Why some improve more & some companies less?

The Kaizen Institute operates in about 30+ countries globally. Over the past 30 years we have supported organizations of all size and kinds to adopt the KAIZEN™ culture (continual improvement) which results in transformation of their operations.  Gradually KAIZEN™ has to become a culture, not to remain as a number to chase (number of KAIZEN™ per person per month) or be restricted to some improvement projects one does, when faced with challenges. Towards this objective, when we set out to work with organizations, we have seen over the decades that some change more & deeply, while some stop or slow down (even stop) this process of continual improvement. Why? Why is it that some change more, while some companies change less?

The answer is not simple there are many reasons – leadership, goal clarity, skill levels,  tools and methods adopted to drive  continual improvements,  daily work practices etc.  In order to find answers to this, we spoke to many clients, observed which approaches taken by us and the client’s results in more or less improvements. The goal was to find what makes change happen more, deeper & in a sustainable manner?

We found that five elements are to be addressed and balanced when an organization wants to drive, attain & sustain change.

1) Define True North -  the most common challenge is that true north is not defined and shared within the team.         People have varying ideas on the goal. No journey can begin & end successfully unless there is clarity on the         goals and is shared and accepted by all stake holders.

2) Ensure Support – governance – next is providing the support structure that is required for deployment,                 promotion, monitoring and sustenance of an improvement culture. It consist of a clear roadmap, regular audits,     skill building , dedicated internal champions, a change leader, a project management cell or office etc

3) Engage Leaders -  change has to be co-created, but leaders must engage and contribute, for which there are         certain things they need to engage with – going to the Gemba (real place or workplace), changing their own skill     sets & paradigms etc

4) Problem Solving – build ability to solve problems.  Use a standard problem solving tool set/ template to capture,     define, analyze, idea ideate and plan solutions is used, problem solving will be unstructured and left to chance.

5) Daily Routines – it is often said nothing changes until daily habits/ practices changes.  Successful change needs       daily problem solving, daily tracking of certain KPI’s, all of which is clubbed under daily management.

These five elements are captured here below in one diagram or model;

Often organization misses out one or some of these elements. Let’s see how it impacts their change efforts;

Imagine a change or improvement effort minus a clear true north – it is a false start.

Imagine lack of Leadership engagement – the traction will die down soon and the change efforts cool off.

Imagine the impact of no or poor support structure –  with lack of a support structure the program suffers from poor coordination, tracking and governance.

Imagine when structured problem solving skills are amiss – the outcome is in the form of poor solutions, frustration, recurring problems (worse the same problems repeat)

Finally, imagine with no daily management and routines, no habits are formed. Habits lead to a sustainable change.

So just as wholesome meals or an Indian “thali” consists of a variety of food items taking care of the mineral, protein, carbohydrate needs of the body (balanced), on a similar note, change needs these five elements – when they all of them come together, one is in a better position to drive, attain and sustain operational changes and continual improvements.

Everyone does improve – at some point in time, due to internal or external challenges , but the question is can the organization truly claim that it believes in and sustains Lean or Continual Improvement Culture where improvements happen Everyday; driven by Everyone in Every aspect of the organization?

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