The 'Kaizen' approach and how it can help your business

The 'Kaizen' approach and how it can help your business

When it comes to the English language, we borrow plenty of words from other cultures in an effort to express ourselves. One may moan of wanderlust when stuck in the office, or convince themselves that the hearty shepherd's pie was the quid pro quo for the visit to the in-laws — all without thinking about the Latin roots of the words. Phrases like en route and Déjà vu are even more ingrained into our language and easy to blurt out without ever having learned French. But have you heard of kaizen?

Kai-what?

No, not that sushi joint down the road. Kaizen is a Japanese word that roughly translates to "change for better", and has been adapted by the Western world to represent measures taken for continual improvement.

The key to this philosophy is that it is applied on an ongoing basis. It does not refer to a single effort or adaptation; rather, it can be applied to almost any aspect of personal or work life in an effort to foster continual growth.

What it means for businesses

From small startups to international corporations, companies from all over the world have begun implementing 'kaizen cultures' in an effort to remain competitive in their industry. If implemented effectively, everyone from the CEO to the weekend temps are constantly taking small steps to gradually improve their quality of work as a whole. Generally, these steps are encouraged to be taken by the individual — either of their own accord or in conjunction with peers — rather than relying on instruction from upper management or outside evaluation.

How some take the wrong approach

Before you jump out of your chair and tattoo 'kaizen' in flourishing font across your left bicep, there are a number of things to consider in order to understand the concept effectively.

In a business environment, it's important to remember the concept of kaizen as a way of thinking and not as another box to tick on the weekly to-do list. Companies who take the approach too literally and push employees to fill an improvised 'kaizen quota' will often find the teething process more difficult than necessary. For example, if you force your workers to complete a reflection task in their own time on a daily basis — only to ignore what they say — chances are your crew will be pretty filthy and end up unmotivated to contribute. This ends up being some sort of reverse kaizen effect.

Instead, management needs to build a culture of trust within the business, encourage an overall mindset of self-improvement and support change if it's required. If implemented correctly, a kaizen philosophy is a simple approach that emphasises teamwork, improves employee morale takes businesses to new heights.

Published 18 March, 2016
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