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Get 1% Better Every Day: 8 Strategies for Steady, Iterative Improvement

Get 1% Better Every Day: 8 Strategies for Steady, Iterative Improvement

The concept of iterative software development first gained traction in the 1980s. According to Agile Alliance, its relatively rapid adoption was attributable in part to the growth of relatively cheap personal computing power, which in turn facilitated the development of increasingly powerful design and modeling suites.

In the 1990s, computer scientist Alistair Cockburn posited that “iterative approaches gradually gain acceptance [because]…human learning is intrinsically an iterative, trial and error process.”

In other words, iteration is innate.

Iterative development principles eventually migrated far beyond the relatively insular late-20th-century software industry. Today, iteration is everywhere, with myriad applications that have little or nothing to do with the concept’s origins.

Indeed, many organizations now use iterative principles as strategic roadmaps, under the assumption that most or all core processes benefit from steady, step-by-step improvements. They commit to getting 1% better every day — an ambitious but realistic goal that’s a whole lot easier to achieve with certain ground rules in place.

Are you ready to commit to being a little better tomorrow? Here’s how to make it happen.

1. Give Every Process an Owner

City neighborhoods with high owner-occupancy rates tend to be better-kept than student housing districts. That’s because ownership increases accountability — and, in the working world, performance.

Supercharge your team’s accountability and set your company up for iterative improvement by giving every definable internal process an owner. Said processes can be as trivial as getting the communal coffee station ready in the morning, as mundane as spot-auditing inventory, or as mission-critical at safeguarding IT security. The goal here is as simple as it is ambitious: to leave no bucks to pass.

2. Rethink Feedback Delivery

Does your organization’s internal feedback delivery system really work?

If not, you’re not alone.

“After decades of attempts by thousands of companies to improve how managers give feedback, research still suggests that feedback does nothing — or even makes things worse,” said Dr. David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Institute in prepared remarks at BetterWorks’ 2017 GoalSummit conference.

That’s a sobering prospect.

While it won’t by itself change the content of your feedback, an effective feedback delivery system can definitely sharpen its impact. Use a continuous performance management suite to facilitate real-time and 360 feedback, support periodic chain-of-command check-ins, and improve the efficacy of your quarterly or annual performance reviews.

The easier it is for your employees to receive and internalize feedback, the more likely they are to take it to heart — and the more likely it is to pay dividends for your company.

3. Know How Long Defined Tasks Take

Sounds basic, no? You’d be surprised (or maybe you already know) just how bad humans are at estimating how much time they need to complete specific, clearly defined tasks.

It’s not all our fault, to be fair — the size and complexity of a morning email dump can vary considerably, for instance. Still, it’s absolutely crucial to know with reasonable precision how long it’ll take a given team member to execute a given task. Once you do, you’ll find it far easier to load up team members with just enough work to maximize their valued time without overloading them — likely a counterproductive outcome.

4. Automate or Outsource One New Process Every Month

Always be on the lookout for rote processes to automate or outsource. Your employees are valuable, and in an increasingly tight labor market, you don’t have the luxury of adding to your team whenever your organization’s workload increases. Delegate the highest-value tasks to those best-placed to handle them, and slough off less specialized or complex work on software or outside contractors.

5. Reassess Your Strategic Plan Every Year

They say time moves faster as you get older. Make sure you’re keeping pace with a fresh, fully updated strategic plan. Commit to a full review and reassessment each year, even when its term lapses with no major changes or surprises in your industry or organization. You never know what the future will bring, and your lodestar — continuous improvement — will be much easier to follow if you’re ready for anything.

6. Recognize Excellence

Perhaps employee-of-the-month awards are a bridge too far. But your reticence to hang once-and-future stars’ pictures in the break room shouldn’t preclude you from implementing any sort of employee recognition initiative. If you (and your team) prefer, opt for lower-key rewards like gift cards, special parking spots, or an added flex day.

7. Tie Employee Compensation to Tenure and Performance

It goes without saying that you should tie a portion of each employees’ compensation to individual and company performance. You can’t publicly recognize everyone all the time, after all, and money speaks louder than praise for many people anyhow.

You should also consider tying employee compensation to tenure. While there’s a case to be made that tenure incentives promote complacency, they’re effective retention tools amid a perennial talent shortage. Perhaps there’s a compromise to be found in tenure-based incentives for consistently high-performing employees — those most likely to help your organization reach its “1% better every day” goal over the long haul.

8. Invest in Employee Health and Wellness

Happy, healthy employees are productive, profitable employees. If you haven’t already done so, deploy a formal employee wellness program that includes fringe benefits designed to promote fitness and wellbeing: gym memberships, health savings accounts, flex time, generous family leave (above and beyond what’s required by law in your area), and more.

Are You 1% Better Today?

Everybody has a bad day now and again. The same goes for companies. Even teams consistently firing on all cylinders occasionally fall out of sync.

What’s really important is your response. When you’re truly committed to iterative improvement, you see temporary setbacks as opportunities to take stock, to retrench. You internalize whatever you’re able to glean from the failure, and you apply those lessons tomorrow. You don’t let the occasional failure get you down. And you double down on your commitment to be better every day from here on out.

You might not live up to that goal. But you give it your all — and you get better more often than not.

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