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Change management or continuous improvement: Which is better?

Change management and continuous improvement are two terms that every business hoping to implement any form of process management should understand.


Image credit: iStock/Maxiphoto

Many organisations are committed to improving their efficiency and doing all they can to increase productivity at a time when growing levels of competition and economic uncertainty mean those who fail to adapt will be left behind.

As a result, change has become a necessary part of many business models and mindsets, with an inevitable need to move away from old patterns of behaviour in order to achieve a brighter, more positive future outlook.

With that in mind, many organisations are now looking to optimise their operations through process management activities, streamlining their processes and adding value wherever possible through increased levels of collaboration and a focus on efficiency.

Undertaking such large-scale change does present challenges, however, and one of the first things that companies with this mindset should consider is the difference between 'change management' and 'continuous improvement'. To the layman, these terms may sound similar, but in reality they describe two very different practices, as we'll now explain.

Starting with change management, organisations undertaking process management activities should employ this practice to help support their teams. It involves identifying the common causes of stress for people when adapting to new ways of working and empowering individuals to have a greater say in how their operations should evolve.

By encouraging people to be more vocal throughout the process of change, this ensures all issues are being dealt with and individuals are able to clearly communicate their own frustrations and potentially help to make the process of change more straightforward.

Furthermore, it ensures uncertainty can be minimised, as this can be a powerful driver for unrest. Change will be supported or even initiated from the inside out and resistance will be minimal.

Meanwhile, continuous improvement means to focus on making incremental change over time to deliver consistent gains in performance. Organisations should not be focused on large-scale quick fixes, but instead examine the whole of a process under scrutiny, from start to finish, and explore ways to enhance productivity at every step.

Doing so ensures there is more scope to optimise efficiency and to draw on the expertise of individuals at every stage of production or service delivery. Couple this with an effective change management regime and organisations can better implement the changes they desire, while reinforcing collaborative working and ensuring smoother adoption.

So, to return to our original question, change management or continuous improvement, which is better? The answer is simply that both should have a place in company actions when pursuing change. Understanding that each of these activities should play a role in the development of any successful process management regime is important.

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