2018 Continuous Improvement: A Compelling Case for Culture

“The future is not a place you get to go, it is a place you get to create.” – Nancy Duarte

This was one of the most refreshing views I heard at this year’s Continuous Improvement Conference, hosted locally in Rosemont, IL. It’s a proposition that business leaders often overlook or dismiss. That happens because it is our nature to think that “the way things are” is how things will always be—whether in an industry or in a company, this way is all we’ve ever known.

In the printing industry, it’s easy to surrender our thinking to “the way it is.” I hear it more often than I’d like and even catch those words slip off my tongue when I don’t see a way forward. But as I was surrounded by industry peers and professionals, we were all invited to question our perception and approach to achieving results. Did we each feel our company was ready to rise to the next level of performance? If so, keynote speaker Marcus Nicolls of ‘Partners in Leadership’ suggested that we shift our focus from strategy to culture. Here’s why…

We Don’t Have a Right to Exist

Perhaps this is an obvious truth, but I believe it’s one that we take for granted. Being a contender in the business world isn’t a right. We don’t just get to play the game. We have to earn it. We must create value for our customers. Often this is done by deciding what kinds of products we want to offer, dictated by market demand, and then investing in the equipment that can create that value for our clients. We then strategize and develop processes and procedures, eventually creating value streams that promote efficiency and reduce lead times.

While this certainly produces results by delivering a client need in a manner that maximizes profit margin, our competitors are doing the same thing. Having a monopoly on a product or offering never lasts long. Purchasing equipment makes us capable, but not capital. We must differentiate ourselves to remain competitive and continue earning our client’s business. Andrew S. Grove, former Chairman of Intel said it well: “Every company faces a critical point when it must change dramatically to rise to the next level of performance. If the company fails to see and seize that moment, it will start to decline. The key is courage.”

Culture is Your Competitive Advantage

Culture, simply said, is the way we think and act to get things done.

It’s driven by people. They create the culture and embody it. It’s formed from experiences that foster beliefs, beliefs that drive action, and action that produces results. But how it looks and feels is defined by leadership. The mood in the plant, the attitude, the look on faces, the tones of voice, and reactions in adverse circumstances are reflections of leadership. And if culture is not properly managed, culture ends up managing us.

If you think about it, culture is unique. It’s one of a kind. Your competitors can’t buy it, they can’t sell it, they can’t replicate it. It’s the ace up your sleeve. When we look at the table below, we can see the impact culture can have when there is a focus on people. Leaders transform their mindset from “manager” or “boss” to “teacher” and “coach.”

And when we invest in people, we invest in their knowledge, skills, and ability to be problem solvers. We sharpen their strengths and improve upon weaknesses. They become next-level performers. This shapes their experience to breed new belief, new actions and better results. This is your competitive advantage. This is how you differentiate.

It’s how you win.


Jim Krueger
Director of Quality and Continuous Improvement

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