13.06.2021

Kaizen, or how to involve employees in the development of the company?

Key information:

  • The Kaizen management philosophy, based on continuous improvement and taking small steps, can be effectively implemented in any company, regardless of its industry or specific business.
  • Using Kaizen management philosophy can help overcome employee resistance to change by introducing small steps and involving every employee.
  • The Kaizen method, based on small steps of improvement, can bring greater acceptance of change and improve company efficiency.
  • Employee engagement is critical to a company's success and can be achieved by including them in the strategy development process.
  • The Kaizen concept, by eliminating waste and streamlining processes, leads to improved quality, lower costs and increased competitiveness of the company.
  • Breaking down change into small steps, using the Kaizen approach, can contribute to the successful execution of innovation in a company.
  • The company's continuous improvement philosophy can also create an atmosphere of continuous development and innovation, enabling employees to develop their skills, creativity and problem-solving abilities, which can lead to discovering new ways of doing things and generating innovative solutions.

Details below!

Have you ever wondered how to overcome employee resistance to change in a company? Those who don't have a say in the decisions made will treat with hostility anything that disrupts the status quo. The reason is not too complicated; any big change in the workplace means a period of uncertainty and stress. What if, instead of turning everything upside down, we divided the changes into small steps and involved every employee? We will show you how to use the Kaizen management philosophy to make employees not only accept change, but also initiate it.

What is the Kaizen method?

Kaizen management philosophy, developed in Japan rebuilding its economy after World War II. In the West, it was spread in the 1980s by the Masaaki Imai, founder of the Kaizen Institute. The word itself can be translated from Japanese as "good change."

Its most important tenets are continuous improvement and the aforementioned small steps. Originally, Kaizen was used in manufacturing companies, such as Toyota, to maintain top quality and improve operations. However, the method is very universal, and we intend to show how to put it into practice in any company.

Why do employees resist change?

While we're at it, let's get back to the original question; how do we streamline operations at the company without scaring employees, or even with help from them? In the introduction, we outlined the reason why employees are inclined to defend the old order. How can Kaizen implementation help change this?

To answer this question, it is worth considering how changes are carried out in Western companies. Well, they usually bear the hallmarks of innovation, and therefore breakthroughs. This is an approach that differs significantly from the Japanese philosophy, and here are the basic differences:

  • In Kaizen, the initiator of change is the team.

This trait is consistent with Eastern culture, which is collectivist, meaning that people there focus more on cooperation and relationships with other people than on personal success.

Western culture, on the other hand, is individualistic, meaning it focuses on the achievements of the individual. It comes from our culture that innovations tend to be invented and implemented by individuals, without input from the rest of the organization. It is clear that the more people are involved in initiating the change, the greater the acceptance will be for it.

  • Kaizen improves existing technology.

Innovation introduces a completely new system. Of course, sometimes such a change is inevitable, but continuous improvement of the existing technology can have a similar effect in the long term and be sufficient. The undoubted advantage of the latter is, of course, low cost.

  • Kaizen engages employees.

Innovations are usually the creation of experts, or executives. These people, sitting in offices for days on end, are often disconnected from the place where added value is actually created and where rank-and-file employees take care of operations, a place called "Gemba" in Japanese.

For this reason, their ideas are based on theories and predictions, while they do not always correspond to the actual needs of the company. By involving employees, the solutions are the result of common-sense observations by people who know best what hinders their work and what would allow them to improve their effectiveness.

  • Kaizen is about taking small steps, one by one.

If we see that some areas in the daily life of our business need to be changed, we can approach it in two ways. If we plan a sudden and big move to eliminate all the imperfections at once, we will create confusion and make employees less productive as they will need time to adjust to the new realities.

However, many changes can be broken down into small steps and choose simple solutions one by one, which will be more employee-friendly. Of course, there are key issues that require a revolution, but it is often enough to refine the details to significantly improve performance.

Innovation vs. Kaizen

As you can see, innovations are much more difficult to carry out than Kaizen. Moreover, they are often not needed because the company's problem lies in the unnoticed details that add up to higher costs and lower efficiency. Now that we know why big change can be a problem, and we know some of the benefits of using Kaizen, let's consider how to break down change into small steps.

If you're curious about the topic of innovation, we invite you to read our report titled "Innovation. "How to Commercialize Technological Innovation."

How to implement Kaizen in everyday life?

There are quite a few practical methods to use the Japanese philosophy to improve your business. Each of them, although derived from manufacturing companies, can be successfully applied to any company.

