Regularly review the outcome of what you are doing, and then make incremental improvements to what you do and how you do it based on what you learn, so that you can adapt to changes when necessary, and maintain or improve effectiveness over time.

Whereas the principles of Empiricism and Consent reveal opportunities for learning, Continuous Improvement relates to what we do with what we learn. Continuous Improvement applies to how we conduct our operations, but also to governance. Everything from the evolution of strategies, policy, processes and guidelines, to the development of products, services, competencies and skills, attitudes and behavior, chosen values and tools, all can be continuously improved.

Take an iterative approach to change

Evolution is often more effective and more sustainable than revolution which is rarely necessary or worthwhile unless you fail to continuously improve a system when it’s needed. Especially in a complex environment, making many changes to a system at the same time can lead to a mess that is difficult to fix. Consequences resulting from larger interventions are often hard to measure effectively, especially in complexity, and the relationship between cause and effect will be difficult, if not impossible to determine and evaluate.

Instead, consider changing things incrementally whenever you see an opportunity for a small and worthwhile improvement, significantly reducing the need for a large intervention. This will help you to effectively adapt to changing environments, keep your organization and systems fit for purpose, and prevent things from descending into a state that is costly or even impossible to repair.

Even when a large change is needed, go step by step, figuring out how things need to be and adjust what you’re doing based on what you learn. With small changes, assumptions can be tested quickly and failure is more manageable. When a small experiment fails, you can learn fast and if necessary, use what you learn to develop a better experiment. When a large experiment fails, a lot of time and effort might be spent without learning much at all.

Be aware that if you change several things at the same time, you might not be able to determine which of them lead to the effects you see, so aim for one or only a few concurrent changes at a time.

Monitor, measure and change things based on what you learn

Define the intended outcomes you expect a change will lead to and be clear on how you will evaluate whatever occurs. When making changes, be clear about the specifics of what you want to improve. What positive consequences do you want to amplify and what negative consequences do you want to dampen?

Monitor the consequences of your actions and reflect on what you learn. Pay attention to what actually happens and whether or not the results of your interventions reflect your assumptions and intentions. This will help you keep track of whether or not your changes led to improvements at all.

Remember that even if things don’t turn out as you expect sometimes, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the results are negative. Sometimes things turn out differently to how we’d assumed or intended. All outcomes help us learn. Be open to whatever happens, consider the pros and cons of any unintended consequences that emerge and acknowledge when it would be beneficial to do things differently, or to aim for different results.