Leadership Development: Implementing Kaizen


One of the core leadership management principles taught at business school is the Japanese culture of continual improvement, kaizen.

Used primarily in management, manufacturing and business processes, kaizen is a reliable practise that can be applied broadly across a multitude of industries. From problem solving to personal development, kaizen is widely adopted in business leadership training as corporate coaches aim to improve the performance of leaders.

Whilst the concept of kaizen is fairly straightforward, implementation requires a considered approach in order to use the principle effectively.

As the process is based upon continuity, management is continually involved in planning, refining, acting and implementing change, which quite literally goes full circle.

This is often referred to as PDCA: Plan, Do, Check, Act. This cycle of activity can be summarised as follows:

  1. Standardise an operation
  2. Measure the activity
  3. Weigh measurements against requirements
  4. Innovate (change) to meet requirements
  5. Standardise the new, improved operation

Kaizen is considered to be the key to Japan’s competitive success in recent decades, particularly in the automotive and manufacturing industries that the country is renowned for.

Leadership and management development adopts a kaizen strategy as corporate coaches can apply the principle to their own business. In order to fully understand the practices of a leadership coach, there are five key areas or ‘elements’ to be appreciated:

  • Management Teamwork
  • Increased Labour Responsibilities
  • Quality Circles
  • Management Suggestions for Labour Improvement
  • Increased Management Morale

The elements outlined above are literal activities in which an individual can follow and measure against performance, primarily to improve his or her business and implement the kaizen process to all levels of responsibility.

Whilst modifying a process can seem a daunting task at face value, looking at business processes objectively allows a manager or owner to critically review and measure ongoing performance. This is not too dissimilar from the golden rule of marketing – do not actively engage in marketing activity unless it can be measured or benchmarked to review performance.

Taking this golden rule and applying it across your entire business will allow you to set SMART objectives:

Specific – get to the point, include numbers and/or metrics

Measurable – X versus Y is better than X versus a hunch

Achievable – make sure you can physically meet your goals

Realistic – draw a best, worst and average scenario

Time Based – deadlines ensure you implement plan(s)

SMART objectives coupled with the principles of kaizen will lay solid foundations for your business and ensure you are prepared for change.


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