In a global and extremely competitive economic context, where companies compete with each other, it becomes of vital importance to focus on the continuous improvement of a number of elements: the quality of products and services, the increase in profitability, the bet on innovation, opening up to new markets and the reduction of waste.
This is the direction that every organization should be following internally in due time, in order to continue growing, regardless of instabilities that can arise from internal and external sources. But, the truth is, that only a few companies are able to follow this course.
Considering these are goals that every organization aims to achieve, why is it that only a number is able to accomplish them?
Top companies are considered as such because they implement processes of excellence in each part of the organization. Instead of expecting tangible results from the imposition of goals on teams that are on the ground, the first step to beginning a KAIZEN™ Lean transformation is applying a continuous improvement strategy with the management teams, in order to get total commitment and involvement from their part. Management teams of top companies do this and it is how they focus on problem solving and on supporting leadership teams and those working on the ground. This is accomplished by example. As a result of applying KAIZEN™ methods at this hierarchical level, teams show more clarity when strategically defining and implementing goals, which leads to more thoroughly selecting and establishing project priorities.
There are a set of attributes that differentiate a Lean leadership from a traditional leadership. Lean management teams look for global optimization through the reduction of waste; they believe in the potential of standards and view their employees as assets. When a problem arises, they stop everything to fix it, moving to the ground to observe with their own eyes. They bet on accurate planning, which results in fast and effective actions. They advocate that every person inside an organization, regardless of their place in terms of hierarchy, can solve problems.
As opposed to this, traditional management teams believe that standards stifle creativity; they make a habit of covering up problems and analyzing away from where the operation happens. This means that process analyzing happens at a distance, employees are viewed as costs and action on the ground is slow. For these management teams, specialists are the only ones capable of solving problems.
To benefit from a KAIZEN™ Lean transformation, organizations should work on three basic principles:
1. Top management commitment – there should be a strong and visible commitment, as well as direct participation in implementing the KAIZEN™ system and in instructing mid-level management to do the same;
2. Every employee should participate in the system;
3. Organizations should bet on a solid structure to create competent leaders and to supply contributors with the practical skills they need.
If these basic requirements are met, implementing a KAIZEN™ methodology in management teams is accomplished in 5 steps. They are as follows:
Level 0: Leaders’ KAIZEN™ Planning – The process starts with raising awareness for the importance of defining the role of management in KAIZEN™ culture. This is followed by the macro planning for implementation of the Leaders’ KAIZEN™ model.
Level 1: Visual Management – Defining the physical and/or virtual space that will support visual management, with the objective of improving communication and problem solving.
Level 2: Gemba Commitment – Recognizing the importance of the gemba, in order to improve efficiency. This is where the “go&see” logic should be applied, which means that executives should lead the change through frequent visits to the real work place. It is also important to stress with the mid-level management teams that success is depends on the active cooperation to promote change.
Level 3: Strategy Deployment – Improvement of the strategy deployment process contemplates defining goals and metrics. This deployment has to assure that the whole organization is aligned, in order to accomplish the strategic and business objectives.
Level 4: Strategy Improvement – At this level, the current strategies should be challenged, in order to improve their conception.