While I already made the point that it is now more important than ever for leaders to be present, it is apparent that the crisis has also transformed the way we work – and, therefore, our work culture overall. During the COVOD-19 pandemic, there was no rulebook – many companies improvised in keeping their operations up and running in the most efficient and effective way. Now, after 15 months in mainly remote environments, we have realized that in many cases we will not return to the same culture that existed pre-pandemic.
Well-prepared for dealing with paradigm shifts
This is at least, what we are reading in many studies and articles these days. Is it really the case, though? We observe that – while the pandemic was truly unfortunate – a range of organizations seemed more prepared than others, able to react quickly, on a Continuous Improvement path. Let me raise the hypothesis that organizations that fully embrace KAIZEN™ Principles were generally more prepared to cope with such a significant incision in our daily work.
We hear this from many customers and partners – ranging from production companies to Kindergartens that we advised on how to react to deviations and working habits. Many of our customers basically just copied their physical visual management boards on virtual whiteboards – and were ready to continue in a remote work environment.
Ensuring development of everyone
So, what’s the magic behind the KAIZEN™ culture that appears so robust in times of crisis? In the Western context, Harvard researchers Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey in their book An Everyone Culture made a point for so-called Deliberately Developmental Organizations (DDOs) in which growth and development are not bought in selectively for individuals or teams from the outside, but the ongoing development of people becomes firmly interwoven into everyday work. Such organizations provide evidence that a tension between "business excellence" and personal fulfilment at work doesn’t need to exist. They show that individuals and organizations can flourish in learning and development mode – as long as development, and, with this, various ways of Continuous Improvement, are made key principles of organizational culture.
Belief in the system beyond implementing tools
While such DDOs are often taken as role model in New Work discussions, I would like to create a hypothesis that KAIZEN™ is a cultural system that has always included developmental principles: KAIZEN™ means ‘everyone, everywhere and every day improvements.’ This type of KAIZEN™ requires a belief in the system and goes far beyond the world of implementing tools: It is deeply inherent in all daily processes and goes far beyond the application of individual tools.
KAIZEN™ in our definition is a holistic culture that works from top to down and from bottom to top. This way, KAIZEN™ culture makes teams more autonomous in a way that they will be able to control their own way of working and monitor themselves. Let’s take the example of capabilities: Once a team standard is defined, then deviations can be noticed and countermeasures implemented by team members themselves, and better standards can be created – autonomous development is accelerated.
A system to build shared common sense
This bears, particularly in times of pandemic, great business opportunities for companies that are able to manage, sustain and improve over longer periods. This includes Daily KAIZEN™ practices – realizing a mission for the gemba team and then starting to understand waste, i.e. finding the easiest way to reach the mission. That’s where value is created – and based on reliable standards, teams can act highly autonomous.
Seen this way, KAIZEN™ culture is not something extraordinary – but rather a system that builds shared common sense. Everyone is involved in implementing improvements in their own work. This is quite the opposite from tool implementation – it’s applying the entire system in daily work that leads to growth and improvement over time.
Interested in reading why KAIZEN™ is a great philosophy to increase trust and transparency across post-pandemic organizations? Watch out for the next blog post to be published next week!
Click here to read the first blog post of this series