Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Week 44 - How Kaizen Can Help Your Business Today

It is very interesting how often business owners exclude their employees from critical conversations regarding the future of the company, or indeed the day to day operations. After all, it is the employees who do most of the work, who have most contact with customers and who have to work to the policies and procedures you have put into place. It makes sense therefore to involve employees in all of these discussions.

Morris Lasky, a US based 40 year veteran of the hospitality industry, has turned around more than a hundred organizations (hotels, stores, factories) in the last 20 years. He was quoted as saying "I'd say that 95 percent of a good bailout campaign comes from the comments of the people who are already there ... [who] know what the problems are, but have never been asked ...”

Japanese companies big and small already know this and it is part of the reason that they have been so successful over the past 30 years. The Japanese call it Kaizen, which is the word for improvement. This is not some hollow word on a mission statement hanging in the lobby of their buildings; this is a deeply ingrained culture of involving the entire group in innovation and striving for constant improvement. Granted to Japanese economy continues to see some very tough times but the quality of the products they produce certainly continue to change the world. What they do is “raise the bar” which thankfully for consumers means companies all around the world are forced to reconsider their quality standards as well as what could be considered as standard features.

The key aspect of Kaizen is that it is an on-going, never ending improvement process. The search for new methods and means of achieving a given result never ends and the focus is on small improvements, day after day, month after month.

The most interesting aspect of Kaizen is that it involves everyone in an organization. Employees at every level are actively encouraged to participate through continuous suggestion. These suggestions are reviewed by management and acted upon rapidly if it makes good business sense. For many Japanese companies, the search never ends. There is always something that could be made stronger, faster or more cheaply. There is an old saying: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” You can consider Kaizen to be the exact opposite of that statement.

You can borrow these techniques for use in your own business:

• Involve all employees in process improvement discussions
• Value each contribution
• Never accept that some new improvement cannot be found

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