How to master continuous improvement

In December, we won the British Quality Foundation’s (BQF) Excellence in Continuous Improvement award.

Following the win, our CEO, Arjen Cooper-Rolfe recently took part in the awards showcase to BQF members. He talked about our extraordinary journey from a traditional family firm to a multi-award-winning team-led powerhouse.

Here are some highlights from the showcase, on what Arjen calls ‘the drip, drip of continuous improvement’:

Arjen Cooper-Rolfe, CEO:

The one-per-cent-a-day way to world-class continuous improvement

In order to improve performance, we had to shift our people’s behaviours and change their mindsets.

We transitioned away from a ‘command and control’ leadership style to one in which we give our time to help our people grow.

Our overall goal and my role as CEO is to make people better.

To us, leadership means developing the leadership capacity of the entire organization. Everyone can and should be a leader.

One of the most powerful things you can do to incrementally improve performance is to empower colleagues and build their self-reliance.

We’d been doing things the same way for a long time, so when I introduced a purpose and values-led performance culture it was like I’d blown up the company. People were unsure about how to relate this to their roles.

Our answer is our Values Handbook, the most powerful tool and the most important document in our organisation.

The handbook tells us that "it’s better to improve 100 things by one per cent than one thing by 100 per cent". And it gives us the tools and systems to make it happen, such as our Debrief tool.

1% Improvements have been the biggest game-changer for our business.

If you can make people in a business that sells empty tins believe that they can innovate, you and your people can too.

Don’t accept it if people say they can’t innovate in their roles. Maybe your people should think about not doing the job, but improving or transforming the job.

Imagine continuous improvement as a drumbeat in the organisation. Can you hear it?

When we explain 1% Improvements to people in other businesses, they are naturally sceptical about the sheer amount of time, energy and process required. And yes, it’s probably only going to work if you have empowered people at every level who believe they can come into work every day and make a difference.

You need everyone to understand the values of the business and its plans and for their own progress to be resolutely aligned with these things. That way, they can suggest improvements with confidence and understand if one of their suggestions doesn’t quite hit the mark. Everyone always appreciates the feedback that’s fast, structured, consistent and honest.

Operate at pace. Make decisions on the basis of the information you have in front of you. You might make a mistake, but you won’t make the same mistake twice.

It’s a journey. The most important step we took was beginning.

Our Story

Invopak has been radically transformed from an inward-looking, very traditional, half-century-old family concern in the Midlands into the pre-eminent business of its kind, continually pushing its sector forward.

When Arjen Cooper-Rolfe left the commercial property world in 2011 to take over his family’s packaging business, Invopak was an analogue operation rooted in the past.

Arjen embarked on a radical cultural and service-led transformation that has made the company the ‘Apple’ of the rigid packaging supply industry.

More than 4,000 British and Irish companies rely on Invopak to provide containers for products such as food, coatings, resins, janitorial supplies, paints and fragrances.

Underpinning Invopak’s transcendence is its mantra to go ‘Beyond Packaging’. It is one of Britain’s most progressive companies in its approach to people, inclusion and customer service – with a groaning sideboard of national and international awards and independent accolades to prove it.

Says owner Arjen Cooper-Rolfe: “Together we’ve transformed this business over the past decade by recognising that it’s not about the product, it’s about the people.”

His team has totally embraced the ethos of a common purpose – ‘Delivering our customer’s products to market with confidence’ - to drive a culture of performance. The exact way they do it is written down in a Values Handbook, now in its eighth edition and described as ‘important as your contract of employment’.

The entire crew from operations to the owner is on a mission to develop groundbreaking ways of working, striving to improve the way the company does things by 1% every single day. They believe it’s better to improve 100 things by 1% than one thing by 100 per cent.

The bottom line is that Invopak saw orders double during the Coronavirus crisis and managed to fulfil them all - despite lockdown, social distancing and the challenges of European supply chains.

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