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Kaizen: Small Steps to Greatness

(posted: July 15th, 2009)

Think about a problem in your company that has been nagging at you for ages. Now, imagine being able to solve that problem-once and for all-with unprecedented results.

It can be done more easily than you'd think; say practitioners of Kaizen, a Japanese practice that has helped some of the most successful companies gain their competitive edge. In Japanese this word is pronounced 'kaizen'. KAI means 'change' or 'the action to correct' while ZEN means 'good.'

So quite literally Kaizen means a change for good or an action to correct something to make it better.

The power of Kaizen was harnessed specifically the Toyota Production System in the 1990s, leading the company to blaze ahead of its competitors in several key areas.

In a Harvard Business Review interview with Katsuaki Watanabe shares:

  • The Toyota Way has been and will continue to be the standard for everyone who works for Toyota all over the world. Our guiding principles define Toyota's mission and values, but the Toyota Way defines how we work. To me, it's like the air we breathe.
  • The Toyota Way has two main pillars: continuous improvement and respect for people. Respect is necessary to work with people. By "people" we mean employees, supply partners, and customers. "Customer first" is one of the company's core tenets. We don't mean just the end customer; on the assembly line the person at the next workstation is also your customer. That leads to teamwork.
  • If you adopt that principle, you'll also keep analyzing what you do in order to see if you're doing things perfectly, so you're not troubling your customer. That nurtures your ability to identify problems, and if you closely observe things, it will lead to kaizen: continuous improvement.

The root of the Toyota Way is to be dissatisfied with the status quo; you have to ask constantly, "Why are we doing this?"

Kaizen is a mindset; a way of approaching work so that involvement in innovation and creativity is encouraged. Making things better today than yesterday. It's about learning from what we did today to do things better tomorrow. It's about reducing the daily fire fighting that upsets our business priorities and consumes our resources daily. It is an environment where companies and individuals proactively work to improve processes.

Challenge Yourself
  • What small steps can you start right now to take yourself, your team or your company to the next level towards greatness?
  • Who around you could support your efforts in executing these small steps?

This blog post was originally posted at www.linked2leadership.com.

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