Kaizen – Continuous Improvement – what is it?
Kaizen – Continuous Improvement! This is- is an approach which introduces small, incremental changes continuously into an organisation. The purpose is to improve quality and/or efficiency. And it works on the principle that employees are the best people to identify opportunities for improvement. They see processes in action all the time. When you use this approach therefore you need to have a culture that encourages and rewards employees for their contribution to the process.
Kaizen can operate at the level of an individual. Or through Kaizen Groups or Quality Circles. These are groups specifically brought together to identify potential improvements. So, this approach very much encourages team working as improvements can form an important part of the team’s aims.
Key features of Kaizen:
- Improvements are based on many, small changes rather than big, cross-origination changes
- As the ideas come from the workers themselves, they are less likely to be radically different for the present practice. And therefore easier to implement
- Small improvements are less likely to require major capital investment than major process changes
- The ideas come from the talents of the existing workforce. This is as opposed to using specialist consultants or equipment which are usually expensive
- All employees continually be seek ways to improve their own performance
- Kaizen helps and encourage workers to take ownership for their work. It can help reinforce team working, thereby improving individual and team motivation
Kaizen is characterised by many, small improvements over time,
It contrasts with the major leaps seen in when radical new technology or production methods. Over the years, the sheer volume of Kaizen improvements can lead to major advances. But managers cannot afford to overlook the need for radical change from time to time. For example, following major technological change or market shifts. The need to outsource from Western Europe to cheaper centres such as India and China would be unlikely to arise from Kaizen.
Not all happy
Whilst staff suggestions can help to enrich the work for many employees, Kaizen can be seen as an unrelenting process. Some firms set targets for individuals or for teams to come up with a minimum number of ideas in a period of time. Employees can find this to be an unwelcome pressure. It becomes increasingly difficult to find further scope for improvement. Some firms, especially Japanese-owned, conduct quality improvement sessions in the workers’ own time. This can lead to resentment unless there is appropriate recognition and reward for suggestions.
For Kaizen to be effective, there has to be a culture of trust between staff and managers. This should be supported by enlightened management. Good two-way communications and a de-layered organisation will support the approach. Nevertheless, some workers might see the demands as an extra burden rather than an opportunity. It can take time to embed Kaizen successfully into an organisation’s culture.
Wendy Smith is a career consultant, life coach and business coach with depth of experience in management, coaching and personal development. That experience means she is equally at home helping clients find a new career direction, starting-up new businesses or dealing with life’s more challenging personal issues. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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