Communication in Kaizen Culture
10 minutes, 57 seconds read
Communication in Kaizen, and any successful business, is potentially the most critical element. It is essential when managing change, and therefore something that should be planned strategically and implemented thoughtfully when driving a Kaizen initiative. A solid communications plan and open communications can set the stage for success.
What you will learn
- How to set clear expectations for everyone involved in a Kaizen initiative
- How to train people to ensure their understanding of the program
- Timely communications is essential
- Communication to create and sustain a Kaizen culture
- The importance of consistent recognition
Clearly articulate mission and purpose
In the early days of Airbnb, CEO Brian Chesky used to interview all employee candidates to ensure one clear objective: He wanted to hire people who truly believed in the company mission and who fit within the company culture. He took the hiring process very seriously because, as he mentioned in the Stanford course How to Start a Startup, Chesky knew that company culture needs to be designed.
Founders must design the company mission and purpose and communicate it in a very clear way. The goal isn’t to check this off as a requirement that needs to be filled to present to VCs or customers. It is because these words will become what the company fights for and what drives the company’s fate. Moreover, creating a Kaizen culture starts with setting the right expectations, which in turn starts with sending the right message to all the people involved. So it’s essential that the company mission is being communicated clearly.
Create a safe space to fail
As you set out to succeed with any plan, you need to be prepared to fail. An important part of creating a Continuous Improvement culture is establishing an environment where people are able to experiment with new ways of doing things. This experimentation will come with a lot of failures. Communicate to your colleagues that they have the right to test their improvement ideas (in a safe manner) without the fear of potential failure. Let them know that you see failure as part of the process, and that every unsuccessful attempt provides a level of learning that sometimes is not achievable without experiencing failure along the way.
Make it safe to provide feedback
A healthy environment is one where people can feel safe, where they are not prejudiced against because of their mistakes. But it is also an environment where people can receive honest and useful feedback that will drive them to make their work more effective. Encourage feedback among all levels of the organization to improve people’s engagement with their work and quality of the work being done. Just make sure that this communication happens in the right place, time and manner. After all, no one likes to work with rude people.
How to propose ideas
It doesn’t matter how good your idea is, if you don’t present it in the right way you will not connect with anybody — and that’s exactly what you want to avoid when you are trying to implement any change. So how can you tell your idea in order to connect with people? Tell a good story.
We all love to hear good stories. Beginning in childhood, we find ourselves engaged by listening to and watching stories and this continues throughout our lives. In this context, a good story can provide context for your idea. It explains why, how and what you want to do with your idea in a simple and understandable way and connects those key points to the related story. You don’t have to compete with Shakespeare in order to tell good story; often the best stories came from unpretentious anecdotes or relatable situations that we all might have in common. So prepare your best storytelling tricks and get ready to communicate in a clear and engaging way. You can check this post for more strategies on effective storytelling.
How to be a coach and evaluate ideas
If you are in a position where you need to evaluate or coach improvement ideas, there are two potential pitfalls you may face: allowing through bad decisions and disengagement from your peers.
The most important consideration is that you want to avoid saying no to all the ideas that come your way. For those ideas that you truly believe don’t add value, consider asking the person suggesting the idea, “How could you prove or experiment that?” This prompt might encourage them to dig deeper toward an idea that could work.
In this capacity you also need to promote the creation of new ideas and experiments. People who think they have no good ideas to suggest might find they just need a prompt to start brainstorming. By asking questions like “what is the process that you hate the most?” or “what would you do different in your work?” you can get people to start thinking and generating fresh ideas that could be beneficial for improvement efforts.
How to recognize and reward
As psychologist Abraham Maslow taught, recognition is an essential part of life. We may like different kinds of rewards, but we need recompense in order to motivate ourselves and to feel good.
The best rewards are those related to the people we love and memorable experiences, so whenever you are giving rewards try to involve the family and friends of the recognized person. Perhaps you can invite them to a gathering to celebrate. You might also try to reward with experiences; experiences are never outdated and can impart important lessons upon the person experiencing it. Some examples include art performances, movie tickets, trips or spa sessions.
Remember that the reward does not always have to have an economic expense associated. Sometimes the best rewards are just letting people know that you appreciate their work on a constant basis.
