The Japanese term “Kaizen”, roughly translated, means “good change” or “continuous improvement”, and is typically found in the business environment. The website LeanProduction.com defines Kaizen as “…a strategy where employees at all levels of a company work together proactively to achieve regular, incremental improvements to the manufacturing process. In a sense, it combines the collective talents within a company to create a powerful engine for improvement.”
It goes on to describe Kaizen as a philosophy, “When Kaizen is applied as an action plan through a consistent and sustained program of successful Kaizen events, it teaches employees to think differently about their work. In other words, consistent application of Kaizen as an action plan creates tremendous long-term value by developing the culture that is needed for truly effective continuous improvement.”
The keys here, I believe, are the words action plan, consistent and culture. In order to change and implement the steps needed to achieve our goals, we must have some sort of action plan and our culture must change to sustain the changes.
Planning is the easy part. Changing cultures usually means changing habits and our attitude towards those habits. This is typically not that easy, and while short-term success may be achieved, it is the long-term that truly matters. As stated above, Kaizen provides a way to do so through consistent application.
The following are some basic philosophies of Kaizen from the website SixSigma.com:
- Replace conventional fixed ideas with fresh ones.
- Start by questioning current practices and standards.
- Seek the advice of many associates before starting a Kaizen activity.
- Think of how to do something, not why it cannot be done.
- Don’t make excuses. Make execution happen.
- Do not seek perfection. Implement a solution right away, even if it covers only 50 percent of the target.
- Correct something right away if a mistake is made.
Recommended reading for these ideas are:
The Spirit of Kaizen by Robert Maurer
The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg