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What is Kaizen?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 16, 2024
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In business management, kaizen is a Japanese tradition which is now used internationally, modified by each culture to best suit their own business environments. A literal translation of the term is "to become good through change". At its most basic the concept of kaizen is one of restructuring and organizing every aspect of a system to ensure it remains at peak efficiency.

Kaizen is founded upon five primary elements:

  • Quality Circles: Groups which meet to discuss quality levels concerning all aspects of a company's running.

  • Improved Morale: Strong morale amongst the workforce is a crucial step to achieving long-term efficiency and productivity, and kaizen sets it as a foundational task to keep constant contact with employee morale.

  • Teamwork: A strong company is a company that pulls together every step of the way. Kaizen aims to help employees and management look at themselves as members of a team, rather than competitors.

  • Personal Discipline: A team cannot succeed without each member of the team being strong in themselves. A commitment to personal discipline by each employee ensures that the team will remain strong.

  • Suggestions for Improvement: By requesting feedback from each member of the team, the management ensures that all problems are looked at and addressed before they become significant.

In addition to the foundations, a number of principles exist in kaizen. These include standardizing as many aspects of the corporation as is possible, removing all inefficiency, and the five rules for a good environment:

  • Cleanliness (Seiso)
  • Clean-Up Time (Seiketsu)
  • Orderliness (Seiton)
  • Tidiness (Seiri)
  • Discipline (Shitsuke)

While many Western models to increase business productivity look at radical shifts to create drastic changes and immediate improvements, kaizen takes a continuous, long-term approach to improvement. It views business productivity as a continually unfolding process. The emphasis, therefore, is on the constant bettering not only of one's relation to the workplace, but of oneself as a person.

This emphasis makes companies utilizing the approach much more oriented towards the well-being of their employees, with a more people-centric view by management. Unlike many Western management techniques, which treat employees as numbers to be crunched for maximum efficiency, kaizen takes the opposite outlook, proposing essentially that a happy employee is a productive employee.

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Discussion Comments
By bjnathvani — On Apr 15, 2014

What is the full name with the meaning of keizen?

By anon330225 — On Apr 15, 2013

On paper it sounds good but, it truly only has specific applications. Business is a blanket term that is used to cover far too great of a span.

In industry, only one aspect truly has any foothold and that's keeping the place clean. Everything else, there is no time for. When you have testing that needs to be carried out in a specific time in a specific way there is no time to sit in a circle and talk about how you feel about each other, that's just fluff. Time is money and if you are not effective, you are removed.

By anon301495 — On Nov 04, 2012

Baby steps, baby steps. With shrinking labor numbers in many areas I suggest that the "velvet glove" with employees will cost less in turnover for increased productivity per the long term. As per "union," buy the top out.

By anon238787 — On Jan 05, 2012

I know that Porsche of North America insists on a complete understanding of the Kaizen Model to be considered for employment. That is why I looked up the definition.

By watson42 — On Nov 06, 2010

Kaizen sounds to me like the argument made by union workers in western countries since the industrial revolution, that better treatment leaders to better productivity. In this case, seeing the workplace as more of a home leads to more positive things getting done in the workplace. While I know next to nothing about business, it sounds good to me.

By anon8015 — On Feb 06, 2008

what specific examples can you give that demonstrate an application of the kaizen approach to managing organizations?

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