What Is Kaizen?

It is not unheard of for companies to take philosophies and implement them to the workforce. What works in life sometimes works just as well in the office. Maybe even better. One such philosophy that has seen widespread global use is the philosophy of Kaizen. Kaizen is a Japanese term and philosophy that emphasizes continuous improvement in all aspects of one’s life. But when it is applied to the workplace, it can be used to continually improve performance and production in a business. The goal of Kaizen is to eliminate waste of resources, time, and money.

History of Kaizen and How It Works

The concept of Kaizen was created in Japan following World War II. After the war, America occupied Japan and brought in experts who were knowledgeable with the U.S. War Department’s Training Within Industry programs. These programs were designed to help restore Japan after the devastation of the war. The word Kaizen originates from two separate Japanese words: kai which means “change” or “to correct” and zen which means “good”.

Kaizen is an improvement philosophy that includes both one’s social life and professional life. In the workforce, the system that involves every employee in a company from the lowliest janitor to the highest level CEO. It helps to humanize the workplace and to motivate workers who normally have to suffer through repetitive tasks day after day. Under the philosophy, everyone is encouraged to regularly come up with ways to improve what they are doing. These suggestions are not usually major changes but rather small things that, once added up over a long run, can greatly improve productivity and the work environment while saving on waste. Often small groups within an area will be in charge of improving the work environment with a supervisor in charge to oversee the new ideas. While Western work philosophies emphasize “control” and the idea that only management levels are qualified to recognize the need for change, Kaizen emphasizes that anything can be improved upon and that once changes have been made, they should be monitored to see if they can be improved upon again. Since Kaizen sets such higher standards for its workers, it also involves providing additional training, materials and supervision skills that is needed to make these changes on a continuous basis.

Elements of Kaizen

The philosophy of Kaizen revolves around five key elements:

  • Quality Circles – These are groups within an area or department that meet regularly to discuss the levels of quality in their areas as well as the overall productivity of the company.
  • Improved Morale – Kaizen strongly emphasizes the importance of high morale in the workplace. When employee’s morale is low, productivity suffers. When morale is high, productivity excels. Keeping up with employee morale is crucial for long-term efficiency.
  • Teamwork – There are no individual successes in Kaizen. Instead, the idea is for everyone to feel like they are part of a team that works together instead of competitively.
  • Personal Discipline – When an employee lacks personal discipline and rive, they affect the rest of the team and thus overall productivity. Under the idea of Kaizen, each person is encouraged to be strong and confident.
  • Suggestions for Improvement – By everyone being able to make suggestions for improvement, it endures that management does not overlook any significant problems that could gradually develop into a bigger problem later.

Besides these five elements, Kaizen also encourages other behavior. These include standardizing as many aspects of a company as possible, eliminating waste, and following five main rules for a healthy work environment. These rules are Cleanliness, Clean-up Time, Orderliness, Tidiness, and Discipline.

Benefits of Kaizen

The main benefit of using kaizen in the workplace is that it improves the work environment of the employees. They find that work is not as hard and that they can enjoy their job. This results in higher job satisfaction and a lower turn-over rate in the workforce. The basic idea is that a happy employee is a good employee. But there are other benefits as well. The continuous suggestions for change can, over a long period of time, help to improve the overall productivity, better quality, lower coasts, and higher levels of safety of a company.

Kaizen also has the added benefit of lower waster within a company such as time spent on a task, transportation, inventories, resources, and over production. Another benefit is that kaizen usually provides faster results for fixing problems. Instead of focusing on large, time-consuming problems and improvements and ignoring the problems in the office, Kaizen focuses on ways to continually solve large numbers of small problems. These large projects will always be there for any company but by focusing on the smaller problems that need improvement, it guarantees that employees will at least be motivated to tackle those larger issues and will have more resources available to them when they do.

How To Implement Kaizen

There are numerous ways to implement Kaizen into a business and it largely depends on the type of business. For most American companies, the hardest obstacle is going to be one of culture. American companies have been set in doing things one way for decades. That kind of learned behavior is difficult to break but can be done. For change to take place, the attitudes of employees need to change. Kaizen is not a successful philosophy if employees only do it because management tells them to do it. It is only successful if all employees do because they want to, and because they know it is for the good of the workplace and the overall company.

Direct communication between the management and employees is critical. Having a supervisor or manager in the office or on the floor with the employees definitely helps. A manager who spends most of their time in their office and separated from other employees is counter-productive. Also, training is likely involved for all employees to better educate them on Kaizen strategies.

Managers need to openly encourage suggestions and ensure that employees see their suggestions acted on immediately. Suggestions should not held back to be implemented in the next quarter after they get reviewed. They need to be addressed the same day as they are made. It is also important to keep employees informed about what happens with their suggestions. Don’t let suggestions just disappear or the employees will feel that their opinions do not matter. To encourage suggestions, a part of each supervisor’s evaluation should be based on the number of suggestions they receive in their department. Do not evaluate the employees on their suggestions. By evaluating supervisors and managers, it ensures that they are encouraging their employees to actively participate in Kaizen.

It may be necessary to bring in outside consultants to help get Kaizen implemented into your workforce. These professionals that are familiar with the principles of Kaizen can work in your facility to identify problems that those too close to the work may not see. This is like having an outside observer evaluate your company from a new perspective. These professional can also help to introduce employees to the new concept and help to ensure the company makes a smooth transition.