Consistent and predictable
In ancient Roman times, the emperors had a servant dedicated to repeat in victory ceremonies the phrase “memento mori“, a reminder that they will die. It was a constant repetition that the servants said in order to maintain the emperor back on Earth. While this might seem foreign today, we still have the need to remember important messages or mottos that we want people to understand in the clearest possible way. In order to achieve that we need consistent and predictable messages that can provide people with clear understanding of what we are trying to say. You can remind your subject with emails, small Kaizen gatherings or even in some of the already scheduled meeting that you have in frequent basis with your team. Of course, you know your team best and can determine the best approach for reminding them of your message.
Build trust as a leader by listening and following through on people’s ideas
Another important part of ensuring a Kaizen culture is to listen and take action on everyone’s ideas. If you want to promote the proliferation of new ideas, you need to commit to the work that will need to be done, and this starts with listening to what other people think to understand their thoughts and feelings. It’s important to listen carefully and seriously because innovation happens when everybody can promote their ideas and experiments. Moreover, it’s part of the respect that we all deserve. From here you can build upon these ideas with trackable action that is visible to all parties involved. Create a system where you can follow up with all of these improvement ideas.
Communicating to sustain a Kaizen culture
Say what is important
Steve Jobs once said that you need “bumping up against each other, having arguments, having fights sometimes, making some noise” to polish ideas and create great products. Whether or not we have the same abilities that Steve Jobs had, we do all have the ability to speak up in a respectable and articulate fashion for the things that are important. Be sure to communicate the things that are important to your team and talk with people to let them know that they can do this too. You will gain a lot of insight and this will establish an environment where people can flourish because they are able to express their concerns.
Check for understanding of the message
Communication is key to implementing a Continuous Improvement culture. Before you send any message, double-check the message to ensure that you are going straight to the point that you want to transmit. Then check with your people to see if the message was received in the way that you intended. You can ask questions like:
- “What do you get from this?”
- “What do you think can be improved?”
- “What would you like to add to achieve our current goals?”
Get as much feedback as possible as this will give you a broad perspective of the interpretation of your message.
Check for an emotional connection to the message
As Simon Sinek mentioned in his famous TED Talk, to connect and create an emotional tie with people you need to start by explaining why are you doing whatever you are doing. Explaining your purpose or belief can make a big difference in creating an emotional connection with people and therefore creating the motivation they need in order to drive change for the better.
One of the common mistakes that people make when they are trying to communicate any message is to create a very well-crafted message with specific tasks and technical details that may be great for a robot to execute but awful for a human being to understand. In order to make an impact with your message upon your people, you need to start with the purpose of your message. Then explain how you want to achieve it and finally move on to the actual work that you are doing. Most people start this backward and so do not get the emotional connection needed in order to get things done.
Adjust how the message is delivered if there is a gap
In these times we are fortunate enough to have multiple tools that can give us access to communicate with people in almost every imaginable way. If you are seeing some gaps in the message that you are communicating, use all the tools that you think may be beneficial with this. Take in consideration the age, trends, accessibility and so on of your target audience. Sometimes it may be necessary to use a new trendy social app, other times it will be enough to use a traditional call or a simple “go to your desk and ask.”
Be sure to not overwhelm people with different tools and messages. With abundance comes a lot of noise, so the best thing that you can do is to commit to one tool and maintain the least number of channels possible.
Fine-tune and adjust the message over time
In Rever we have a saying: “This is the best way we know to execute, until we find a better way.” Change is part of every evolution, so be prepared to quickly adjust your message over time. This way you will make sure that your purpose is under constant questioning and remains relevant to your efforts. Also make sure that the feedback gathered from all stakeholders gets into any new message that you send.
We have talked about the importance of recognition and about how this can be done, but it’s also important to mention that maintaining a fertile ground for new ideas depends upon a habit of recognizing people for their work. Most of the improvement efforts in which we participate need a well-made strategy and execution, but also a lot of motivation. In fact, one of the things that we have learned from our experience in the field is that most improvement efforts fail because of the lack of motivation from the people involved. A constructive way of keeping your team motivated is through consistent recognition that keeps them aware of the importance of their work and also gives them insight into the expectations they need to fill in to gain acknowledgment from the company.
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