Why are more businesses bringing in Kaizen consultants? And what does the Kaizen approach have to do with employee engagement? The answer to both questions is in the definition of Kaizen itself.

Kaizen literally translates to “change for the better,” but in productivity circles, it has come to mean creating positive change through continuous improvement with small, incremental changes over a long period of time.

The philosophy came from several Japanese businesses that, after World War II, decided that doing things the way they’d always been done wasn’t the way to move forward (long before the famous quote by Jessie Potter which is often attributed to Tony Robbins): “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”). These companies wanted to be more competitive with Western businesses and set out to improve on and streamline business practices and manufacturing methods.

Kaizen culture: Always a better way

Kaizen is one of the core principles of The Toyota Production System, a quest for continuous improvement and a single word that sums up Toyota’s ‘Always a Better Way’ slogan.”

– Kaizen – Toyota Production System guide

Perhaps the most striking thing about businesses that embrace the Kaizen philosophy is their willingness to try new ways of doing things – it’s part of the process. Because you can’t improve very far without taking a risk and innovating.

“Within the Toyota Production System, Kaizen humanises the workplace, empowering individual members to identify areas for improvement and suggest practical solutions. The focused activity surrounding this solution is often referred to as a kaizen blitz, while it is the responsibility of each member to adopt the improved standardised procedure and eliminate waste from within the local environment.”

– Kaizen – Toyota Production System guide

“Empowering individual members to identify areas for improvement and suggest practical solutions” – that should sound familiar if you’ve been reading about how we improve employee engagement around here.

Empowerment is such an important part of how to engage employees, because when you give them the ability to give feedback that results in real action and then invites them to spearhead the implementation of those improvements – they’re invested.

Employee Engagement: It’s about building a culture

One of the many benefits of improving through continual, small changes over time is that it builds a culture, and a mindset, around improvement (as a way of life – and of doing business).

While we’ve recently introduced the option to run Engagement Multiplier surveys in custom-length cycles, we still suggest the original four 90-day cycles precisely because that keeps the improvements small, manageable and continual. Employees give their feedback on what is and isn’t working, suggest improvements and changes via the ‘Suggestion Box’ feature, and then discuss, together, how best to implement the most needed improvements over the course of the next three months.

In the beginning, this can feel a bit forced – one more task to pile onto an already overladen plate – but after a few cycles, improvement and honest feedback become part of your company culture.

And you can see this happen in the survey results. Engagement scores rise. The quality and quantity of feedback improve as employees realize they’re actually being heard and having an effect.

You’ll see this in your employee retention rates too, and feel it in the energy around the office. Call it Kaizen, call it employee engagement, or call it making your business better. Whatever phrase you use, the key ingredient is the desire to change for the better.

Interested in learning more about Kaizen?

Check out our other post Creating a Kaizen Culture with Engagement Multiplier.