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Kaizen and the Ten Year Culture Change

Have you given much thought to what Kaizen could do for your organization beyond a few events? If you’re in tune with Kaizen and preparing your next event, you’re probably wrapped up in defining the problem, building your team, and setting your schedule, I’m sure. But what do you expect your next 3, 6, or 20 events will lead to? It is generally known that Kaizen is the engine or the power behind a Lean transformation. The more Kaizen events you complete, the more likely you are of changing the culture to one that is more accepting of continuous improvement. I have been lucky enough to witness this type of culture change over the course of ten years with an organization that has gone from hasty Six-Sigma deployment, to occasional factory-only Kaizen events, to the all-encompassing operational excellence it is today. It’s been a fulfilling and enjoyable ride, and I’ve learned some things along the way. For one, our culture has changed significantly.

If you’ve led a few events, you know how difficult it can be to change the hearts and minds of the old-school mentality. With some people, it may take only one event while others may take months. Unfortunately, there are also those that will never change. To them, you will always represent the foolishness that comes from constant turnover of management and the redirection that usually follows – the next fad, or the next big thing. The ten-year culture change however, comes from consistency within the ranks. It comes from you, and those around you with similar experience and objectives. Those involved in Kaizen know that good Kaizen is tied to business targets. Targets like higher quality standards, higher revenues, shorter lead times, and lower costs are also consistent. These things never change from one general manager to another. Regardless of who is running the show this year, if you keep focus on the business goals, life will surely get better.

My plant’s first introduction to Kaizen happened in the late 1990’s after hiring a new Operations Manager from one of our competitors – a sharp guy with attitude and drive that got things done. He taught us the basics of Kaizen and made sure he had a few people he could rely on to continue the Lean transformation after he left. And left he did, with a promotion to General Manager of a sister plant. Once gone, it was up to me and a few other folks to lead the Kaizen events, and continue the process of changing hearts and minds. In those days, when Lean and Kaizen were new to the organization, it was especially difficult to win people over. It was difficult to obtain volunteers, and difficult to get commitment from just about anyone. We kept going forward though – kept pushing and promoting Kaizen everywhere we turned until eventually, Kaizen became the norm.

Don’t worry – Kaizen acceptance doesn’t have to take ten years. With some enthusiasm and old fashioned hard work, you can start changing your culture one Kaizen event at a time. To do this will take some research and training, but to start, you should know why people resist change. According to http://catherinescareercorner.com , some factors that affect why people resist change in the workplace are:

  • Loss of job – Some believe that your changes may lead to their release.
  • Bad communication strategy – If employees do not understand the need for the change, why would they buy into it?
  • Shock and fear of the unknown – Some people prefer to cling to the past because it was secure.
  • Loss of control – Asking employees to change their daily routines may make them feel powerless and confused.
  • Lack of competence – Some may fear that new skills will require new training they may not understand.

These are 5 of the ten listed on the website so I suggest you pay them a visit to read the rest of the article – it’s a good one!

Another good way to help promote continuous improvement is by constantly training new Kaizen members and leaders. I recently wrote up a list of 2012 targets for our continuous improvement program. Three of these targets were:


  • to increase the number of employees trained as Kaizen team members by 20 percent
  • to train at least 3 new Kaizen leaders (facilitators)
  • to perform a minimum of 14 Kaizen events

When you identify targets for the continuous improvement program itself, it helps gain visibility and support from management and will likely give the program some momentum. I recently sent this same information to our GM and key members of his staff with a request for Kaizen ideas that I plan to send to all of our employees. Within an hour, I had received a resounding “yes!”, and “Great idea!” from everyone. Our Regional Director of Operational Excellence even tied in a few other suggestions expanding on the entire program further.

In ten years, you can make a lot of improvements. You learn from both hourly and salaried associates alike and what is important to each of them. You learn from your customers and your vendors, and if your organization is big enough, maybe from associates in other locations. In ten years, you get to know people on a different level, and you should, because that is a big part of what Kaizen is all about. Kaizen is personal and creative, and can be an outlet for amazing things. In ten years, you can not only change the hearts and minds of those around you, but even with constant management turnover and changes in business direction, Kaizen simply transcends all of it. When there are people like you to ensure Kaizen events continue, the culture of your organization will change right along with it.

All best!

REALKaizen Staff

In Category: Culture, Kaizen Blitz, Kaizen event, Kaizen Metrics

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