Employee involvement

First, let's not try to guess on our own what ails our company. Instead, let's let the people who directly account for the success of our business - the rank-and-file employees - diagnose the situation. The following two techniques can help:

  • Hoshin Kanri, is the basis for applying Kaizen principles in a company.

It involves aligning company policy with lower-level subordinates. Thus, management's strategy should be consulted with department heads, departmental policies with departmental managers, and so on until we get to rank-and-file employees.

Of course, the idea is not to have subordinates create the company's strategy themselves, but to create a list of goals with which everyone will identify. What does this give us? Well, the involvement of lower-ranking individuals in the creation of strategy makes them more likely to accept the tasks set before them. Without feeling that something is being imposed on them, they will identify with the actions of the entire organization.

In addition, communication between levels of the organizational hierarchy will improve, and it will be possible to be sure that everyone in the company is heading in the same direction. In order to put such a system into practice, it is first necessary to deal with the fear of managers to delegate some of their authority to their subordinates. In addition, employees often don't want to be actively involved in the company, believing that their job is just to get the job done and leave at a certain time. However, it is worthwhile to ensure integration, because an engaged employee who identifies the organization's goals with his own is priceless. The use of the Kaizen method must become part of the culture of the entire organization.

  • The suggestion system also aims to involve employees in developing the company.

Every employee is encouraged to come up with ideas for improvement whenever he or she notices while working that something is bothering him or her, or something can be improved. Such suggestions are very valuable, because serial employees, being in the "center of things" all the time, know better than managers what needs attention. Of course, they need to be motivated to want to get involved in making small changes.

For this purpose, so-called "quality circles" can be created, i.e. teams of employees meeting to discuss the situation in the company. It is worth awarding incentive points to those who come up with initiatives that prove useful. Such a solution works at least in our company, i.e. ConQuest Consulting and contributes to greater involvement of all employees.

In Japan, it is common for individual company departments to compete with each other in the number of proposals submitted. However, don't have too high expectations of the ideas submitted; it's likely that employees won't show off achievements on the scale of discovering America, nevertheless all the details when added up can translate into better company performance. To convince you that this method works, we'll cite a statistic; at Toyota, 1.5 million proposals are submitted annually, 95% of which are implemented and contribute to better company performance.

The concept of continuous improvement

The above techniques are, so to speak, the quintessential implementation of the Kaizen philosophy, and introducing them alone should yield great results; employees get involved in improving the company, and initiatives will flow from the bottom up, instead of being pushed by management.

It is interesting to know which areas of a company's operations can most easily be improved with Kaizen. It would probably be hard to make a fusion with the method of small steps, while it works very well in getting rid of waste, improving operations and increasing the efficiency of workplaces. Let's take a look at some selected concepts related to Kaizen.

  • Muda in Japanese means wastefulness and the term has an exceptionally deep meaning, as within the Kaizen philosophy we will use it to describe anything that does not provide value to customers. Many aspects of a company's operations generate costs without contributing to the value of the final product or service. Traditionally, seven areas were assumed in which the said "muda" could occur:
  • Transportation: There are several examples under this term. It will be a waste of time and fuel to carry materials from a warehouse that is too far away. In an improperly designed office, employees may unnecessarily carry documents to a closet located in another room. In addition, damage to products that could have been avoided is easy to occur during transportation.
  • Storage: materials that are not currently being used generate costs such as paying for warehouse space, electricity bills and the like. Of course, a certain level of inventory is needed to avoid unnecessary interruptions in production, but this can be lowered by using methods such as just-in-time involving perfect synchronization with suppliers, for example.
  • An unnecessary move: Unnecessary movement of employees can be the result, for example, of clutter in the office, when finding an important tool or document requires searching through different rooms. This is prevented by, among other things, the 5S technique, which we will explain later.
  • Waiting: All moments when employees are idle are a loss for the company. The inability to do work may be due to a lack of tools or materials, for example, for fear of such a situation often leads to the aforementioned over-stocking. In the office, you may have to wait for some message, or for the approval of a superior, and in this case it is worthwhile to improve communication in the company, and fight possible bureaucracy.
  • Redundant processing: When designing a product or service, it is worth considering whether all the elements in the package provide value to the customer. If not, perhaps they would pay as much if the product were simpler and the service less comprehensive? This would certainly reduce the company's costs.
  • Overproduction: specific to manufacturing companies, overestimation of demand can mean that products not sold immediately will have to be either stored (the loss already described) or even destroyed if they turn out to be obsolete after a while.
  • Corrections: both those that must be made in the production process if a defect occurs at some stage, as well as returns and complaints from customers. Japanese car companies placed considerable emphasis on quality when they began exporting to the United States, since handling complaints from overseas, transporting parts and the like would significantly increase costs.

