries and expectations. The empowered organization has in place the resources to provide those individuals with assistance to reach the acceptable levels of performance. These resources include a robust coaching program. Jeffrey Liker in his books about the Toyota Production System discusses how the manager’s role includes the coaching of employees who do not meet the required production levels.

The coaching may mean coaching them out of the organization if they can’t reach those levels.

Characteristic #9: Provision of Advanced Training and Coaching

Some of the changes are going to require advanced skills. The organization must be ready to provide advanced skill training and additional coaching for those who need it.

Characteristic #10: Compensation and Benefits Aligned with Organizational Strategies

A large question in the marketplace today is the question of compensation equity. Are we paying one population less for the same job and skills and why? The empowered organization will adjust the compensation and benefits to reflect interorganizational equity but also ensure that the compensation levels are equivalent to the outside marketplace. While compensation and benefits are not the sole reason one accepts a position, they still play an important role in the decision. It does not help your situation when your human capital assets can leave for higher pay in another organization.

Characteristic #11: Job Matching

The empowered organization conducts extensive job analysis to ensure that the skills of your employees are correctly matched with the jobs they are in. This does not mean that you construct mismatched requirements, for example, requiring a higher degree when the job can still be performed without it. The ultimate goal is that you want the right person in the right job in the right place at the right time. The goal is to, yes, have coaching in place but at minimal levels. Therefore, everyone must be in the position that best represents their skill sets.

Characteristic #12: Employees Have the Right Tools to Complete Their Responsibilities

It is equally critical that once you have the correct process in place, that the empowered human capital assets have at their disposal the right tools to complete that process. It serves no one when your customer needs your product or service and they can't get it because you can’t deliver due to obstacles in the way.

Characteristic #13: Implementation Plan Is in Place

Empowerment is worthless if we do not have a plan to reach that goal. Part of the TLS Continuum is to change the organization to a new normal. There has to be in place a clear set of steps to that. The implementation must encompass the specific steps, goals and outcomes that are expected through the change process.

The implementation plan must include who is responsible for what part of the plan, when it must be completed and what the next step is, and then in the following step, who gets the hancloff and what must they do at that point. It must include the milestones going forward.

The Empowerment DNA of Business

While DNA is the basis of animal genetics, empowerment is the equivalent basis for business genetics. It is the embodiment of who we are as an organization. The TLS Continuum provides us with a roadmap to reach that empowerment. In the following chapters we will look at the TLS Continuum as a whole and then the TLS Continuum Empowerment Model in specifics. In Chapter 5 we will look at the management contribution. In Chapter 6 we will look at the contribution of cross-functional teams and, finally, in Chapter 7 we will look at the role of the individual in empowerment efforts.


  • 1. Hambleton, Lynne. Treasure Chest of Six Sigma Growth Methods, Tools, and Best Practices. New York, NY: Prentice Hall, 2008. Page 160.
  • 2. Dr. Edward Freeman created the Stakeholder Theory which is a view of capitalism that stresses the interconnected relationships between a business and its customers, suppliers, employees, investors, communities and others who have a stake in the organization. The theory argues that a firm should create value for all stakeholders, not just shareholders,
  • 3. Engage for Success,
  • 4.
  • 5. Lotich, Patricia. “13 Characteristics of an Employee Empowered Culture.”
  • 6. Christensen, Clayton et al. “Know Your Customers ‘Jobs to Be Done’.”

Harvard Business Review. September 2016. know-your-customers-jobs-to-be-done

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