If you’ve participated in a quality-improvement initiative or attended a Six Sigma training seminar, you are probably familiar with kaizen. It’s a Japanese word that translates to “good change.”
This concept is at the core of American corporations’ quality-efforts over the past 30 years. Companies such as General Electric and Honeywell have embraced kaizen as a strategy to achieve incremental change across all segments of a large organization.
Management experts are starting to apply kaizen to how we assess and solve problems. In the coming years, expect to see kaizen thinking used to train employees at all levels to perform more productive, error-free work.
To get ahead of this trend, dissect an employee’s daily work processes. What steps does a worker take to, say, operate the forklift or generate purchase orders? With the employee’s help, break down activities into a numbered list of discrete actions.
Then use the kaizen principle to examine how routine processes can produce better outcomes if you experiment with minor modifications or enhancements. This notion of examining a workflow procedure or activity in minute detail and seeking subtle but incremental gains can pay off in the end.
In an effort to achieve continuous improvement, challenge every assumption that shapes your team’s work habits. Ask lots of “why” questions: Why do we cross-check these figures? Why do we date-stamp each document? Why do we use password-protected security codes?
As you explore the answers with your employees, you may conclude there are valid reasons for existing processes. But to reduce errors or prevent problems, it may make sense to test a new approach.
Just as manufacturers have applied kaizen to adopt more orderly, disciplined production lines, you can develop more tidy, methodological modes of thinking by tracing each step of your reasoning. When discussing a problem with your staff, map out each link in your chain of analysis from identifying the core issue to amassing supporting evidence to eliminating less effective options. Proceed step by step to search for smarter strategies to fix what’s broken.