KAIZEN: Apply Tools, but Address the Culture

Never ever can a disjointed, tool-focused approach truly be considered as organizational transformation, says Jayanth Murthy, founding partner and director, Kaizen Institute – India and Africa.

It was early evening, and Imai san narrated an anecdote and shared some pearls of wisdom on matters relating to organisational transformation. His story: “A chimp dressed up in pair of trousers, shirt, jacket, a pair of sun glasses and a smart hat to complete the getup, was let loose on the street. Soon the chimp started walking towards an office building. A group of people saw this ‘object’ approaching them and each one started guessing who it could be. Some were sure it resembled Jack, while other were betting it was Jim ….or was it Peter?

“As the object of their got closer, it started looking less like Jack , Jim or Peter and more like a stranger with a funny hunched and awkward gait! When it got really close, they were shocked to find that it actually was a chimp dressed up as a human.”

What is the point here? That a chimp dressed up as a human, does not ever become a human! A chimp can never become a human unless his very bones, his fundamental skeletal structure changes. The chimp has a curved or bow of a back bone; we human have erect back bones! This fundamental difference makes us different, though from far we may ‘resemble’ each other.

True organisational transformation happen when the very bones…the skeletal structure is challenged and changed. When old paradigms and structures are questioned and replaced when needed. One can’t fool oneself or others by mere ‘dressing up’.

Sadly, this is often the case within many organisations that adopt Lean / 6 Sigma or any other transformation approach. This applies to manufacturing or transformation related to operations as in Lean / Lean Sigma or similar implementation. Often organisations start with tools – 5s, SMED, AM, Cellular Layouts, etc, – that are launched and implemented with encouraging results, but many a times the efforts start and end with these tools. These tools are a means to an end. The end being sustainable growth and profits. Never ever can a disjointed, tool-focused approach truly be considered as organisational transformation; we do get enthused by book like The Toyota Way, which does offer more than a peep into Toyota’s culture transformation under way since some many decades (they say it is still work in progress! Kaizen). But not many of us are able to appreciate the deep organisation cultural transformation which drives everything else.

This is what Imai san says is true Kaizen…everyday, everyone, everywhere KAIZEN™ ….continual improvement. It is not few people, few days, few places. While tools drive improvements, it is how one builds the underlying cultural transformation that is the key. From the KAIZEN™ Management System (KMS) perspective, culture is an outcome that comes by staying focused on three key elements:

(a) system and model for change within the organisation

(b) building skills/capability across the board to learn and drive change

(c) coupled with setting clear goals, an audit mechanism linked to performance management.

It is this judicious combination of these three elements that powers true transformation, which in turn, powers sustenance of a KAIZEN™ culture within any organization.

As one perfects the tools of change, one should not loose sight on the cultural aspects as mentioned above. There is no meaning in fooling ourselves or other stake holders, by calling a ‘dressed up’ chimp as a homo sapien! The message is clear….apply tools, but address the culture.

In Imai san’s words….LEAN or 6 Sigma is the outcome, whereas KAIZEN™ is the process that drives these outcomes. We got down to dinner that night, with these words swirling around in our minds, like the bubbles in our fizzy drinks.

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