Every company aspires to dominate the market with a clear understanding of how to continuously improve operations, sales, marketing, and internal processes. The competitive advantage they crave can conflict with the core principles that cause top companies to excel. If we truly want to own the numbers that bring the win, we must revisit the mindset required to Improve Continuously.
Improve Continuously with the Kaizen Methodology
The Kaizen Way was masterfully crafted some 30 years ago by Masaaki Imai, a Japanese management consultant. He authored a book titled, “Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success” and ushered in the popularity of Japanese productivity in the western world. He later created the Kaizen Institute and now his methods are taught across the globe.
“KAIZEN™ means improvement. Moreover, it means continuing improvement in personal life, home life, social life, and working life. When applied to the workplace KAIZEN™ means continuing improvement involving everyone – managers and workers alike.” Masaaki Imai, Founder of Kaizen Institute
The name Kaizen means continual improvement. Masaaki based his methodology around 5 key principles: Know your Customer, Let it Flow (Zero Waste), Go to Gemba (the Shop Floor), Empower People, and Be Transparent. The intent was that everyone, from top management to the shop floor, would embody Kaizen principles and build a company culture that never ceased improving.
Masaaki believed everything begins on the shop floor. In an interview, he joked about how the typical western company culture is not interested in the shop floor. Rather, company leaders place importance in technology, design, sales, and marketing. While these things are certainly crucial to business success, focusing on them alone disregards relational situations, hands-on experiences, and essential collaboration. This way of thinking will prove detrimental to the company culture as a whole and cause improvement to stagnate.
Kaizen methods now hold a 30 plus year reign for teaching companies how to improve continuously, however, this problem is still evident today. Company leaders are too preoccupied to engage with employees on the shop floor. Though its principles have been praised and widely adopted, the core reason behind every action taught in the Kaizen principles has not taken root – Respect and Empowerment For Everyone.
Owning The Numbers That Make Your Business Grow
Continuously improving your company does not call for an extreme focus on sales and marketing alone. It is not about quickly racing toward strategic goals. Improve continuously better relates to a relay race than a sprint. When training for a relay race, the focus is less on how quickly competitors can run. Coaches focus first on the hand-off of the baton between teammates. This training is process focused. The focus mentally prepares the teammates to collaborate to win each race.
Can you build a team that collaborates to achieve company goals? Each individual on this team must understand their significance and role. The roadmap for achieving the goal must be clear. Everyone should contribute to overall performance improve continuously by making small adjustments within their scope. If the leader trains their team correctly and establishes a collaborative environment, they should be able to coach the team from the sidelines and rally behind them as they triumph.
Goals cannot be lofty and ambiguous. It’s better for each goal to be practical from the employees’ standpoint. In truth, individuals on your team should own the numbers that directly correlate to goal performance similar to an athlete adjusting their own posture or speed during a race. Additionally, team members with ownership can be empowered to make improvements that will change the trajectory of goals and reap rewards worthy of their actions.
Achieving everyday improvement is less about the method and more about establishing a core mindset that is evident in daily actions. The Kaizen principles and tools are effective, but they are not meant to be separate from a leadership and management style that empowers employees. Human beings know when they are genuinely respected and when they are being used as a means to an end. Let your core mindset truly radiate through every action and you will inspire commitment.
Kaizen’s cycle for continuous improvement is a method for identifying areas of opportunity, brainstorming solutions, testing, and iterating for better results. The steps are summarized here:
- Get employees involved.
- Gather a list of problems.
- Encourage solutions, then choose an idea.
- Test the solution.
- Regularly measure and analyze the results.
- If successful, adopt the solution.
- Repeat on an ongoing basis.
Before we can own the numbers that propel us to the next level of growth and improve continuously, we have to examine our mindset and core principles, ensure employees are included in the goals we establish, and embody a culture of collaboration. When these things are reflected in daily actions, our methods will be firmly established in a solid foundation that will reap continuous improvement.