“Practice the philosophy of continuous improvement. Get a little bit better every single day.” ~Brian Tracy
What Is Kaizen?
In Japanese, Kaizen is formed of two characters; kai (change) and zen (good). The word simply means “change for the better”. Over time, Kaizen became known as “continuous improvement”. This concept of continuous improvement is based on the belief that everything can be better and nothing is status quo. This principle can be applied to any area of business, and even to personal life.
In the manufacturing processes, Kaizen activity embraces the creation of a culture of continuous improvement where every employee is actively engaged in improving the company. The improvement can be reached by reducing rejects and waste, and boosting productivity and innovation. This happens by applying “small” incremental changes that yield major improvements over time.
Small Changes Can Lead to Magnificant Results
Lasting change happens in increments, over time, each new improvement building on the one before. Improvement in self, improvement in goals, improvement in life, and improvement in one’s environment. Whether it is losing weight, building a business, travelling the world or any other goal, we often put pressure on ourselves to make an award-winning improvement that will be recognized instantly.
James Clear once said, “If you get one percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done.”
In the beginning, there is no difference between making a choice that is one percent better or worse. However, these small daily improvements or declines will compound over time, leading to a drastic change. Depending on the decisions, it can lead to a positive or negative outcome.
How to Implement Kaizen In The Workplace?
At its core, Kaizen involves identifying a problem and making it better — over and over again. While more of a philosophy than a strict methodology, the following techniques have become standard steps in order to implement Kaizen in the workplace.
The Plan-Do-Check-Act model is the most popular approach for achieving continuous improvement.
Also known as the Deming circle (named after the American engineer William Edwards Deming), it is a never-ending cycle that aims to help you improve further based on achieved results.
PLAN: Plan your improvements, including setting goals.
DO: Put in place the actions required for improvement.
CHECK: Measure your success relative to your baseline.
ACT: Adjust or tweak your changes.
As you progress through each step, you keep the wheel moving, representing a continuous improvement. When you arrive again at your baseline stage, you take into account your previous developments and plan the next ones.
But remember, this is just the result of Kaizen. Continuous improvement is the external force, but Kaizen is the internal force that drives you to improve regularly and question the status quo.
An important part of Kaizen culture is that it is perceived as a mindset, a way of life. You will not only improve your process but improve yourselves.
A common good practice is a knowledge sharing between team members and the encouragement of self-development. In fact, this is also the leadership style that the Kaizen cycle implies. Instead of being satisfied with reaching your own peak, make sure you help others reach you at the top.
How is Kaizen Used at Toyota?
For many people, Kaizen and Toyota are synonymous. Kaizen has long been one of its core principles, and it’s one of the 13 pillars of the company’s famous Toyota Production System.
Kaizen is a smart business philosophy, especially for companies that value innovation like Toyota. The idea of constantly seeking improvement might sound exhausting, but managers and employees that adopt the Kaizen approach tend to create incredibly calm work environments. After all, with Kaizen, the goal isn’t more work, but better quality of work.
It’s also a vital tool for morale. Kaizen humanizes the workplace and creates an environment where everyone can contribute, at any time. Instead of punishing employees for identifying setbacks, Toyota managers instead reward them.
The Benefits of Having an Established Kaizen Culture.
1. Everyone Speaks the Same Language — Small continual changes and standardization almost automatically take everyone on the same page. Employees are part of the process and of its creation, improving themselves along with it
2. Creates a Growth Mindset — Company values come between the most important components of a successful business. Kaizen is a way to unite everyone among them by sharing the same mindset and approach towards work and development
3. Increases Motivation — Team members are motivated to engage and improve when they see that they are part of the change. When they see their small ideas incorporated in a process of continuous improvement, they are more eager to keep up and contribute.
4. Better Acceptance of New Ideas — When your organization is used to accepting the status quo, new ideas and opportunities can sometimes be seen in a negative light. With a continuous improvement strategy deployed, your teams will get used to and appreciate working with the notion that change is positive.
There are many more benefits to discover yourself. It is worth mentioning that as an important part of the Lean methodology, Kaizen is a necessary component when you embark on the journey towards a Lean company, minimizing waste.
The spirit of Kaizen is more about finding the flow of change rather than looking for measurable steps. This isn’t to say that large and quantifiable improvements do not occur. They certainly do or companies such as Toyota wouldn’t be so successful. The point, however, is that you aren’t striving for brilliant insights but simply trying to do a little better moment by moment. As time passes, you will find continual improvements that will empower you to set the next set of goals.
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This post was previously published on Medium.
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