Inc. Magazine recently published an article called, Behavior Science Explains Why the Japanese Practice of Kaizen, or Continuous Improvement, Accelerates Your Success. In the article, the author Minda Zetlin, explains what Kaizen is about. Kaizen is about making continual, gradual, small changes to effect big, positive change in the long run. The byline of the article is “All you need to do is make things 1 percent better.”
Imagine if small businesses applied this philosophy to their business. Would this lead to greater success for more small business owners? Apparently, the data suggests it very well might. The key is not to aim for big, dramatic change over a short term. It is more about making small shifts and gradual change over time, day by day, week by week, till BIG change is ultimately achieved. But according to the Inc. piece, there is always room for more improvement with Kaizen. The goal is never the destination. It is the getting there, and the continuing on. In other words, you’re never finished. You are always looking to improve.
It is not just small businesses that apply this philosophy. Large businesses do as well. Indeed, according to the Inc. article, the first big company that used Kaizen was Toyota. Author Minda Zetlin wrote:
Toyota used Kaizen to transform itself from a textile company to an auto manufacturer. Rather than a sudden and complete rebranding, announced with great fanfare, that would be more common in the United States, the company made the change gradually. ‘There was a change here, a shift there. Every day something was different, every week something was better, and when a month became a year, incredible change had been achieved,’ Thomson writes.”
As a small business owner reading this, does this resonate with you? Can you see how making small gradual changes might benefit your business?
Kaizen is also used by government organizations like the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA employs the Kaizen philosophy to gradually make large-scale societal and environmental changes over time. According to its website, the EPA says: “Kaizen focuses on eliminating waste, improving productivity, and achieving sustained continual improvement in targeted activities and processes of an organization.”
The EPA stresses that the organization must aim to involve workers at all levels to achieve its aims. The key is teamwork. Workers must work together towards the common goal of making continual change—the Kaizen way. On the EPA’s website, it reads: “The kaizen strategy aims to involve workers from multiple functions and levels in the organization in working together to address a problem or improve a process.” The Kaizen goal, according to the EPA, is to address the problem as a team, and devise solutions that require the minimum capital outlay. The website reads: “The team…. typically focuses on solutions that do not involve large capital outlays.”
So, what are the takeaways for the small business owner who is wondering how the Kaizen Method—a Japanese breakthrough to be clear—can help them achieve success? Here are 9 ideas:
- Aim for 1 percent improvement
As noted in the Inc. article, it’s all amount small little tweaks over time. So, aim for 1 percent improvement, day by day rather than stress about the big picture day by day. Sometimes, that just means showing up to the office rather than staying in bed worrying that things are not going as well as you would like.
- Take things day by day (small picture rather than big ending)
Taking things day by day must be stressed because the Kaizen strategy is all about that. It is all about micro-thinking rather than big think. The ultimate, big, outcome can stay in the back of your mind, of course, but to do it the Kaizen way, it is important to implement a day-to-day approach.
- Enjoy the process for what it is, as you go along
The Kaizen method is all about the process rather than the outcome. So, what is your process? What is your methodology for achieving your goals as a small business? Whatever that is, the key is to do it in a conscious way and appreciate the steps along that way that are required to achieve your ultimate goal.
- Adopt a “you’re never finished” mindset
With Kaizen, the whole point is about “continual improvement.” Continual means it goes on and on. No system, process or strategy is ever perfect. There is always more improvement that can occur.
- Eliminate Waste
The Kaizen strategy is about waste-reduction, and leanness. This might come from the Japanese penchant for minimalism. Waste occurs in many ways. If you don’t use it, get rid of it. If you don’t need it, don’t spend money on it. This is Kaizen.
- Involve workers from multiple functions and levels to work together (teams)
Kaizen can be applied on a personal level as well as on a group level. In a work setting, a small business would aim to put teams together that complement each other. The eco-system approach might imply that the small business teams up with others outside the business to achieve its objectives. The key is that all players complement each other in a manner that reduces waste, and that makes continual improvement that leads ultimately to success.
- Improve Productivity
Productivity is key to the Kaizen strategy. The whole point is to produce, not atrophy. But the improvement is gradual, rather than sudden and dramatic because gradual changes are usually more sustainable. So, the small business owner should look to improve productivity gradually and continually.
- Achieve Sustained continual Improvement in targeted activities.
One of the takeaways from the EPA’s approach to Kaizen, is the idea of focusing and targeting specific activities. Rather than trying to implement changes in just about every activity, the goal is to focus on certain targeted activities to implement those changes over time.
- Don’t spend too much money
With Kaizen, as noted, waste reduction is key. So where possible, a small business that implements a Kaizen strategy should aim to make the minimal capital outlay.
To conclude, Kaizen, as you can see, is not a new or difficult concept. The idea has been around since Ancient Rome, in fact. According to the Inc. article, “the general concept goes all the way back to ancient Rome, when the philosopher Seneca wrote, ‘It is enough for me if every day I reduce the number of my vices and blame my mistakes.’” The idea is just to focus on the day and task before you, knowing that eventually, you will get where you are trying to go.