By Joakim Ahlström
Q: How do you define continuous improvement in business terms?
Continuous improvement is the way to achieve your objectives. My definition of an improvement is a solved problem and my definition of a problem is the gap between where you are and where you want to be. So, continuous improvement is both about coping with problems caused by changes in your surrounding environment and about developing and implementing the strategies to achieve the desired future of your business.
Some people consider running ‘idea campaigns’ a good method for improving their business, but they should not be confused with continuous improvement because they do not represent a systematic approach to make improvements, solve problems and increase competence daily. Rather, they create a ‘surge’ of ideas, one so big that only a fraction of them can be implemented, confirming for the majority of people within the business that no one listens to their ideas; hence they are less likely to contribute next time.
Q: Why is continuous improvement important for franchises?
A franchise system needs to implement continuous improvement because that’s how change happens and ensures survival. You start off with a grand vision and plans, but in the end, you need to figure out where you are now, where you need to go next and how to close that gap. And once you have closed that gap, there is another place you need to go and another gap that needs to be closed. It will always be like that, since the world surrounding your business is changing.
Comparing the methodologies for implementing positive and sustainable change, continuous improvement has proven to be the best, due to its focus on using the entire human potential of an organization. Improvement data from Coca-Cola, by way of example, shows roughly 80 per cent of an organization’s performance improvement lies in ideas from front-line employees and only 20 per cent in management-driven initiatives. As a franchisee, continuous improvement helps you synchronize your management efforts with your front-line view of the business and your employees’ input.