Love it or hate it, continuous improvement is an unavoidable reality

By Adam Brown

Two questions for every business or not-for-profit: Are your businesses processes the same as they were three years ago? And, can you afford for them to be the same in 3 years’ time?

Continuous improvement of processes and technology is often talked about as an ideal. Something to aspire to. Or, for those suffering change fatigue, something to fear. But love it or hate it, the need for continuous improvement has become an unavoidable reality.

Look at the neobank Xinja, a disrupter in the financial services market. Within seven days they had pulled $30 million from other banks, half of it from the four big, as customers leapt at their 2.25% no-strings savings account. They can offer this high rate and the customer experience demanded by the market because they are building all of their processes straight onto their technology and aren’t using 100 staff to do the jobs of 20. It is currently impossible for the big four to react at speed, let alone regain the lead, because they are bound by legacy processes, legacy governance, and legacy solutions.

Every market is being disrupted. Even in sectors that have traditionally been slow to move, like education. Many universities are struggling to get people into their MBA programs because their competitors are offering more modular options, namely highly interactive online courses. It’s not a cost discussion, it’s about how to provide an MBA to a very busy professional without requiring them to sit in a classroom for three weeks a year, or three weeks a quarter. It’s about changing processes and technology to allow the customer to complete their qualification by studying while their kids are asleep.

Business as usual vs continuous improvement

Business as usual (BAU) is often described as doing what is needed to keep the lights on. In a process sense that might look like ensuring business processes are followed. In a technology sense, it’s about asking what do we do to our current technology stack to ensure that the system doesn’t fail and continues to meet our needs? By contrast, continuous improvement is seeing opportunities in the market, seeing opportunities within existing technology, and opportunities to tweak and change processes that enable your organisation to keep up.

The wake-up call here is that BAU is not enough to keep the lights on. If organisations fail to continuously improve and move quickly to meet market demands they are kicked to the curb by customers. And the lights go out, permanently.

Seizing opportunities

Salesforce is a great example when it comes to opportunities for continuous improvement. Since its inception, Salesforce has acquired more than 60 organisations and they develop three new releases of their platform 3 times a year. So there is a huge opportunity for Salesforce customers who are only using a small percentage of the platform to increase the value that they receive from their technology.

Many aren’t aware of, or don’t fully understand the impact that these acquisitions and upgrades could have on their business. It’s about looking at where the market is going and where technology is going and then considering the processes required to join the dots.

As demonstrated, continuous change is as much about survival as it is about excelling. And it’s not just about technology, but also about the processes underlying it. It all starts with getting crystal clear about what you want your organisation to be, where you want it to go, and how.

I will look at how organisations can successfully implement continuous change in my next post on this issue.