What The Japanese Taught Us About Kaizen
During the many twists and turns of my career, I was fortunate to have leaders, mentors and coaches, (before they became buzz words), who directed my life towards practicing the habit of Kaizen. I deeply appreciate how their actions benefited my life and want to share how you can begin the cycle of continuous improvement in 7 easy steps.
Kaizen is simple and when it becomes an important way of life for you – personally and professionally – you will realise some deep and meaningful changes in your efficiency and effectiveness.
In case you are unfamiliar with Kaizen, it is the Japanese word for improvement. First practiced in Japan just after World War II, Kaizen spread across the world through the quality management movement. Companies like Toyota use Kaizen to develop a culture that is focused on daily small (continuous) improvements which have an overall high impact on the quality of their products and services.
However, continuous improvement is not for organisations only. If you understand that an organisation is a living system you would appreciate that for Kaizen to have full, meaningful impact, each one of us should also embark on a journey of self-improvement.
I will share how you can begin the cycle of continuous improvement in 7 easy steps and make Kaizen a core thread in the fabric of your life.
1. You Begin With Being Educated (Not Academics)
It is no surprise that the word educate has Latin roots. Latin was the Italic language of ancient Rome and its empire, and spread throughout Europe – from the Old World into the New World. Even today, the beauty of Latin can still be heard and felt in many churches during High or Solemn Mass.
In the days of yore, Latin was the foundation on which you learned language and developed a relationship with the world. It was necessary because, to learn well and to be considered educated, we had to learn art, history and music. To be educated meant that you had a broad knowledge of many things. You were able perform divergently.
Today education is used loosely to describe formal academic study, usually within the confined walls of a school, college or university. But education is so much more.
Being educated speaks to your beliefs, values, skills, habits and includes research, storytelling, activities, travels, experiences and discussions. There are so many different ways to pursue education today. It is up to your imagination.
2. Step Outside Of Your Physical Comfort Zone
Most of the time when we think of change, growth and progress, we think physically or tangibly – a new colour, a different building, more equipment. Much time, effort and money goes into the planning, organising and implementation of the physical. But, reflect for a moment.
In your experience, how much time do you spend on the immaterial and intangible aspects of your growth and development?
Take communication for example. A change in the way one’s space is physically structured will undoubtedly affect the way one communicates with oneself and with others.
If your office space is small and open with little room for avoiding others, communication would be encouraged, (or forced, depending on the situation). When you enter your work space every day you are immediately reminded of your need to meet with a co-worker because you pass him or her at least once.
With a larger office space there are different entry and exit points and everyone has their own working space. Days may pass without you seeing the same co-worker. Time has to be planned to make an effort to contact him or her to schedule time to meet. If this is not a priority for you, it will not happen.
Limiting your communication and interaction with others also limits your self-improvement and growth. You miss valuable opportunities to discuss, share and get feedback about yourself, your behaviours or your performance.
3. Become Aware Of Your Emotional Competence
Daniel Goleman, in his 1998 book, Working with Emotional Intelligence says: “Emotional competence is particularly central to leadership, a role whose essence is getting others to do their jobs more effectively. Interpersonal ineptitude in leaders lowers everyone’s performance: It wastes time, creates acrimony, corrodes motivation and commitment, builds hostility and apathy. A leader’s strengths or weaknesses in emotional competence can be measured in the gain or loss to the organization of the fullest talents of those they manage.”
Follow this scenario: You have recently been promoted. You are a manager now and will be required to attend more business functions and social events. This will involve talking to and with a broader selection of people; acting as a public relations representative for your company; perhaps hosting guests at home and in fine restaurants.
- What intangible investments have you made in yourself?
- How do you express yourself in writing?
- When last did you sit with yourself and perhaps listen to how you speak and sound. (This can easily be achieved with the help of a tape recorder.) Speak and listen. Do you like what you hear? What improvements can you make?
- What about conversation? What is the breath and depth of your knowledge and education? Can you hold a conversation with diverse people on diverse issues or do you clam up, run away and avoid these opportunities? If you do, then you are not fully prepared and there may be a lot of emotional and mental work for you to do.
4. Be Honest And Transparent With Yourself
We usually tend to make the physical move before we make the emotional or mental leap. A good many of us often miss making the emotional and/or mental changes that should accompany a physical change. This results in old behaviours being applied to new situations, with an accompanied expectation that “…things will work out.”
