Success in business is very much determined by one’s ability to adapt. Economic conditions, population demographics and resource availability are all subject to change and adapting to these changes is key to maintaining that competitive edge. This Darwinian analysis of business necessitates the adoption of a management philosophy with the elimination of ‘muda’ (the Japanese term for waste/futility) at its heart.
‘Kaizen’ is another Japanese word that directly translates as ‘good change’. It is also the route of a business philosophy that focuses on the need for continuous improvement in order to eliminate wasteful practices and ensure continued success. The Kaizen Philosophy takes a holistic approach, humanizing the work place by encouraging workers throughout the business to contribute ideas for its improvement. When carried out effectively, Kaizen universally permeates the business from the factory floor to the CEO. This, in turn, contributes to increased levels of employee satisfaction; workers feel increased worth on a macro (albeit in-house) scale. Increased work-place satisfaction subsequently has a positive impact on productivity as employees are invested in seeing their suggestions through. This is one of the main areas where Kaizen differs from the ‘command and control’ business model. It is also the area in which I would argue that Kaizen is superior.
Dealing with rising costs while still providing quality customer service is a problem faced by private and public sectors alike but the adoption of Kaizen practices can combat this. An example of a firm successfully employing these practices is Leyland Motors. It became a market-leader when it introduced robot spray painting to its production line – a change that came about by implementing the 3-S system.
The system operates as follows:
The identification of a production inefficiency/bottleneck
The accumulation and analysis and subsequent implementation of ideas to ensure problem resolution
The prevention of reoccurrence by carrying out scheduled efficacy analysis.
There can however be drawbacks associated with improper implementation of the Kaizen managerial approach. It is, to state the obvious, a culturally Japanese style of doing business (having been coined in the years following the Second World War with the aid of US experts in the effort to rebuild Japanese Industry). Barriers to its success in the work place include a closed approach to communication, where each individual is responsible for his/her own work. This environment can cause employees to become – for lack of a better word – territorial with their work and this can be bad for the business in the long run.