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Creating a Kaizen Culture


Personal Thoughts

Transforming a culture is far more about emotional growth than technical maturity. Co-written by leaders at the Kaizen Institute, Creating a Kaizen Culture explains how to enable an adaptive, excellent, and sustainable organization by leveraging core kaizen values and the behaviors they generate.

Summary Notes

  • When an organization reward results without scientific examination of the processes that led to those results, there is a great risk for a culture to be built on false assumptions or, at best, assumptions that cannot be proven.
  • The bottom-up approach is to recognize a problem, a deviation from a standard, and follow the same process of questioning as above.
  • The system is the tree, the financial performance is the fruit, and the culture is everything in the soil below.
  • What is important is how the people make decisions, learn as an organization, and deliver excellence to their customers. At the level of human behavior, the benchmark is simple: Does everyone across the organization improve every day?
  • Extension transference is the idea that over time the extensions that we create to help us to fulfill a purpose become fragmented and disconnected from their original purpose.
  • As a result of making better people into better decision makers and better problem solvers, better processes and products are created.
  • Another example Harada gives is the reluctance of American workers to stop work and call for help to address a problem found because of a fear of punishment. This would seem to be a business custom (second floor) rather than a national culture (first floor), yet this was one of the most difficult things to change. We can speculate that this is so because fear is at the deepest level of “common humanity,” even though the custom itself is superficial and learned in a very specific environment, the workplace.
  • It is important to demand a level of rigor in the methods that are followed during each phase. For example, what does it mean to plan? Charles Kettering, head of research for General Motors (GM), is credited with saying, “A problem well stated is half solved,” and in fact, a more powerful statement would be, “A problem poorly stated is virtually unsolvable.”
  • According to research by Miller (2007), a Japanese document that was distributed to Toyota employees in 1951 when the suggestion system was launched asked all workers for their ideas while preempting and answering such questions as Why are we asking for your creative ideas? What type of ideas are we looking for? Who can submit ideas? How do we submit our ideas? How will the ideas be evaluated? What happens when ideas are accepted?
  • Apple is a very disciplined company, and we have great processes. But that’s not what it’s about. The process makes you more efficient…. But innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem.
  • In a typical startup, product-development group, or creative organization, senior management devotes far too much time to solve problems that result from lack of basic standards or lack of adherence to standards. This is problematic both because as time goes by people in the organization come to depend on these leaders as heroic problem solvers. Moreover, this type of front-line problem solving is not the highest and best use of the time and energy of the most senior leaders in an organization. Furthermore, frequently, the people who rise to become leaders of these organizations are themselves highly creative problem solvers who may be frustrated by the fact that they now spend all of their time managing rather than creating.
  • 1. All work shall be highly specified as to content, sequence, timing, and outcome.
    2. Every customer-supplier connection must be direct, and there must be an unambiguous yes-or-no way to send requests and receive responses.
    3. The pathway for every product and service must be simple and direct.
    4. Any improvement must be made in accordance with the scientific method, under the guidance of a teacher, at the lowest possible level in the organization.
  • Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without the first, you really want them to be dumb and lazy. —WARREN BUFFETT
  • Customer satisfaction Create value for our customers Velocity Produce only what is needed, when it is needed, in the right amount Eliminate anything that stops the flow of value creation Focus on value streams Build-in quality Never pass a defect on to the next process Make problems visible Continuous improvement Relentlessly eliminate waste Embrace scientific problem solving Observe problems first-hand Cultural enablers Develop people Promote teamwork Lead with humility
  • 1. Deliver WOW Through Service
    2. Embrace and Drive Change
    3. Create Fun and a Little Weirdness
    4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
    5. Pursue Growth and Learning
    6. Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication
    7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
    8. Do More with Less
    9. Be Passionate and Determined
    10. Be Humble
  • 1. Cultivate humility and open-minded curiosity
    2. Align the team toward a shared long-term purpose
    3. Establish a secure, safe, stable, blame-free environment
    4. Respect individuals and teams, nurturing human potential
    5. Understand the purpose of your work, who you serve and what these people value
    6. Understand your processes scientifically and through direct observation
    7. Act with urgency to correct even the smallest faults or make the smallest improvements
    8. Connect people, information, materials, and processes to improve the overall system
    9. Build the consensus needed to execute with speed and certainty
    10. Share with the community what is good about your organization with passion
  • Respect for Individuals and Their Development Many organizations today subscribe to the belief that talent follows a normal distribution across a population, the bell curve. Some have adopted variations of the 20-60-20 approach—to promote and challenge the top 20 percent, keep the middle 60 percent, and move out or somehow manage the bottom 20 percent performers. There are pitfalls to this approach. First, unless it is growing and hiring aggressively, an organization must define the top 80 percent by continuously finding the bottom 20 percent to move out of the organization. Unless the organization is growing, it is difficult to provide opportunities for people to grow and develop with it, and the search for the bottom 20 percent becomes focused not on motivation and development but on punishment. Second, it is questionable whether organizations that practice this approach have the interest or skill to measure not only the results achieved by the 20-60-20 groups but also the process they followed, and failing to do this, they could be rewarding luck and randomness, not the actual growth of talent. Third, this approach creates a climate of fear that is incompatible with kaizen values. Toyota takes the responsibility to develop 100 percent of its talent rather than cut off the bottom 20 percent. This forces the organization to become better at developing people, better at finding the strengths of people, and better at rotating its people to roles in which they can succeed and contribute to the organization.

Creating a Kaizen Culture

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