Most times, they do not. How could they? Moreover, even if they do, they will not work out with a maximized effect. The outcome may be limited, or worse, poor and ineffective. Is this not true of the many physical moves we have made in business and our personal lives?
The question is often asked: Why are the emotional and mental so often neglected? There is no one panacea to this question but a simple one comes to mind. It is difficult.
Sometimes it is difficult beyond measure and because it is so difficult, many of us avoid it or neglect it for as long as we can. Development in these areas involves internal work, where it matters most and where change is not usually realised immediately.
This makes sticking with it hard and lonely. It is much easier to place your attention where you can realise immediate returns.
If you want to succeed with a larger measure of permanence and enjoyment in your life, you need to pay attention to the emotional and mental areas of your development. If your self-awareness is lacking, you should seek counsel or better yet invest in a coach, someone independent to guide and support you.
If you are brave, get feedback from the peers whose opinions you value and trust. You tend to see best the areas in others that require work and growth. For those of you who are self-aware, become introspective about what you experience in others that you dislike. Perhaps there may be a lesson for you too.
Honesty and transparency open the doors to learning, growth and continuous improvement. They ensure that your behaviours are congruent. This means that what you think, say and do are fully aligned. With this alignment, you will experience greater efficiency and effectiveness in your performance.
This will lead to enhanced personal satisfaction, self-confidence and happiness.
5. Know That Perfection Is Not The Goal
Perfection is a myth. That we know. The fact that it does not exist however should not be an excuse for failing to strengthen your weak areas.
As you move forward, know that sometimes you will slip up or even fall flat on your face. But once you have committed yourself to a path of endless and constant learning and growth you will approach your work and personal life fearlessly.
When you do slip or make that fall, you will dust yourself off, work with the support that you have and make the best of it. The result: You will experience a renewed and stronger internal you, gaining the opportunity to take yourself to even greater tangible and intangible successes.
You should never look at failing as failure. Failure is final. Failing is not. Failure says that we have reached an end point. Failing implies that we are still moving. That there is still possibility and a change could take place.
Remember Kaizen and the Japanese? Their philosophy of continuous improvement is not based on failure and punishment. Along their production lines, if an error is made, the production line stops and everyone comes together to find a solution. In finding a solution together, they learn together about the error and what is required to avoid it or overcome it if it is encountered again.
6. Be Open To Communication
Perhaps the most important aspect of continuous improvement is communication. You must be open to communicating with yourself and with others. Communication is critical to learning, acquiring knowledge, developing new skills, understanding, reasoning and growth.
Communication is not merely expressing your words, thoughts or action. It is important that your audience – individual or group – understands your message and receives it in a way that they can relate to and process.
To communicate effectively requires that you are somewhat selfless not selfish. It is more about your receiver than you in the role of sender.
Being both sender and receiver takes learning and practice as both giving and receiving feedback in the process of continuous improvement can be difficult to master.
7. Google it!
And finally, there is Google.
You can find anything on Google. It is the most powerful information resource in the world and you can use it daily to your advantage. Searches are easy and provide you with tools, training, videos, podcasts and other mediums and methods to help you become better at your craft.
Try setting up a Google Alert for any topic that you are currently researching or studying. You will receive daily notices from Google on the latest posts, blogs and information to support your education goal.
Read, watch and listen to as much information as you can find. Isn’t this how we learn in an academic setting? The only difference is that someone else is setting the agendas and topics. Being in control of your own continuous improvement means that you get to set the direction and the pace.
Choose A Life Of Continuous Improvement
Kaizen is a philosophy that supports continuous, incremental process changes that sustain a high level of efficiency. At one level Kaizen can help you personally improve the way you live by eliminating waste and things that hold you back.
At the organizational level, Kaizen can be a powerful team-approach that harnesses suggestions and involvement from people at every level.
Wide participation can serve to improve morale and satisfaction as much as it improves production, costs, and other hard measures. If you choose to bring Kaizen into your life and workplace, you’ll be surprised at how big an impact small changes can make, and how the culture of continuous improvement can thrive.
Do you want to begin the cycle of continuous improvement? Then, follow our Founder’s journey.