There has been a lot written in this blog and in many other resources about how to launch the Kaizen philosophy within an organization. Companies are often willing to invest significant amounts of time and resources to make sure that a culture of improvement takes hold. That’s awesome, but we’ve noticed that fewer organizations dedicated to continuous improvement, have a solid plan for introducing the Kaizen way to new employees who join the organization after the initial launch. After a while, Kaizen will become a way of life for your team, but it may be an entirely new concept for your most recent hire. Here are a few tips for bringing them up to speed.
Start with the Principles of Kaizen
After defining Kaizen and giving a bit of history, it will be useful to describe each of the principles of Kaizen and discuss them from the perspective of a new employee. Here are a few relevant notes for each one.
Improvements are based on small changes, not major paradigm shifts or new inventions – This should be welcome news for someone who has just started their job. The emphasis should be that you will expect them to notice and report even the smallest way to make a process better.
Ideas come from employees – We think that this is an important principle to bring up even during the interview process. Ideally, this will give your new addition a sense of empowerment.
Employees take ownership and are accountable for improvement – Along with that empowerment will come accountability. When you bring up this principle, be sure to describe what that looks like within your organization.
Improvement is reflective – From the outset of your relationship, you want your new employee to understand that feedback will be given freely and should be a two-way street.
Improvement is measurable and potentially repeatable – This should help explain why your organization leverages tools that make it easy to capture the collective wisdom and spread improvement momentum.
Provide Examples with Impact Measurements
Even with a good understanding of the fundamental principles of Kaizen, most people will need real-world examples to grasp the idea entirely. Take the time to walk your new employee through some of the improvement projects that have had the most significant impact. Not only will this show them what is possible, but it will also give them a sense of the specific measurements your organization uses to define success.
Answer, “What’s In It For Me?”
When improvement culture has indeed taken hold in an organization, Kaizen becomes personal. Employees grow to be emotionally invested in business outcomes in a unique and compelling way. The first step in getting your new hire to that point is helping them understand how Kaizen will pay personal dividends. They should see it as an indication that the organization understands the value of each employee and is willing to go to great lengths to harness it. Explain that Kaizen helps each person do their best work and presents the opportunity to exhibit the leadership and creativity that propels careers to new levels.
Address Common Causes for Resistance
A brand-new employee is probably the last person in the building who will push back when you describe your improvement culture, but that doesn’t mean they have no reservations. It’s human nature to be skeptical of something new, so it makes sense to take on some of the most common reasons people resist Kaizen.
Fear that it is about punishment or blame – Make it clear that the focus of improvement within Kaizen is process. Finger pointing and blame are contraindicated for a culture of continuous improvement.
Standards don’t inhibit creativity – At some point, you will need to introduce Standard work. Be sure that you explain that the Standard is only the starting point for improvement, not the final word. Otherwise, the idea of a Standard and Kaizen might seem mutually exclusive.
Introduce the Kaizen tools
Once you’ve laid the foundation, it’s time to get into the details of how Kaizen is realized within your organization. There are a set of tools that will require training, starting with your Kaizen management software platform. The training should go beyond “point and click” to include details about how the software is used to manage projects, conduct meetings, inform employee reviews, and so forth. It's helpful to have a training plan in place that covers your most essential improvement techniques like the 5 Whys, 5S, catchball, huddle boards, and the PDSA or DMAIC improvement cycle.
It might not be practical to send every employee through formal classroom Kaizen training as they come on board, but it might make sense to organize formal training once every six months or so for all new additions, especially if you are growing rapidly or experience a lot of turnover. Also, you probably have a few Kaizen rock stars on your team. Make it a priority to introduce the new folks to the improvement experts so they know where to look for inspiration.
The time and attention spent on introducing your new hire to Kaizen will undoubtedly pay off as they bring their own fresh eyes and past experiences to augment your team.