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Why you need to drive continuous improvement in your business
This article is part of our Process 101 guide.
There’s a reason humans often resist change: we find comfort in what we know. But it’s just not feasible to blindly continue doing what you’ve always done, you have to ‘move with the times’.
In the corporate world, change is necessary to survive today’s ever increasing competitive landscape. More competition means more noise, so you need to do something pretty spectacular to stand out.
Some companies opt to take the easy route by slashing prices, but eroding into your profits just isn’t sustainable. And these days most things can be easily copied so it’s virtually impossible to claim you have a unique selling point (USP). Therefore, if you want to survive, you need a competitive edge, something you can do better than anyone else.
Finding your competitive edge
Continuous improvement involves looking at where you are today, setting a goal and doing what needs to be done to reach that goal. Once that goal is met, you start again, finding ways to improve further.
Taking a continuous improvement approach is necessary to keep ahead of the game. It should involve everyone, making them constantly think about ways to improve, how to deliver better products/services, and how to meet customers’ needs better. But it should also be about identifying inefficiencies within the business and redundant activities – why continue doing something that’s not adding value?
Continuous improvement shouldn’t be seen as a task, highlighted on someone’s to-do list. Continuous improvement should be ingrained into your organisation’s DNA, so that every person, no matter what their role, or what they are doing, is always thinking, ‘how can I make this better’. And then it should be about empowering every person to make the change and make it stick.
Continuous improvement in practice: the airline industry
The airline industry has an outstanding safety record, which comes from a determination to learn lessons by analysing decades of errors and crashes. Pilots are encouraged to be open and honest about their mistakes without fear of recrimination. In the airline industry, failure is viewed as a precious learning opportunity for all pilots, all airlines and all regulators.
Let’s take a look at some examples…
1956: United Airlines Douglas DC-7 and Trans World Airlines Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation collide
When these two aircrafts crashed 21,000 feet above the Grand Canyon, all 128 people on-board the planes were killed. It identified a need for increased communication between planes, and as a result, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was formed to set guidelines for aviation in the US.
1977: KLM Flight 4805 and Pan Am Flight 1736 collide
When these two aircraft collided on the runway at Tenerife airport, 61 people survived, leaving 583 dead in the wreckage. Issues of mis-communication with the word ‘takeoff’, and tension between the pilot and co-pilot in the KLM caused the disaster. However, by learning from these mistakes the cockpit atmosphere was changed. Now the crew are encouraged to report their mistakes. It lead to the creation of ‘Crew Resource Management’.
1985: British Airtours 737 catches fire
When the engine caught fire before takeoff, the flames spread quickly through the aircraft. With the seats positioned close together, it meant that bottle-necking occurred at the doors, and some passengers couldn’t escape. 55 people perished. As a result of this incident, there are now limits on the minimum space allowed between seats, as well as the distance to an emergency exit.
1996: Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 747-100B and Kazakhstan Airlines Ilyushin Il-76 collide
The mid-air collision near New Delhi resulted in 349 fatalities. Due to issues with language barriers and differences in the unit used to measure distances, it emphasised the need for aircraft to rely on advanced anti-collision technology, rather than human interpretation. The ‘Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System’ was implemented, which monitors the airspace around an aircraft independent of air traffic control.
2001: American Airlines Flight 587 crashes
When the pilot tried to take off in the wake of a larger jet (an area of turbulent air), he was forced to stabilise the aircraft using aggressive rudder inputs. This led to the tail fin snapping off, which caused the plane to crash shortly after takeoff. All 260 passengers and a dog in the cargo hold were killed. Following the crash American Airlines has updated its pilot training programme and the FAA has implemented new training regulation for pilots.
The importance of process
Every morning on your way to work you hear about car accidents on the traffic update and either shrug them off if it’s not affecting your route, or curse the inconsiderate driver that’s now delaying your commute by 30 minutes. But when an aeroplane crashes, it’s headline news. For days afterwards we’re fed updates about the wreckage and rejoice when the ‘black box’ is found.
Air crashes are a rarity; since the beginning of the aviation era, 50,000 people have lost their lives in plane crashes. Compare that to the 1.3 million people that die in road crashes each year (an average of 3,287 deaths a day) and you can appreciate how important continuous process improvement really is.
Make continuous improvement a part of your culture
Process is part of aviation culture with the entire industry working together to figure out how to make air travel safer and more comfortable for passengers. The above examples showcase some of the headlines that have led to major changes, but the reality is that the airlines are rigorously testing and improving their planes, pilot training and flight procedures every day. From studying pilot behaviour to investigating minor incidents and carrying out research to better align theory and reality, continuous improvement lies at the core of the aviation industry (as well as Formula 1).
Imagine if continuous improvement was at the heart of your organisation. Where would you be today? How would you change things? How would your staff feel? What impact would it have on your quality & assurance, productivity, profitability and customer experience? Process is the DNA of any organisation so if you focus your efforts here, the knock-on effects are certain to have a huge impact on your world.