Updated: Mar 31
In the UK and in many Western Businesses, CEOs and Directors focus on long term strategies such as where they want their company to be in five years’ time. In this article, I’d like to talk about the benefits of taking smaller steps and thinking about achievements you can reach on a day to day basis.
In other words, I’d like to talk about the Kaizen approach and why it’s time more people incorporated it into their business strategy.
Kaizen and gaining the benefits of continuous improvement
Kaizen is a Japanese word that literally translates to “good change”– but is more synonymous with “continuous improvement”.
It’s not long since the start of a new year and a new decade. And with this fresh beginning, many of us start to think about how radically different we want our next year to be and set ourselves big, ambitious goals.
Yet, the Kaizen approach to self-improvement rejects the idea of such radical change. Sure, some people seem to be able to lose weight at the drop of a hat, whilst simultaneously quitting smoking and hitting the gym six days a week. But, for most of us, such major change is just not sustainable.
It can often be overwhelming and result in no change whatsoever.
Because change is a process that consists of many steps taken at different intervals. So if we want to see a real difference in our lives, we need to find a way to embrace each of these steps.
How do you affect change?
Instead of aiming for one big change, focus on small, continual improvements. Simply do a little bit better than yesterday.
Seen in isolation, it’s a small goal – for example, if you exercised for 5 minutes yesterday, all you could do is exercise for 6 minutes today, and 7 minutes tomorrow – but, after a month or so, the compounding effect will be obvious.
After a year, the change will be dramatic.
Why it works
The Kaizen approach works because it breaks change down into manageable chunks, tiny achievable steps and forces us to focus on small differences whilst the larger, life-changing change slowly creeps up on us over time.
It never stops working and continues to reap rewards year on year.
Companies such as Toyota, Amazon, Ford and Nestlé are already fans of the Kaizen method. Nike’s philosophy is ‘make today better’ and it’s evident in every one of their facilities. Employees are trained in continuous improvement which empowers them to improve all areas of operations. If global brands such as these have seen monumental outcomes, just imagine what Kaizen could do for your brand.
Using Kaizen in your 2020 plan
When you’re conducting quarterly reviews or revising your plans for 2020, keep Kaizen in mind.
Create an improvement plan that has incremental small steps. And I mean small steps. Recently, I purchased a Peloton bike as a way to do more exercise. I’m sure any of you with young children will realise the difficulties of finding time to fit in that workout.
Each time I use the bike I only try to beat my earlier output score (combination of cadence and resistance) by 1 unit. It may not sound like a lot, but after a month, I noticed real changes and was at a place I didn’t think I would be at when I first started. For me, the benefits of Kaizen are clear, it’s helped me be more productive and reach milestones in every aspect of my life.
After all, this approach applies equally well to businesses and individuals, and, in my opinion, is the best way to conceptualise and achieve real progress.
Kaizen step by step
Implementing the Kaizen philosophy can be straightforward.
Here’s my advice:
Identify opportunities where Kaizen can make an impact
Discuss these between your team or with your manager
Begin small, day-by-day changes
After 1 week or 1 month, evaluate the success
Share what has been changed and give credit to the right people.
This last step is important. As when used correctly, Kaizen will include all team members and boost employee engagement. If a colleague sees that their idea has been used as a method to improve efficiency, this will simultaneously improve motivation and satisfaction too.
It can be amazing how easy it is taking lots of small steps, compared to trying to take giant strides; and the impact of plenty of bright ideas can equal huge success.
Better still, the Kaizen approach is something that everybody can adopt.
Have you used the Kaizen approach before? And has it helped you achieve your goals?