A Kaizen or Lean Culture is about team-based problem solving, a culture that puts into action a set of core beliefs, that centers around continuous improvement and respect for people. To be successful, a Kaizen Culture must have support from the organization’s leadership.
The term Lean is in many ways synonymous with Kaizen, for example both words imply continuous improvement. However Lean is a philosophy that focuses on the elimination of waste in a process, by employing small frequent experiments, called kaizen. These kaizen follow a simple sequence of steps put forth by Edwards Demming; Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA), which is fundamentally the scientific method.
So, a Kaizen Culture is one that respects people by granting them the authority to master their work environment however they see fit. The way they do it is through deep understanding of the process, and develop a highly efficient pull system that maximizes throughput of work items, by applying small adaptive changes that eliminate waste in the process.
A Kaizen Culture is much more than process and tools. To achieve this level of mastery over the process, it requires a great deal of cooperation and team work. There are no heroes in Lean, there are only effective teams.
A Kaizen Culture scales extremely well by keeping teams small and close knit. Small highly effective teams that strive to perfect processes, with the aim to simplify everything. By creating a hive of small effective teams, the organization as a whole develops an anti-fragile nature, where stress on the organization has the effect of making it stronger in response.
An organization that operates successfully under a Kaizen Culture has a competitive advantage. They are more profitable, and the people in the organization enjoy great satisfaction in their work.
The Caveat or Plain Truth
All of this sounds like work nirvana, and it is, if it is actually implemented and sustained. But the plain truth is that very few organizations achieve this nirvana, the success rate is abysmal, by most experts’ estimation, and from my personal observation in dozens of companies, it is only in the single digits. That’s right, more than 90 percent of organizations that start a Kaizen initiative fail, and revert back to their command and control ways.
This failure rate is perplexing and discouraging, especially to those who embark on this journey, people all full of hope and anticipation, only to see their hopes for a better workplace fade away or crash and burn. The problem is the way in which organizations approach the adoption of Kaizen, not in the philosophy itself. And so, this gap in understanding presents a tremendous opportunity.
So, it is the purpose of this blog, and my purpose as an advocate, coach and mentor of Kaizen Culture, to clearly state the problem and challenges of adopting a Kaizen Culture, to define what a Kaizen Culture is, how to create a Kaizen Culture and then sustain it within your organization.