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3 Conditions For A Culture Of Continuous Improvement - Kaizen

By: Simon Spencer

June 16, 2020

3 Conditions For A Culture Of Continuous Improvement - Kaizen

The challenges manufacturers face today may seem new, but if we look back over the last 2 centuries it becomes clear that although the industry may look dramatically different, many of the same challenges still exist, and we're not talking about continuous improvement or kaizen implementations yet.

We’ve all been taught about the Industrial Revolution and how mechanization changed the world, but what many may not understand is that manufacturing has experienced multiple revolutions, and in fact, we’re currently in the midst of the 4th one. The 4th Industrial Revolution , similar to the first three, will fundamentally change how those of us involved in the manufacturing industry work, but there is a notable difference between this revolution and those before; the dramatic scale, scope, complexity, and speed of the change have increased like never before.

Continuous Improvement As Kaizen

Considering the impact of the industrial changes sweeping through manufacturing as a whole, it’s never been more important for the people involved to be engaged and proactive. To embed this attitude within a company a special approach is needed. We identify Kaizen to be the vehicle of this engagement.

Kaizen, as we all know in manufacturing is an approach to continuous improvement where the people in an organization work together to achieve continuous incremental improvements. I like to take it a step further by considering the combined talents, experience, education, etc. of the organization’s people as an engine of ideas. To put it even more plainly, it is about your organization's ability to effectively manage the knowledge it possesses while adding new layers of insight.

Clearly, leveraging the collective power of an entire organization is more complicated than saying, “Let’s do it!” It will require leadership that is focused on this new approach to work. Leadership that understands that implementing Kaizen successfully is as much about an organization’s philosophy and culture as it is about specific strategies. Take a minute, and put yourself in the shoes of the front-line workers on your team, and answer this simple question:

If you are not satisfied with your work, how likely is it that you will try to make it better?

Fundamentally, this is the first obstacle any organization hoping to implement a culture of continuous improvement will face. Without the support and involvement of the “shop floor”, your continuous improvement efforts will fail. In one of our past articles, Improving Shop Floor Communication with Work Instructions , we develop this topic more in-depth and argue that with a lack of communication comes a lack of proper instructions' implementation.

Now, let’s take a look at the components of job gratification that you should promote to improve your organization’s chances of Kaizen implementation's success.

Conditions For A Culture Of Continuous Improvement

1. Leadership Effective Engagement

Front-line leaders include supervisors, team leaders, line leads, managers, etc. that are directly responsible for the performance of the shop floor workers that manufacture your product. These leaders influence the largest population of workers in your organization by communicating and implementing corporate goals, initiatives, and strategies.

Learn to Implement Agile Best Practices for a continuous improvement process.

If your front-line leadership team is under-prepared for the challenges of the role, and they frequently are, you’ll struggle with even the most basic personnel challenges, much less something as dramatic as implementing Kaizen. One of the first steps should be implementing continuous and incremental skill enhancement programs for leaders on the front line to ensure they understand the fundamentals of leadership:

  • Leadership by example
  • Consistency in policies and procedures
  • Timely and honest feedback with specific corrective actions
  • Team development

There are many more leadership topics here, but you get the idea. In the case of Gerber Gear, Jeanine Burket - the Process Improvement Manager, states that with the help of VKS they identified how to better train their trainers which gave them the ability to leverage continuous improvement.

2. Leadership That Listens

For Kaizen to be successful, the ideas from the shop floor need a place to land, so creating a culture of listening leaders is critical and will help the ideas bubble to the surface. Moreover, building a system to efficiently capture and retain employee knowledge will further enhance kaizen practices. Also, having a tool like our work instruction software in place, will help employees of all levels share their feedback instantly for later consideration and insight extraction. Now, managers may find it difficult to hear that legacy method, processes, or procedures that they had a hand in developing are no longer effective, but it’s important that they ignore this bias and be receptive and open-minded to new ideas.

Even more than just being receptive, they should actively seek these new ideas by practicing in Gemba Walks. Involving people at all levels in the work and soliciting their ideas helps different perspectives emerge which are incredibly valuable for a culture of continuous improvement.

3. Teamwork Without Finger Pointing

Continuous improvement is a living, breathing thing in any organization and it cannot exist without teamwork, and for teamwork to be effective, silos must be dissolved and doors at every level need to be open. Mutual respect for the importance of everyone’s role, by everyone on the team, is gained by acknowledging that one job is as important as all the others. When failures occur, and they will, they must be viewed as learning opportunities rather than excuses to stop. Two common behaviors that are simply human nature must be overcome:

  • Self-Interest

Decisions that are viewed as short term wins for the few are many times worse for the team and the overall long term effort. You’ll need to identify this tendency and coach those individuals or teams right away.

  • Deflect blame

Mistakes will happen. It’s guaranteed in any continuous improvement effort, and the natural reaction will be to deflect, make excuses, or apply some unproven cause. It’s important to own mistakes, not as punishment, but as an opportunity to learn and understand what and why didn’t work, so adjustments can be made.

Kaizen As A Journey

The involvement of people in the Kaizen process is important, but making assumptions about a team’s preparation for the journey can be a mistake and result in delays, lost opportunities, and even stagnation or failure of the entire strategy.

This article is to help lay the groundwork for a successful kaizen journey by truly harnessing the power of your organization’s collective knowledge and talent. However, it is the corporate culture that will coach the individuals within the organization, therefore it is important to continue to update and perfect it on a continuous basis no matter how cliche that might sound. Success with these people-focused strategies now will better prepare your organization for the revolutionary challenges that lie ahead.

Read next how Overcoming Your Resistance to Change with Work Instructions can help you implement the new Kaizen mentality.

With contributions from Shannon Bennett.

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