Much of the information published about establishing a culture of Kaizen is written for leaders who are introducing the concept to their entire organization for the first time. But once the Kaizen mindset is established, the job is not done. Looking for opportunities for positive change may be second nature to your long-term employees, but many new hires will have no knowledge of Kaizen or daily improvement. Without a plan for familiarizing these new team members with Kaizen, your carefully developed culture can quickly become diluted. That's why it is critical to bake Kaizen into your employee onboarding process. Here are our top tips for doing precisely that.
Explain the Foundations of Kaizen
Before even deciding to extend an offer, it is essential to determine whether the candidate has an aptitude for continuous improvement and the willingness to learn new ideas. Hiring managers should ask specific questions to determine whether the potential employee will be a good fit for your culture. Look for people who can provide examples of times they've worked to implement positive change, even if they are unfamiliar with your team's language for improvement work.
Explain the Foundations of Kaizen
From the very beginning of your employee's training, it is useful to describe Kaizen's fundamentals and discuss how they inform your organization's daily operations. Be sure to explain that:
- Improvements are based on small but consistent daily changes, not major process overhauls or revolutionary changes. This should be good news for someone who has just joined a new organization. They should know that leadership expects them to notice and report even the smallest opportunity to do things a better way.
- Ideas come from everyone. It is possible that in your employee's last organization, it was taken for granted that leaders would tell workers what should be done, never the other way around. You want to dispel this way of thinking from the start of your employee's tenure.
- Employees own and are accountable for improvement. The ability to make suggestions for positive change should feel empowering to your new staff member, but they should know that it with accountability. Be sure to explain what employee performance evaluation looks like in your organization.
- Improvement is measurable and often repeatable. You want your new hire to understand that improvement is not just conceptual. Explain why your organization leverages software and other tools that make it easy to calculate the impact of improvement, share lessons learned, and spread improvement momentum.
Provide Specific Examples and Data
Even if you do a great job of communicating Kaizen's principles, for your employee to embrace it, it is essential to have real-world examples of precisely what that means. Take the time to review past successful improvement projects and share the data that proves their success. This will help show your new team member what is possible and how your organization measures success.
Answer, "What's In It For Me?"
While your brand new hire probably won't ask, "What's in it for me?" directly, the question is likely on their mind. Explaining quality improvement is beneficial to employees because it creates an environment where everyone can do their best work. It also leads to ample opportunities to demonstrate leadership and resourcefulness. Explain that the reason the organization asks for employee ideas for improvement is that they are highly valued. Underscore that each employee is uniquely positioned to recognize problems and implement solutions related to the processes they control.
Address Frequent Worries Upfront
Most new employees won't express concerns about working in a culture of Kaizen, but that doesn't mean that they are entirely on board. People are often anxious about unfamiliar ideas, and it is reasonable if your new team member has a few concerns. It's smart to address a couple of them right at the beginning.
Many people fear that a process improvement paradigm is really just a way to place blame on employees when something goes wrong. It helps to emphasize that the improvements are about processes, no people. In fact, blaming people is not helpful when identifying and correcting the root cause of problems. It's the opposite of Kaizen.
The other concern many folks have is that standard work means that there is no room for innovation. When introducing standard work, explain that the standard simply provides the starting point for managed change, not a replacement for creativity and experimentation.
Introduce Your Kaizen Instruments
Once you've laid the groundwork for understanding Kaizen, it's time to get into the details of how it works in your organization. You probably have a set of practices and techniques that require training, starting with your Kaizen software platform. The training should go beyond how to "point and click." It should include examples of the software that is used to manage projects, facilitate meetings, and structure employee evaluations. It's helpful to have a training plan in place that covers your most essential improvement techniques, such as PDSA or DMAIC, control charts, huddle boards, and any other common improvement tools.
Even if your organization does not have a formal Kaizen training program, it's not a bad idea to have a classroom-type session once every six months or so to do a deep-dive for all new team members and allow them to share their experience. You should also encourage everyone to recommend improvements to the onboarding process. It is also a great idea to recruit some of your most engaged employees to help new team members learn the ropes. Thoughtful attention to your onboarding program will pay big dividends when your new employees get off to a great start.