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Role of Leadership in Implementing Kaizen

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Leadership’s Role in Change Management

What you will learn:

  • The importance of demonstrating commitment
  • Strategies for communicating about Kaizen
  • The need for consistent messaging
  • 3 strategies to help leaders implement Kaizen

Leadership plays a pivotal role in driving the change management required for a successful shift to a Kaizen culture and a rewarding continuous improvement program. Make sure your corporate leaders are embracing the three Cs — commitment, communication and consistency — to drive your cultural transformation.

Demonstrate commitment to Kaizen

To effectively drive change, there cannot be a question about leadership’s commitment to the new program. Individuals and teams will see leader’s lack of commitment as a reason to avoid changes in processes, discourage the investment of resources, or steer away from building new habits.

There are many ways that leaders can demonstrate this commitment. Some examples include:

  1. Spend time in the gemba, or real place where work is being done. Observe workflow and ask employees questions about processes. Listen for input on challenges or slowdowns.
  2. Be the one to stop a problem before it grows. Remind employees that problems are opportunities to improve and own the problem as a way to better serve customers.
  3. Make investments in training and tools that can support frontline workers in identifying improvements.
  4. Recognize improvement initiatives, and the people who led them. Celebrating improvements, lessons learned and next steps demonstrate that Kaizen is a never-ending commitment.

Of course, consistent messaging from leadership should support this commitment to continuous improvement.

Communicate across multiple channels

Change management is not an event, it is a process. Leaders must communicate often and continuously reinforce the messages of a Kaizen culture. At the beginning, this communication should describe what employees might expect from this change and how it can help them. Communication also should provide a transparent look into how leadership is acting upon continuous improvement suggestions. When an organization can demonstrate how the continuous improvement program is working, it can build excitement around the improvement process that leads to greater innovations.

Messages should be adapted for different audiences to ensure clarity and relevance for all target audiences across the organization. For example:

  • Make continuous improvement a part of monthly meetings or quarterly results discussions. You can use these platforms to give updates about your progress, initiatives and KPIs. Find allies among your managers who will encourage the participation of the full staff.
  • Share improvement results through newsletters, posted in public areas such as breakroom message boards or as talking points during employee appreciation events. Celebrating the victories is a great way to demonstrate the “why” behind your continuous improvement program.
  • When rolling out a process change, it’s often best to speak directly to the people who will be impacted by the change rather than rolling it out via email. Every change is likely to bring with it some concern. By speaking directly and openly with people, leaders give an opportunity to address worries before they spread.

Consistency is key

Kaizen may be about constant change, yet consistency is central to structuring an effective continuous improvement program.

It’s easy to feel the excitement of promised improvements in the early stages of a continuous improvement project, but that excitement can wan over time. It’s important to remember that continuous improvement doesn’t happen overnight. Change management needs to be a fabric of the corporate culture over the long term.

For example, in your messaging it is essential that the points are always consistent about the new culture, program, and responsibilities — even though the message must be adapted to different audiences. As the continuous improvement program is adopted, there should be ongoing, consistent reinforcement to everyone in the organization that keeps Kaizen front of mind.

3 Strategies to Help Leaders Implement Kaizen

To help leadership live the three Cs described above, it’s important that these team members themselves take time to understand the promise of this cultural change so they can spread this message effectively. Consider the following three strategies:

  1. Understand the relationship between the time required to fix broken processes and the time needed to improve them. Change won’t happen overnight. Set reasonable expectations for projects, and results.
  2. Invest your own personal time to grasp what is possible through Kaizen, down to the smallest level of detail. Let this in-depth understanding of possibilities help you drive your message throughout the workforce.
  3. Recognize and address incentives, measurements, and policies that will be affected by a more proactive approach to problem-solving.


Next Steps

How to Structure a Continuous Improvement Program

Communication in Kaizen Culture

What Real Leadership Commitment Looks Like

Six Qualities of Lean Leadership

Communicating Your Improvement Initiative

Building a Culture of Continuous Improvement in an Age of Disruption


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