Most organizations don't have a single solution for addressing all business process hurdles. Even those that spend time and money managing months-long improvement projects often see only temporary results.
The good news is that lasting business process improvement doesn't have to be complicated or require dedicated resources. Using the Kaizen method of continuous improvement, organizations can change slowly but steadily as they drive toward optimal processes.
Better yet, anyone from the CEO to frontline managers and staff can implement it.
What is Kaizen?
In Japanese, Kaizen means "continuous improvement." It's a philosophy based on the idea of doing better every day with everyone and everywhere. The approach is based on small, frequent improvements to existing processes. Ideas are generated by all employees at every level of the organization, not just executives and managers. Kaizen has the power to improve every function of a business, from sales to the factory floor.
The Kaizen philosophy takes on the statement, "That's just how we do things around here." By applying micro-changes, it strives to get rid of silos, egos, and waste in favor of efficient, standardized processes, especially concerning:
- Quality products and business processes
- Efficient use of materials, energy, and resources
- Reduction in delivery time and non-value added activities
- Management culture dedicated to improvement
- Safe working conditions
You may have heard about Kaizen related to The Toyota Way. Perhaps you've heard it referenced along with other continuous improvement methods like Lean, Six Sigma, or Total Quality Management. While the Kaizen mindset is valuable inside these structures, such formality is not needed to enjoy the benefits of Kaizen thinking.
What are the benefits of Kaizen?
Over the long term, small daily improvements can deliver substantial results. You can think of it as a grassroots approach to business process improvement.
Kaizen also contributes to conditions in which employees are emotionally invested and deeply engaged. Kaizen addresses three essential needs of employees:
- Connection: People need to feel that their work connects with a bigger organizational goal.
- Creation: Employees thrive when they can see how their efforts solve existing problems.
- Control: The feeling of ownership and awareness is a crucial component of engagement.
When implemented thoughtfully, Kaizen helps develop a culture in which improvement is prioritized. While it may be evident that employee engagement directly impacts business success, not everyone makes the connection. Using Kaizen to structure employee participation creates the opportunity for everyone to do their best work, leading to smarter work and employee retention.
How to put Kaizen into practice
Kaizen's beauty is that it can be adopted by an entire organization, specific teams, or even at the individual level. Some opportunities for improvement may need direction from leadership, but process operators can implement many.
Question current practices: Reflection on how work is currently being done is the first step to growing and improving the business. Challenging the present method can be touchy sometimes, but critical thinking about your processes is required for impactful change.
Think small: Revolutionary ideas for change are great, but small tweaks can have significant long-term impacts. Maybe it's just consolidating meetings to free up time or rearranging office equipment. It all adds up.
Stop the blame game: The goal is to create an environment where employees aren't afraid to speak up when they notice a problem or have an idea for improvement. At the same time, not every idea is going to work out ask expected. With Kaizen, you iterate and improve rather than just point fingers at people. Remember, innovation is just another way of saying trial and error.
Don't let perfection impede progress: Kaizen is not about coming up with the perfect solution that solves every problem all in one shot. In fact, Kaizen teaches that nothing is perfect and that every process can benefit from change.
Recognize success: It is important to celebrate even small victories. When you find employees who genuinely want to help improve the organization, product, or customer experience, keep them invested by recognizing their effort and success.
Take advantage of tools: Kaizen starts in the mind, but as it begins to impact the real world, it is helpful to have a platform for managing positive change. The best solutions allow all employees to submit ideas for improvement from anywhere on any device. They include alerts and notifications to keep projects moving, and best of all, they provide a method for measuring the impact of improvement work.
Kaizen is a brilliantly simple way of transforming your business without major disruption or expense. When you look at the world with an eye toward improvement, opportunities are all around.