Kaizen, the concept of continuous improvement, was originally implemented by Japanese companies in the manufacturing sector following the Second World War.
Prior to implementing the kaizen style of management in your own business, whether you’re setting up a limited company or are already well-established, it’s imperative that you first understand whether this marketing strategy is a smooth fit for your current business practices.
What is kaizen?
Firstly, kaizen is a philosophy which highlights the importance of constant improvement, typically focused on cooperation and commitment. This spirit of improvement affects all levels of an organisation, from directors and top management to executives and those on the ‘shop floor’. This strategy takes into consideration many business practices, from the improvement of productivity to zero defects in the end product.
These goals are highly sought-after in many industries, so it comes as no surprise that many countries are adopting kaizen. Many Ethiopian businesses, for instance, have chosen to focus on this philosophy with the intention of improving their organisational processes.
In order to achieve a company-wide execution of the kaizen style, management needs to implement systems that make this process possible. These systems include the identification of problems that need to be solved, the creation of strategies to tackle them and the conceptualisation of new ideas.
On top of this, if you’re planning on adopting kaizen strategies, you need to follow five principles that lead to a successful implementation; the ‘5S’. This term derives from the Japanese words that translate to:
Sort – Sorting and separating what is not needed, such as removing obstacles to make work easier and preventing the accumulation of unwanted items.
Set in order – Arranging items that are needed so that they’re ready to use, which will make the workflow easier.
Shine – Includes preventing machinery and equipment from deteriorating and keeping the workplace safe and clean.
Standardise – Maintaining high standards in the workplace and ensuring that all processes have a standard.
Sustain – Keeping the rules and performing proper training in the workplace, as well as regular audits.
Without these, kaizen is not possible.
How can you benefit from kaizen?
Kaizen can be incredibly beneficial to your business, since it can encourage the development of teamwork and self-autonomous groups; ultimately leading to improved cooperation in the workplace. Also, this management philosophy can be applied to any industry, not just manufacturing as first intended. Kaizen intends to put people at the forefront of business, rewarding efforts and achievements – the result is the feeling of engagement of all employees, as well as a sense of purpose within the organisation.
Kaizen is useful if you plan on breaking down departmental barriers, and the path to improvement is focused on the needs of the customer. By adopting kaizen, your employees will be inspired to achieve higher levels of quality and innovation – they just need to believe that change and improvement are possible.
One company that uses kaizen to achieve fantastic results is the Ford Motor Company, which used the management strategy to implement processes that led the company back to a successful path.
Is it the right choice for your business?
Despite the benefits this method offers, there are some limitations that you need to be aware of before deciding to implement it as a management style. Implementing kaizen in an existing business is, at its core, a change to the current management system. Once you choose to put it into practice it can be extremely challenging to return to previous systems of management, and can also mean that lower management will see their workload increase.
Another potential disadvantage is that some companies might need to undergo a complete change of their current tactics, which can ultimately cause issues to businesses that are not well prepared. Because employees are such an integral part of kaizen, your company should foster an environment where your employees are free to give their ideas without fear of being shot down.
The initial response to kaizen may be one of excitement throughout the company, but this enthusiasm can dissipate and the changes become harder to implement – or things just return to ‘normal’. This means that your valued staff may begin to feel somewhat demoralised, with your company potentially losing the money it invested in trying to implement it.
So should you implement kaizen in your company? The system presents both advantages and disadvantages, and may be easier to implement in certain companies; perhaps brand new businesses without an already established management system.
If your company already has a particular culture in place, or a management style you’d like to change, it may be more difficult for kaizen to take root… but not impossible – the key is to remain focused on your end goal and not give up before you begin to see the changes take hold.