The word Kaizen may sound like I’m speaking Greek to you, but I’m actually speaking Japanese. Kaizen is the Japanese word for “continuous improvement” and its meaning is powerful in your business and in your life. Dictionary.com said it best when they described Kaizen:
1. a business philosophy or system that is based on making positive changes on a regular basis, as to improve productivity.
2. an approach to one’s personal or social life that focuses on continuous improvement.
I first learned of the entire process about 15 years ago when I was exposed to it in the workplace. The company that I was working for was bleeding money and they had to figure out why and how to stop it. A group of team members from corporate were sent out to try and discover what was happening and they learned of Toyota Production Systems or TPS for short. They studied their business model and how they were able to operate so flawlessly, then in turn came to implement it in the company.
The company had many departments so they had to start with one and that was the one I was working in. We were the guinea pigs and were doing a trial by fire. I learned firsthand how it works, how you implement it and the changes that occur. The results were astounding and it wasn’t over night. It took approximately 3 years for all of the kinks to be worked out, but it changed the company’s culture forever. Unless you have a huge corporation, it won’t take you that long to implement. Teaching 40+ different stores and thousands of people took a long time to make sure it was replicated correctly. What I learned during that time was very stressful, but it also changed my life and the way that I look at business operations.
The entire Kaizen model is broken up into many parts and I am going to do an entire series on all of the components and how they work in unison, but as a whole you are trying to eliminate waste from your business. All of your processes must be streamlined so that they work as one cohesive unit. If you are not bleeding money, you may be bleeding time or losing customers because of mistakes. Implementing this system takes the “muri” or overly hard work out of the equation and gives it to someone better prepared to handle it. As a culture, everyone is on the lookout for ways to implement change and make things work more efficiently. Team members are heard when they have suggestions about problems they see.
For many, this is a culture shock. The only people that ever ‘rolled things out’ were those in the corporate office that never actually worked in the departments to see what was really happening on the floor. With this system everyone has a stake in making things better and their changes actually count and are implemented. They are tested of course with processes, but they are not written down on a post-it note for someone in corporate to look at later and never make company wide.
Even as a small business or entrepreneur you can begin to implement the concept. Take a look at your day and write down how you spend it and what you do. What tasks throw you off from what you are doing? Which ones are too hard for you to do or frustrating? Which ones are mundane? Which ones would you just like to get rid of all together? Which tasks are rare or quarterly? Which ones are daily? Where could you use some error-proofing?
These are the questions that you must begin to ask yourself. For your company to run as productively as possible, you must know the process of how it runs inside and out. Over time you will then begin to implement small changes. This isin’t something that you do once and it is over, this is a continuous process to keep improving.
That is my first assignment to you: take the time to answer these questions. Are you so busy and stressed out that you don’t even have time to answer them? If that is the case, that is the first sign that you need some kaizen in your life and fast! Once you are streamlined your stress levels will decrease, you will get more work done and there will be less chance for error.
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Heather Santo is proudly an A Real Change Certified Virtual Assistant with over 15 years of customer service experience via face-to face, telephone and internet. She also spent time in corporate America as a Human Resources Manager performing generalist duties and specializing in recruiting.
She now enjoys using her talents to serve her clients and help them to operate their businesses efficiently.
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