From 'KAI-ZEN' to 'I CAN!'|
Improvement = Consistent commitment to good change
by Bob Hooey
Kai = change Zen = good When they are used together = improvement
Kai-zen came to North America in the mid 1980's, after becoming an integral part of the Japanese management theory. Western management consultants used it to embrace a wide range of management practices, which were regarded as primarily Japanese. These practices were thought to be the secrets of the strength of Japanese companies in the areas of continual improvement rather than innovation.
According to this theory, the strength of Japanese organizations lay in their attention to 'process' rather than results. They also concentrated the team efforts to continually improve imperfections at each stage of the process. According to them, over the long term, the final result was more reliable, of better quality, more advanced, and attractive to clients and less expensive than Western Management practices.
Its 'roots' however are from an American influence following the 2nd world war. General Douglas MacArthur approached several leading US experts to visit Japan to advise them on how to proceed in rebuilding their country and their economy.
One such expert was Dr. Edwards Deming. He initially came over to conduct a census, but noticed the newly emerging industries were having difficulty. He had been involved in reducing waste in US War manufacturing and drew on that experience to offer his advice. By the 1950's, he was a regular visitor, offering advice to Japanese manufactures that were having challenges in terms of raw materials, components, and investment; in addition suffering from low morale in the nation and workforce.
By the 1970's, many of Japan's leading organizations had embraced Dr. Deming's key points for management. Most are as valid today as they were a half-century ago.
Here are some I felt relate to the concept called Kai-zen.
It is almost as though we need to develop a 'bi-focal' approach and viewpoint, which is one that encompasses steady, continuous improvement of current processes, products and services, while looking for and encouraging creativity and innovation in moving the organization to the next level. (I do this in the development of my programs and publications.)
Kai-zen should free senior managers to think about the long-term future of the organization, look for new opportunities, and move to a concentration on 'strategic' issues. Kai-zen can support improvement of 'existing' activities; but it will not provide the impetus for the innovation process, which often provides our great leaps forward. A balanced approach is called for here.
Generate ideas, evaluate ideas, decide on action, plan implementation, design measurement system, take action, set new standard, measure, analyze, define problem/desired state, identify areas for improvement, generate ideas…etc.
Everyone on your team needs to be 'totally' committed to this cycle of continuous improvement. Each team member must be given the knowledge, skills and tools to be able to participate fully and enthusiastically.
To participate, not only within their own respective teams; but also across the organization as a whole, as a part of a cross-functional team.
For this to become a reality, work must be done to reinforce or build the confidence within your staff to take on greater responsibility, or to make decisions for themselves. This is crucial to its success. In addition to specific skills training and use of tools and knowledge, it is important for us to work on the 'climate for change'. To ensure it is embedded in our corporate culture.
The core values within a Kai-zen based approach to which each of us can aspire are:
I'd like to take a 'robbins-esque' approach, and challenge each of you to take a moment to digest what we've discussed about this transplanted US - filtered thru Japan approach to management, as a part of your leadership role.
If you and your team are going to be successful in taking your organization to the next level of growth, each of you will need to get a firm foundation and focus on the process of Kai-zen style continual improvement.
This is in addition to your personal leadership in applied innovation or Ideas At Work! -- as they apply to your changing roles and the teams you seek to lead.
My challenge is for each of you: Develop an 'I CAN!' approach and attitude to your leadership and to equipping and inspiring those you would seek to lead.
'Improvement is continual and never ending,' and it starts with me! (I CAN!)
Gee, that sounds like something I've heard, or even said on occasion…
"To the leading edge leader, to the successful entrepreneur -- school is never out, and the education never ends."
Enjoy the journey! After all, in the 'Kai-zen' or 'I CAN!' world, the journey is the goal and provides the sense of achievement and satisfaction.
© Copyright 2003-2005 Bob 'Idea Man' Hooey All rights Reserved. Used with permission of the author.
About the author:
Bob 'Idea Man' Hooey is a productivity strategist and creativity catalyst who regularly writes for North American Consumer and Trade Journals, on-line magazines and company intranets. He is the author of nine books, a mini-book series, four success systems and an e-book series. Bob was the 48th person in the history of Toastmasters International to earn their coveted professional level Accredited Speaker designation.
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