Setting Goals for Innovation & Continuous Process Improvement

Instructor: Mary Matthiesen-Jones

Mary has worked around the world for over 30 years in international business, advertising, and market research. She has a Master's degree in International Management and has taught University undergraduate and graduate level courses .

This lesson will go over how managers can set goals for innovation and continuous process improvement in organizations. We'll cover SMART goals and prioritization.

Continuous Process Improvement

There is always room for improvement in any business. The most successful businesses recognize this and make improvement a core strategy. One of the key responsibilities of front-line managers is to identify opportunities for innovation and continuous process improvement and to set goals to leverage those opportunities.

Continuous process improvement is about making incremental, sustainable changes in how things are done that can lead to improved efficiency, performance, and profitability.

Innovation involves new ideas or processes, better solutions to meeting customer needs, or achieving a goal in a new way. Combined, they are key to providing businesses with a competitive edge.

Continuous process improvement by innovation consists of several steps:

  1. Focusing on desired end results
  2. Exploring options
  3. Selecting the best options based on an analysis of possible outcomes
  4. Designing how to implement the options
  5. Taking action
  6. Assessing results
  7. Repeating the process based on what has been learned.

That last step is how process improvement then becomes continuous.


The best goals are SMART goals. The SMART acronym provides a guide to evaluating goals.

S - Specific. Goals need to be well-defined for people to understand what is expected.

M - Measurable. A goal must include a standard for how it is to be measured in order to determine whether or not it has been achieved.

A - Attainable. Goals must be realistic if people are going to commit to their achievement. Goals do not have to be easy, but there must be a belief that they can be reached.

R- Relevant. Why a goal is important must be clear. Relevant goals help motivate people.

T- Time-bound. Setting deadlines is important for motivating people. The time-frames also have to be realistic.

Let's imagine that you are the General Manager of A to Z Sandwiches with 80 employees working in four stores.

A need has been identified to improve the speed with which customers are served. You schedule a meeting with the managers of each store to discuss the problem and identify possible changes to the process for serving customers.

You want to develop a SMART goal that can be used as a start for improving and innovating how customers are served. The first goal the group identifies is: Decrease customer wait time on sandwich orders. You ask yourself and the group, 'Is it SMART?' In other words, is it:

Specific? No. How much do you want the time to be decreased? 30 seconds? Five minutes?

Measurable? Yes and no. Your ordering system can measure time from the start of an order to its delivery, but there is no target to measure against.

Attainable? No. If there is no specific target, whether or not it is attained cannot be measured.

Relevant? No. With no specific target, it is hard for employees to see its relevance and why they should change versus what they are doing now.

Time-bound? No. No target date for meeting the goal has been set.

So with those thoughts in mind, the group refines the goal: Decrease the current 8-9 minute average customer single sandwich order wait time to an average of 5-6 minutes in the next three months. This meets all the SMART requirements.

With your SMART Goal in place, you and your team can begin to identify those incremental changes and process innovations that can result in shorter customer wait times and happier customers.

Prioritizing Goals

Making sandwiches more quickly is not your only goal. You know there are lots of opportunities to improve the overall operation of the business, its profitability, and customer satisfaction. They range from reducing waste on ingredients to making sure that the customer tables are always cleaned as soon as a customer leaves. Prioritizing goals is a critical responsibility of managers because all goals are not equal in terms of their effect on the overall business. Goals may also compete for the same resources, whether financial or employee time.

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