Creating a Culture of Improvement (Without Burning People Out)

Improvement is a concept akin to owning a print business or simply being human. We’re all geared toward ways to improve ourselves, improve processes, and become more efficient.

Don’t believe me? Check out all of society’s recent advertisements, and you’ll see adjectives like “better,” “greater,” and just about every other “er” you can think of.

While striving for improvement is a good thing, it’s our job as leaders to pursue improvement in a way that won’t burn out our teams or make them constantly feel the “burden of better.”

How to Start: Start with One

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. A journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step.

You get the cliches.

If you want to create a culture of improvement in a healthy and sustainable way, start with one. Pick one process, product, or customer interaction and start there.

Creating an improvement culture doesn’t happen overnight. Cultures throughout the world are the product of generations. Stephen Covey stated it well:

“To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.”

However, that is just the goal. What can you do right now to start in the direction you want to go?

Making your goal measurable is helpful in knowing when you have arrived or are at least moving in the right direction. For example, your goal doesn’t have to be “zero customer complaints due to…” It can be as simple as, “Did we get through the day without any complaints? If so, let’s celebrate this day and do it again tomorrow. If we did get a complaint, what can we learn from it to not go around that hill again?”

It’s important to ask these types of questions to your team. They will more than likely give you the answers, and you’ll get an overall temperature check of how they’re doing. You can also ask your company’s stakeholders (customers, vendors, delivery people) these same questions. If you get all parties on board or at least thinking about it, the result will inevitably be a better customer experience.

The Improvement Cycle Continues

After that one process, product, or customer interaction, pick another and do it again. Before long, your team will see, “that’s just how we do it here.” It will become a natural occurrence, which is usually the path of least resistance.

But, as the improvement cycle continues at your print company, remember to keep these five tips in mind.

  • Explain: Give reasons behind wanting to improve. It’s easier for people to get on board when they understand your “why.”
  • Seek: Be open to solutions and suggestions from your team. Seeking input from others will keep improvement a team effort.
  • Expect: Be on the lookout for wins and reward them. Celebrate the victories together!
  • Measure: But don’t be exhaustive. You’re simply looking for benchmarks to know you and your team are going in the right direction.
  • Adjust: Be willing to tweak things or change them altogether if they aren’t going in the right direction (but also be willing to explain why and how).

With these tips, you’ll be able to look back and see a culture of getting better and better. Never arriving, but always striving. But it won’t be in a wear- yourself-out sense, but more of an “I like seeing the people around me enjoy the atmosphere of excellence.”

Written by

Ralph Irwin

Owner, Irwin Printing Co., Inc.

Ralph Irwin owns and operates Irwin Printing in Republic, Missouri. Founded in 1974 by Ralph's father, Irwin Printing has continued to build a strong legacy through Ralph's dedication and passion for helping his customers and their businesses thrive. Ralph's legacy-building continues at home as well, as he and his wife, Gail, spend their time raising three teenagers.