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Volunteering plays a big role in continuous improvement. In many organizations, training is provided, but may not be mandatory. Prospective students may have to sign for a “Corporate University” rather than be directed to attend by their supervisor. Projects are also often filled first with willing participants. Efforts to improve one’s job may be appreciated by leaders, but might not be required.

There is a big benefit to using volunteers to drive your continuous improvement effort. They tend to be on board with both the methods of improvement and the belief that there is a need to get better. This makes the focus shift from change management to actual process improvement. The downside, though, is that an all-volunteer improvement effort leaves out a substantial portion of the team. Those that are either ambivalent or opposed to Lean efforts fall behind in their skills.

Great organizations require full commitment. In many cases, this means pushing people into training or assigning them to be on teams. It also means hands on leadership to coach them in their daily improvement efforts.

Unfortunately, some people will have an issue with this mandatory participation and will either opt out of the company by quitting, or will fail to meet expectations and will be asked to leave. While any turnover should be a last resort, ultimately having the wrong person in a job makes him or her unhappy and harms the company.

The bottom line is that a continuous improvement culture is built upon a combination of volunteer effort and by continuously coaching the unwilling towards participation. Key projects should be stacked with volunteers unless specific skills are absolutely essential. Less critical effort should mix volunteers with the” volunteered” to spread the culture of improvement.


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