In order to improve its efficiency, and the quality of service customers receive, RS keeps moving in a Continuous Improvement culture

‘Continuous Improvement’ is often referred to by the Japanese term ‘kaizen’, which means ‘change for the better’. Continuous improvement (CI) involves an organisation making a commitment from the top down – involving all employees – to improve numerous processes, become more efficient and offer customers a better service.
RS has developed its own CI programme, benchmarked against some of the best around the world, and is pushing hard to embed this culture into every element of its business. “Continuous improvement is hugely important to RS & Electrocomponents as an organisation,” says, Jo Faulkner, Vice President of Continuous Improvement at Electrocomponents (RS & Allied). “We are in the process of rolling out CI into everything we do as a business – it’s a journey that not only improves the way we work but it also improves the customers’ experience. We look at things the customers want and need and deploy CI to solve these challenges.”
The basis of RS’s CI programme is the Lean Six Sigma methodology. “Under Lean Six Sigma, we ask people to follow a structured approach to problem solving (DMAIC),” says Faulkner. “This stands for define, measure, analyse, improve and control – it’s an effective process, which when used consistently allows us to look at areas of our business that can be improved, work out how to do that and then take the required actions to improve and ensure these changes stay fixed.”
"When used consistently, Continuous Improvement allows us to look at areas of our business that can be improved, work out how to do that and then take the required action " Jo Faulkner, Vice President of Continuous Improvement for Electrocomponents
However, rolling out CI across an entire organisation is not a quick process, and RS is committing significant investment into training and developing employees so that they can understand, engage and embed the CI culture. “Employee development is really important to RS and forms part of our wider CI programme,” explains Faulkner. “We have dedicated training in CI that individuals can sign up for, or that they can be put forward for, by their manager & HR as part of their overall learning & development plan.
"There are three levels to this training – Entry level (Yellow Belt); Green Belt,  and the more dedicated – Black Belt,” she adds. “In addition, we have executive CI training for our leadership teams to ensure they understand the language, some tools and benefits of CI and can ask the right questions of their teams to help drive the improvement process.”
Since the global training was introduced, RS has put over 270 people through the Yellow Belt training, 63 colleagues have completed Green Belt and 14 are Black Belt trained. This has also seen the number of CI projects over the course of past year (FY 2016-17) exceed 270, delivering significant savings across the business. Faulkner reports that, at the time of writing, RS has 185 active projects across all functions and countries where the business operates in.
"CI is a continual journey, it needs to be led from the top and owned by all. There is always room to improve and work closer with customers and suppliers to deliver a win/win for all parties " Jo Faulkner, Vice President of Continuous Improvement for Electrocomponents
But what do these CI projects look like in practice? Faulkner shares a recent example where a CI approach has helped both RS and its customers. “We had a situation where Japanese orders kept being reported as damaged by both customers and the RS team in Japan. “We set up a small CI project to find out why this was happening and to stop it from occurring again. The team found that a large number of products for Japan were being sent down a reject shoot on a conveyor, which was causing the boxes to be crushed. This was because the labels for Japanese orders were slightly bigger than other countries and it covered part of the bar code. “We have subsequently made the labels slightly smaller and the problem has been solved. This one issue will only save a few tens of thousands of pounds over the course of the year, but the cumulative effect of lots of these issues being solved and improved runs well into the millions.
“Another recent project, and winner of our Best of Best CI Awards FY17, focuses on GTIN/EAN (globally recognised barcodes) for RS’s products. Coming from numerous requests from German customers in particular, a cross functional and cross location project team set up and reviewed the current set up for product codes, worked together with suppliers and ran a pilot with Audi. Its success has now been implemented with all new products launched having a mandatory GTIN/EAN set up requirement and over 250,000 active products also linked via GTIN numbers on the website. Customers are happier and find ordering from RS easier.”