Typically, when business people think about continuous improvement, implementing lean, six sigma, kaizen, and other methodologies come to mind.
Those standard practices send the message that continuous improvement is solely for teams and organizations. However, you can and should apply the same underlying principles to individuals.
Continuous improvement enables organizations to be highly effective and efficient. Adopting the strategies on a personal level is guaranteed to reap comparable performance benefits.
Here’s how to live a life of continuous improvement and catalyze your success.
Be a Lifelong Learner
It’s impossible to continuously improve if you aren’t continually learning. Most high-performing people already invest in becoming better at their core activities.
However, the benefits they yield from learning are stunted by the limited scope of subjects they study. By focusing on topics they’re passionate about, people are just enhancing the parts of the brain that are strongest already. While beneficial, this only minimally improves your creative or problem-solving abilities - essential elements of continuous improvement.
A researcher at the HEC business school in Paris found that learning about topics that have nothing to do with your career can have a have a huge positive impact on your performance.
When you study subjects that vary widely from your day-to-day activities, it strengthens parts of your brain that you don’t use often. When that happens, you’re able to think in more divergent ways and develop innovative approaches for improvement.
Being committed to lifelong learning sets the foundation for you to act on the remaining continuous improvement strategies in this article.
- Schedule an hour a week to learn random things. It can be anything from diving deep into the history of a music genre you love to watching TED talks and documentaries about the latest scientific discoveries. The point is to expose yourself to as many new ideas as possible.
Approach Failures with Unrelenting Curiosity
According to Jeff Bezos, one of the most reliable signs of intelligent, innovative people is that they frequently acknowledge that they’re wrong and change their minds.
This sounds counter-intuitive, but that behavior enables continuous improvement. To reach stretch goals, you have to learn new skills and experiment with a variety of approaches, some of which will fail.
The key to being successful despite facing frequent failures is to treat each one as a learning opportunity. Instead of accepting your failure and moving on, deconstruct it, identify errors, look for missed opportunities and seek every possible way to grow from it.
- Do at least one experimental project per month. If successful, the project should make significant progress toward one of your goals. If it fails, it should teach you something profound about your approach to achieving your goal.
- Don’t move on from failures until you’ve identified what caused them. This step is critical for you to gain performance improvements.
- Come up with a list of actions you can do differently moving forward.
Seek Brutally Honest Feedback
According to the President and CEO of the renowned consulting firm, Zenger Folkman, the majority of highly successful people are unaware of their most damaging weaknesses. Instead, they often focus on smaller issues that don’t have a significant effect on their performance.
If left unchecked, your lack of awareness about your most pressing weaknesses will negatively impact your quest for continuous improvement.
The simple solution is to ask people for brutally honest feedback. Requesting people’s opinions regarding both your quality of work and your overall presence will give you an accurate idea of what areas you need to continuously improve upon.
Another reason why it’s critical to receive brutally honest feedback is that it’s easy to develop habits and stick with them until you’re forced to change. Often, people overlook these day-to-day habits since there’s technically nothing wrong with them. However, a second pair of eyes may reveal multiple changes that would help you save time and/or produce better results.
- Identify at least 3-5 people who will give you brutally honest feedback. If you don’t know enough people who will, either coach others that you know into giving you more objective input or build connections with more people who will readily give it to you.
- Seek out feedback from those individuals at least once per month.
- Use their responses to guide your continuous improvement efforts.
Find an Accountability Partner to Keep You on Track
Living a continuous improvement lifestyle is tough, and it’s easy to get off track when unexpected challenges and events come your way. To ensure you stay focused when your life gets hectic, recruit an accountability partner.
Research shows that people who share their goals with others are, on average, 33% more successful than people who don’t.
Here are three types of people who are ideal accountability partners:
- Ambitious friends/colleagues family members. Choose someone who understands the value of reaching goals and won’t let you get off easy for missing deadlines. Ideally, they will also be pursuing a vision and continuous improvement lifestyle so you can have a mutual accountability relationship.
- Mastermind groups. If you’re not familiar with them, masterminds are groups of people, often who have similar goals, who come together on a regular basis to provide advice and hold each other accountable for making progress. If there’s a relevant group near you, joining it may be a valuable investment.
- Virtual assistants. They might not be the first person you’d think of, however many of our clients rely on their assistants to keep them moving forward. Not only will your assistant hold you accountable for reaching your goals but, they will also proactively complete tasks on your to-do lists, optimize your calendar and take other actions to make it easier for you to continuously improve on the activities that matter most.
To learn more about how our virtual assistants can boost your performance and help you achieve your goals, check out our case studies.
- Choose someone to be your accountability partner.
- Set up a meeting cadence to discuss your progress.
- Consider empower your partner to trigger a consequence when you fail to meet a deadline. For example, one of our clients tells his virtual assistant accountability partner to donate to charity every time he fails to follow through with something he tells her he’s going to do.
Keep in mind that continuous improvement is a lifestyle and how you implement it may evolve. The key to yielding sustained benefits from it is continually refining what you need to improve and taking actions to enable your success.
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About the Author: Emily formerly led Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.