What is Kaizen?
Toyota, Japan’s biggest company in the world, uses kaizen as one of its 12 pillars in the Toyota Production system. Toyota even says on their website the Kaizen is a reflection of their motto “Always a better way”. Needless to say, kaizen is a prominent and important part of the Japanese way in business. So what exactly is Kaizen? Kaizen steams from the Kanji (Chinese characters) “change” and “good” is the philosophy of changing for the better and used in the forefront in manufacturing, with other big names such as Nestlé and Ford Motor company making it the basis of their way of doing things.
Although Kaizen is about changing for the better, it is not a rigid system where there are benchmarks at every turn. Rather, the most important part is striving to be better than a few hours ago, yesterday, or a month ago. Its the idea that any amount of positive change is good, regardless of continuous or not. The context of when you use Kaizen can effect whether it is used continuously or not. Regardless, many companies such as Toyota use the concept everyday.
“There are no big problems- there are just a lot of small problems” -Henry Ford
For many of us, we look at envy at successful people, often forgetting the long, hard hours they put into their art. Professional pianists, for example, can spend up to 6 to 8 hours practicing endlessly, constantly tweeting their piece, often measure by measure for hours. These professionals are putting kaizen into work. Instead of making up excuses of why they cannot, they break the status quo and constantly make improvements in their lives.
What does Kaizen mean for the workplace?
The Kaizen management ideology is based on a teamwork, personal discipline, improved morale, quality circles and suggestions for improvements. These ideas are so basic, yet extremely insightful. In the case of the company Toyota, the manufacturing team encourages efficiency, but not at the expense of fixing problems along the way. One of the big issues with many American companies back the mid-20th century is the fixation on efficiency at the expense of resolving issues right away, causing more time to be wasted overall.
When applying the concept of Kaizen to your workplace, the main focus is on small, tangible problems that can be easily fixed and easily implemented, and even better, if these implementations can be done right away. This is similar to the American concept “work smarter, not harder”. In many companies, especially smaller ones, being inefficient or wasteful (in terms of time or supplies) can make or break your company.
Workers can be just as important as the company as the products you produce or sell, and it is important to not see them simply as a “labor source”. With more labor, the potential of new, better ideas is endless. It is also important in Kaizen not to emphasis workers’ mistakes, but to praise workers for fixing mistakes and promoting workers morale. If the worker feels like they are contributing something bigger to the company, they will likely worker harder as a result. No one likes being a mindless robot.
The focus in this philosophy is not bounded to the everyday worker. It is a system that can be done by all workers at the company, from the everyday worker to the CEO.