Mastering the Ancient Art of Kaizen
Sep 06, 2016
Mastering the Ancient Art of Kaizen
For the readers among us that have been to Japan, a deep appreciation for the efficiency, simplicity and intrinsic harmony of the culture is a given. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the Japanese are behind the business philosophy known as Kaizen.
A Sino-Japanese word, Kaizen has a relatively simple translation meaning, "change for better." Linguistically, it refers to any form of improvement, from small one off changes to continuous and dramatic accomplishments. Yet in a business context, Kaizen has a noticeably corporate focus.
More of a mental philosophy than a structured methodology, Kaizen describes the conscious and continual quest for improvement. In the Western world, we have Japanese organisational theorist and management consultant Masaaki Imai to thank for the modern Kaizen revival. In 1970 he debuted a book titled ‘Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success,’ which went on to infatuate executives across the globe. Today, the concept is recognised as a crucial pillar of long-term corporate success, from both an individual and an organisational perspective.
In fact, it’s gained so much esteem that it’s now ingrained as a core business principle of the Toyota Production System. A legend in modern business schools, Toyota’s commitment to the philosophy encourages any assembly worker to halt the line at any point, should they see a production problem, or realise a new way to reduce waste or boost efficiency. This is a telling example of how Kaizen can be introduced as a workplace culture, with everyone from executive CEOs to janitorial staff contributing to the overall goal of continuous improvement.
So what exactly does Kaizen encompass? And how can you get better, at getting better? The philosophy stems from a handful of key guiding principles, as outlined below:
Start by developing processes for specific tasks that are organised, and repeatable.
Use quantifiable data to establish whether or not a process is efficient.
Once you’ve completed a task, compare your results against your goals? Did your process hit the mark? Can it be improved? If so, how
A column of continuous improvement, innovation is a fundamental element of the Kaizen philosophy. Even if your system seems spot on, continually search for new and more efficient ways to achieve the same results, or heighten your productivity.
After honing in on innovations, go back to step one and create new standards for your more efficient processes.
Rinse, repeat and persist in your pursuit of continuous improvement.
As a mindset, Kaizen can be applied anywhere, to any job. This means that whether you’re an executive based in a Canary Wharf skyscraper or a small business owner trying to get a venture up and running, Kaizen switches you and your team into default success mode. Initiate Kaizen as a daily process, and results can be tremendous. When pulled off correctly, the concept simultaneously humanises the workplace, eliminates unnecessarily hard work (a concept that the Japanese refer to as "muri") and ultimately, builds a culture that facilitates genuine, continuous improvement.
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