What Does Kaizen Mean?: A Japanese Business Philosophy, Explained

The Kaizen standard is a Japanese method of doing business based on the management theory of gradual and continuous change. Kaizen focuses on aspects of a company's processes that can be refined, improved and made constant, with a resulting increase in efficiency and productivity. Kaizen embraces the concept of small-scale changes and focuses on eliminating waste from all business processes through five main elements.

Teamwork

A founding principle of Kaizen is the idea that every employee in a company has something of value to contribute. In Kaizen, the status of a worker should not deter her from voicing an opinion or suggestion that can improve a job function. Kaizen embraces the concept of teamwork by encouraging every employee to feel empowered to offer even the smallest idea. Kaizen demands that supervisors create an environment in which employees are not afraid to make suggestions.

Personal Discipline

The Kaizen standard also stresses personal discipline for every employee, including supervisors and those in management. Workers who practice personal discipline are willing to hold themselves accountable for every action they perform on the job. Kaizen requires companies to set a standard for every job function and to challenge workers to meet that standard. Employees recognize that they are part of a team and that failing to perform their jobs correctly has a negative impact on the entire production process.

Suggestions for Improvement

The Kaizen standard requires continuous improvement in every company process, from human resources to quality control. A core aspect of Kaizen is that suggestions for improvement are made entirely by the people who perform the work on a daily basis. Employees are encouraged to closely observe the ways in which they work and to note obstacles or delays that prevent them from operating at maximum efficiency. To effectively implement the Kaizen standard, managers must take employee suggestions seriously and constantly provide information regarding the implementation of changes.

Improved Morale

The Kaizen standard cannot be achieved without good morale among a company's employees. It is crucial for company executives to foster a climate of support for employees and empower them so that they believe they have a genuine stake in how the company operates. A valued workforce often shows high levels of productivity, compared to a workforce with low morale that may experience reduced productivity and increased conflict between employees and management.

Quality Circles

Quality circles are essential to eliminate waste and obstacles that prevent a company from operating at maximum efficiency. In the Kaizen standard, quality circles are comprised of small groups – usually five to nine people – who select a group leader and meet regularly to discuss how to solve issues that arise in the workplace. The goal of a quality circle is to develop applicable and timely solutions that can be implemented in a short period of time. The Kaizen standard requires management to respond quickly to quality circle recommendations.