11 February 2019

Kaizen: a way to increase commitment and save money

Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy or practice of constantly refining production, research, and supplementary management and business processes, as well as all aspects of life in general. In other words, it means continuous improvement.

Some people use the Japanese term kaizen, others call this streamlining, some companies just hold contests for the best idea on how to optimize business processes. Anyway, the point stays the same: innovative proposals, when correctly implemented, can give tangible benefits to the company by saving funds while at the same time increasing commitment. 

I once heard a story about how it works in practice when I interviewed a manager who had previously been implementing a streamlining system. In his company, the award for the best idea was given to... a cleaning woman. She noticed that one of the company's stores was always empty in the first two hours after opening in the morning but always crowded in the evenings, with long queues up to the closing time. She suggested shifting the opening hours of the store, which had an instant positive effect on sales.

The advantage of streamlining is that it gives all employees a chance to have their say, which helps the company find unconventional solutions and move forward. Managers may sometimes overlook an important detail but it might be noticed by someone else who looks at the workflow from their own perspective. Fresh ideas help the company grow, and in the current environment any chance to strengthen the company's position on the market or cut expenses is valuable.

The usefulness of streamlining for increasing motivation and commitment can't be denied either. Financial reward is certainly valuable, but for some employees it's equally important to earn kudos. 

When launching a streamlining initiative, it's crucial to understand what you are going to do with the suggestions received and how you are going to do that. The most common mistakes made by companies when implementing a streamlining system are lack of feedback and "loss" of ideas.

Sometimes, the management launches a contest and then ignores the employees' ideas or doesn't have time to review them and respond. It's vital to study all suggestions with due attention and to encourage initiative. Otherwise, next time a participant who hasn't received any feedback will hardly want to tell his new ideas to the management. It's important to think out a system for processing, storing, assessing, and controlling the implementation of proposals in order to receive the maximum payoff. A received idea may be irrelevant at the moment but might turn out useful later.

Besides the evident commercial gain, the company also benefits in terms of employee motivation. An organization which is receptive to ideas of its employees, encourages initiative, and introduces innovations looks more attractive on the job market. As for the funds saved as a result of implementing the proposals, they can be invested both in employee development programs, and in the development of the company itself. Either way, this will have a positive effect on your business.