Kaizen, also known as continuous improvement, is a comprehensive methodology that systematically seeks to make minor, incremental changes to systems or processes to improve efficiency and quality. The concept is derived from Japan and can be roughly translated from the word “改善” which means “good change.”
For small businesses, the concept works to improve the performance of managers and employees, the interaction within a team, and the pursuit of better productivity. Since inception, Kaizen has been proven to help various organizations and has been long lauded as a success. However, certain conditions are needed in the corporate culture for this strategy to take effect in an organization.
Here are four top reasons why organizations fail when implementing the concept of Kaizen.
1) Regarded as a Short-Term Project
The basic understanding of the notion is that Kaizen is a long-term improvement strategy. Change usually takes time to take effect. Although this concept is simple, the art of mastering it is challenging. It will take time before it can be fully understood, accepted and practiced by all employees. In many cases, companies expect a quick turnaround and improvement in KPIs within a year of implementation. In reality, the benefits of Kaizen will only surface on a small scale, before eventually propagating throughout the company.
For instance, when Toyota first started this concept and producing cars, it was seen by many as goods made in China, undesirable and inferior quality. However, 40 years down the road, Toyota is considered as one of the top quality car manufacturers in the world today. An organization needs to be married to Kaizen for the concept to succeed, as it is a long term relationship. Till today, Toyota is still practicing this concept as Kaizen dictates that there is always room for improvement.
2) Equates to Improved KPIs
The over emphasis on the effect of Kaizen on KPIs would often overshadow the fact that improvements take time and are often incremental, and not revolutionary. Many cases, management write this strategy off as a failure when they do not see immediate results. Without a genuine desire to improve, the concept can not thrive within an organization. While it is crucial to tying Kaizen to KPIs, management has to understand that Kaizen is not magic, it is in fact like a snowball rolling down a gentle slope, gathering momentum and size as it comes down.
3) Heavily Bureaucratic Organization
A bureaucratic organization works in a way that there is a high degree of formality in the way it operates. At the same time, its procedures, processes, policies and management style is stringent with a strong reluctance to adapt or change. Therefore, Kaizen will never succeed in an organization bogged down by a bureaucratic mindset, filled with rules and regulations, stopping change to happen. Government agencies are often guilty of this, along with many Asian companies.
4) Management Pays Lip Service
The failure of Kaizen would often result due to the lack of enforcement by the management. For instance, in a previous organization that I worked in, the management implemented a suggestion box to collect ideas generated from staffs and named it Kaizen. Along the way, ideas slip were collected and piled up without any focus group to look into it. In the end, none of the suggestions that were submitted were actually implemented. In some cases, the management would just ridicule the idea and came up with excuses to justify why the status quo was far superior to what was suggested.
Conclusion on Kaizen
Kaizen is all about making things better in the long run, and improving your KPIs and processes gradually. It is a strategy that needs to be implemented now, for the future. However, before implementing this concept to any organization, one must evaluate and understand the organizational structure and processes, to implement Kaizen or any management strategies effectively. As I always say, there are no cookie-cutter solutions that can solve all problems.