One of the most significant challenges leaders face when they embrace the Kaizen culture of continuous improvement is getting the philosophy to take hold and become part of the DNA of the organization. We often see small bright spots where Kaizen is clearly working, but other departments or teams that have not yet put continuous improvement to work.
To shed some light on how to spread the Kaizen mindset, we’ve looked to some of the most successful leaders in business.
Here is what they suggest.
Respect and Empower People
Showing respect for people is one of the fundamental principles of Kaizen. Respect fosters improvement by reinforcing for each team member that their input is valued and that management is interested in creating the conditions required for everyone to do their best work.
“People are entitled to joy in their work and a sense of ownership.”
W. Edwards Deming
Start a Success Snowball
When people think of improvement projects, they often jump to huge, revolutionary change, but Kaizen can be spread most easily with smaller, incremental improvements that are easy to implement, yet useful in solving nagging challenges.
“Small actions are at the heart of Kaizen. By taking steps so tiny that they seem trivial or even laughable, you’ll sail calmly past obstacles that have defeated you before. Slowly – but painlessly – you’ll cultivate an appetite for continued success and lay down a permanent new route to change.”
Robert D. Maurer
It is essential that people see the results of improvement work even if it doesn’t directly affect them. Improvement management software makes it easy to display improvement activities and impacts for the whole organization.
“The message of the Kaizen strategy is that not a day should go by without some kind of improvement being made somewhere in the company.”
Every department and team should consistently apply the Kaizen tools used to achieve improvement. Standard work is also an essential element of any effective improvement program.
“The key to the Toyota Way and what makes Toyota stand out is not any of the individual elements – but what is important is having all the elements together in a system. It must be practiced every day in a very consistent manner, not in spurts.”
One reason that people are reluctant to embrace Kaizen is that any change brings with it the possibility of failure. Kaizen spreads in organizations that accept that risk and don’t punish people for trying things that ultimately prove to be unsuccessful.
“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”
Set and Share Goals
Improvement projects should be carefully selected to align with the strategic goals of the organization. That requires excellent communication and objectives that cascade from the top down to the individual level.
“In the absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia.”
Mary Kay Ash
Invest in Kaizen
Kaizen spreads when leaders are willing to commit resources and attention to it. That might take the form of individuals with full-time jobs dedicated to improvement, it might mean investing in training resources, and it can take the form of implementing technology solutions designed to support Kaizen.
"For us, that was the heart of it - to empower the person who's doing the work. We want the operator, the technician, the engineer - anyone, really - to say, "You know what? This bugs the crap out of me. I'm finally going to do something about it. Let me go write this down somewhere." Alice Quesenberry of Qorvo
Recognize and Reward Those Who Engage in Kaizen
It is essential to lead by example, but it is also vital for people to see their peers being recognized and rewarded for their efforts to improve. That’s why we recommend broadcasting successful improvement work far and wide.
“Take time to appreciate employees, and they will reciprocate in a thousand ways.”
The Kaizen mindset won’t spread throughout your organization on its own, but if you take these steps, it can catch on very quickly and become deeply ingrained in the culture. It requires time, attention and resources, but the rewards will far exceed the price.