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    Methods in service companies

    In addition to the areas mentioned, other areas have been developed that are more suited to service companies, which have also begun to apply the continuous improvement process. Some of these include unclear information, unnecessary documents, office spam and prolonged meetings.

    • "5 Why" is to look for the deepest cause of a given problem. It involves getting employees to think analytically, figuratively by asking the question "why?" at least five times. This approach avoids the risk of misdiagnosing a problem. A technique that can help with this is the Ishikawa diagram, where you graphically determine the potential causes of a problem, then the causes of the causes, and so on, and then select the ones most responsible for bad results.

    • 5S - refers to neatness at the workplace, the place Kaizen places the most emphasis on (the aforementioned Gemba). The method is made up of five Japanese words, denoting successive actions to be taken to improve the efficiency of daily activities:

     

    • Seiri, or selection. Remove from the workplace all unnecessary tools and objects whose presence is distracting.

     

    • Seiton, or systematics. Find the right place for each item so that it is easy to find and reach for it quickly. Optimally, they should also be arranged according to the order in which the work is done and, of course, put away after use.

     

    • Seiso, or cleaning. Neatness is important in Japanese companies, in addition, this step allows, by the way, to detect possible defects in the equipment.

     

    • Seiketsu, or standardization. For example, it allows one employee to work on any other position. It probably wouldn't work well in a Western office, where everyone likes to surround themselves with private items.

     

    • Shitsuke, or self-discipline in maintaining previous actions. In order to motivate employees to take care of 5S standards, it is necessary to evaluate them and a possible incentive system.

    Of course, the methods presented are not all related to Kaizen. Each of them presents some kind of small changes that can be made with the cooperation of employees. They lead to improved quality and lower costs, and therefore to greater competitiveness. At the same time, in most cases, they do not require revolutionizing the company, just improving certain processes.

    Why implement Kaizen in your company?

    Kaizen implementation is the answer to the question posed in the title. Employees involved in creating company policy and improving the company's day-to-day operations are willing to accept change. In a situation where they themselves were the initiators, they even feel a sense of pride. Importantly, rank-and-file employees feel responsible for decisions made, which motivates them to work and increases their identification with the company.

    It is worth noting that a company that applies the Kaizen concept of continuous improvement becomes more flexible. Traditional planning and decision-making is based on forecasts and predictions, which may not always come true. Here, on the other hand, we are dealing with a continuous response to a changing situation; rank-and-file employees are the quickest to notice changes affecting their work.

    The principles of the Kaizen philosophy are extremely versatile, and while they were originally used to manage quality in heavy industry companies, they are also sometimes used in service companies (Kaizen Institute has worked with many banks), and can even be successfully used to improve private life.

    Almost every goal can be broken down into small elements, the gradual introduction of which is less painful that a one-time revolution. In addition, a culture of attention to detail and the pursuit of perfection allows for a sustainable competitive advantage.

    Kaizen in a few steps

    The list of steps to take in implementing Kaizen is as follows:

    • Ensuring that employees feel that they contribute to the organization.
    • Encourage and reward employees for submitting improvement ideas.
    • Introduce a culture of continuous improvement.
    • Focus on improving quality and eliminating waste.
    • Getting to the real causes of the problem.
    • If you find that a big change is inevitable, try to break it down into small steps and introduce it gradually.

    Undertaking Kaizen includes ensuring employee cooperation and involvement, encouraging ideas and continuous improvement, and focusing on improving quality and eliminating waste, with an incremental approach for major changes.

    In short, Kaizen means continuous improvement

    The Kaizen philosophy, originating in Japan, focuses on continuous improvement and betterment in both personal life and the workplace.

    A central tenet of the Kaizen philosophy is that even the smallest improvements can lead to big changes and pay dividends in the long run.

    In addition, it is worth noting that Kaizen is not a one-time activity, but an ongoing process that requires the involvement of everyone in the company. In the article, we described are various techniques and tools used as part of Kaizen, such as value flow diagrams, 5S (order, systematization, standardization, cleanliness, self-discipline) and PDCA (plan, implement, control, act) methodology. For more on inventory management and warehousing, you can learn from another article on our website, where we zoomed in on this topic!

    Andrew Surzyn

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