As we head further into January and the New Year, many of manufacturers are in search of the next big thing that will take our busienss to the next level. Perhaps it’s a new piece of technology, robotics or an app. It could be a new management strategy or a total rethinking of how we lay out our metal fabrication shop floor. While it is always good to be forward in our thinking and on the lookout for that next big trend, it can be just as valuable, if not more, to keep in mind the importance of continuous improvement. Sure, there are those times when you’ll pull the trigger on a big investment in a machine or technology or even in adding personnel but more often than not success lies in the pursuit of steady, consistent, and continuous improvement.

Being Proactive vs. Reactive

At Wiley, we call it being proactive in getting better at what we do. It frequently manifests itself in a small adjustment, change or alteration in a process that often leads to an exclamation like “Why didn’t we think of that sooner?”

Here are some “small things” you may want to be more proactive about in the coming year that can lead to continuous improvement in your organization.

  1. Elevate the importance of maintenance. Machines, equipment, and tools need maintenance. Unfortunately, oftentimes maintenance equates to “fixing” something. A solid, proactive maintenance program can minimize downtime, improve productivity and quality, and lead to a safer shop floor. These are all valuable ways to demonstrate continuous improvement.
  2. Foster an environment that embraces creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. This is so important in maintaining an atmosphere of growth and momentum. It is particularly critical in keeping creative Millennials who want to be a part of something. Don’t allow potentially valuable ideas or concepts get smothered simply because they may not be perfectly “polished”. Change a “Yeah, but…” environment to a “What if …” atmosphere.
  3. Improve communication. Improved communication doesn’t just mean getting better at having employees do what you want them to do. It means soliciting their input and ideas. It includes sharing positive stories between departments. It means letting an engineer know how a small change positively impacted a client’s product. It means letting the shop floor know that their quality work led to a client increasing the size of an order. It can include celebrating accomplishments, completion of a training program or the successful implementation of an idea.
  4. Stay connected technologically. If you are feeling a bit left behind by technology, don’t feel like you have to catch up all at once. Use your own experience to help you ask the right questions. What type of app could you offer your clients to keep them connected with you and their orders? How can you use social media to build communication bridges? Would a simple image text of a client’s work in progress help better connect you? If you appreciate hearing that a personal package you ordered will be shipped in 3 days, wouldn’t your client appreciate similar updates?
  5. Remember “classic” approaches to running your business. We all can get so caught up in speed and technology that we need to remind ourselves of some classic touches that can build relationships and lead to continuous improvement. When was the last time you took a client out for a round of golf or perhaps for some wings and a beer? Does anyone in your company track your biggest clients important personal dates like anniversaries or birthdays? Do you solicit genuine client input about how you are doing and what they may feel you can do better? We used to call people and actually talk to them, visit them, ask their opinions, and even acknowledge important dates in their lives – maybe this year is the year you bring back some personal touches to your business.

If you are in search of continuous improvement, it may not result from some dramatic initiative or large financial investment. It may just happen because you are doing the smaller things better. It is certainly something to consider as we all travel into this year.