McKella Kinch
November 27, 2023

Cultivating a Mindset of Continuous Improvement

Cultivating a Mindset of Continuous Improvement

If we had to boil our Redmond culture down to a single phrase, it would probably be “continuous improvement.”

That means we’re continuously working to improve not only ourselves, but our systems, our products, and everything about our lives and work. 

Little by little, we strive for gradual, sustainable positive changes. We’re always looking for ways to improve. Not necessarily digging, but just keeping our eyes open. There’s never a shortage of opportunities for improvement once you start paying attention.

Why are we always trying to improve?

People talking and discussing different subjects

We’re not growing for growth’s sake. Many businesses want to grow just to grow, and many people want to improve just because they think they “should.”

We prioritize continuous improvement for a few reasons.

Reason #1: Continuous growth is fulfilling. 

Continuous improvement not only makes us more efficient and effective but gives us meaning. 

We humans are wired for growth. (Pretty much everything in nature is!) We’re happy when we’re on a path that allows us to learn, grow, develop skills, refine our contribution to the world, and then turn around and celebrate how far we’ve come. 

This also makes our work more fun, no matter what kind of work we’re doing. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching your work improve! 

Reason #2: Continuous growth allows us to contribute to the world in a better way. 

When we’re constantly improving and growing, this elevates the lives of everyone around us. 

By keeping our eyes open to how we can do better, whatever we’re putting out into the world improves, whether it’s a product, a way of working, energy, or just how our people interact with others. Our growth improves the lives of partners, customers, and anyone we come in contact with.

Just to be clear: Continuous improvement doesn’t mean we beat ourselves up for never being good enough. It doesn’t mean we have to push and hustle and wear ourselves out to constantly be better or compete with anyone else. 

It’s simply understanding that there’s always room to grow, and finding this exciting. It’s celebrating our progress and momentum while also noticing the possibilities ahead of us. 

Improving Our Systems and Ourselves

We focus on two areas: personal improvement, and systems improvement.

Improving Our Systems

Great systems allow our people to do great work.

At Redmond, we call this work “Kai-Zone,” which is our special blend of the Japanese word Kaizen, meaning “continuous improvement,” and the idea of being “in the zone” where work feels effortless. So “Kai-Zone” means being in the zone where continuous improvement flows and is built right into the processes. 

How do we “do” Kai-Zone?

Kai-Zone is an ongoing conversation around here. We find that the more we explore together in conversation, the more we ask each other and share what we’re seeing. This happens in formal meetings set aside for this purpose, but also in unplanned, everyday chit-chat. 

A lot of our Kai-Zone efforts are based on the principles of LEAN, which is about producing the highest quality product and customer experience with the fewest resources (e.g. time, space, materials, money, brainpower, etc.) possible. This isn’t cutting corners or demanding that our people do more with less; it’s streamlining processes in order to maximize our efforts

We mostly do this through tiny, incremental, sustainable changes. Even if we just find a few ways to shave a couple of seconds off a process. Growth doesn’t always mean massive shifts. There are a lot more little ways to improve than big ways, and the little adjustments tend to be a lot more doable!

To support our teams, we also have a process engineering group available to any team who needs them. This group is made up of people who are wired for improving processes, and who learn the process, get into the nitty-gritty of it, and collaborate with the team to make sustainable improvements. It can be tough to see where to improve sometimes, but this kind of support can be a huge help!

These efforts compound over time so that we build momentum and get better and better results with what feels like less work.

Improving Ourselves

We try to foster an environment where people can grow. After all, if you plant a seed in the wrong soil, it won’t grow, right? 

Here’s how we make Redmond a place where we can grow: 

  • We have a whole team, the culture team, whose entire job is to nurture this culture of continuous improvement. 
  • We host monthly culture meetings for the various business units where we take a break from the day-to-day and discuss a personal development topic together. Teams also have regular culture meetings.
  • Teams regularly meet to discuss what they’re seeing, and more often than not, opportunities for improvement spring from that. 
  • We love books! We discuss books together. We reimburse associates for book purchases. We have tons of books around the office and encourage associates to take whatever looks interesting. Reading and discussing great books is one of the best ways to improve yourself.
  • We host several retreats per year where we can have and renew together while learning about concepts that make us better people. 
  • All of our new associates (and plenty of our veterans) attend seminars where they learn about the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and also about their strengths, so they can explore the unique contribution they’re meant to make in this world. 

This makes us better parents, children, friends, siblings, employees, and better people all around, which improves the lives of everyone around us. 

How to Cultivate a Mindset of Continuous Improvement

What can you do today to start improving yourself and the systems you engage with, little by little?

First, seek understanding.

Simply to keep your eyes open and work to understand yourself and the processes you engage with before you jump into improvements. If you try to move forward without this clarity, you might end up trying to make changes that don’t actually help. You can’t fix what you don’t understand.

Once you have enough clarity that necessary improvements become obvious, think tiny, micro-adjustments instead of huge, sweeping improvements. There are countless ways to improve things just a little. Those small changes are far more sustainable, and they add up!

Then, look for the right blend of consistency AND intensity. The intensity fires us up and gives us the push we need for growth, and consistency helps us sustain those changes and keep continuous improvement at the front of our minds.

Keep these two principles in mind as you go about your life, whether you’re thinking about your exercise routine (is it consistent, and intense enough to improve your health?), your work, and your personal growth.

Reflect on progress and momentum

Don’t forget to regularly pause and notice how far you’ve come! It’s easy to get excited about growth and forget to celebrate where we are.

Reflecting on your progress and momentum is so encouraging and motivating, and gives you a solid place from which to move forward. When we can see how far we’ve come, it makes us want to keep improving!

Continuous Improvement as a Lifestyle

Continuous improvement is a mindset, a lifestyle, that’s all about keeping our eyes open. We notice, reflect, ask what we’re seeing and what it means so we can understand where we are. When we do that, solutions, actions, and improvements pretty much create themselves because they become so obvious.

Nothing is forced. Sure, there’s effort when it’s necessary, but it’s so ongoing and part of what we do that it doesn’t feel like we’re paddling upstream. 

When you feel like you’re improving without having to push too hard, you know you’re on the path of continuous improvement. It’s not effortless, but it flows. 

There’s always room to improve! Isn’t that exciting?