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Kaizen – the base for continuous improvement

Cape Cod SCORE

Question: As a small-business owner, can I apply the concepts of Kaizen to my business?

Answer: Every year end, we sit down to assess where we have been, examine results and determine where we want to be at the end of the next plan period.

During this pandemic period, that might mean three months or six months but not 12 months from now. We often make goals that are a stretch, but now we might think about smaller more manageable goals that focus on sustainability. One approach to managing your enterprise is the Japanese concept of Kaizen, which focuses on quality and making adjustments and change for the good of the business.

The base concept of Kaizen is continuous improvement.

Developed by Masaaki Imai, who offered training courses in continuous improvement after World War II. It takes the power of the individual as a member of a team for the organization to build one success upon another.

It is not only an approach applied to a business, but it is a plan for action. It involves asking how we can improve our processes at all levels of the enterprise. It is based in planning, whether it be a business plan, a marketing plan or a strategic plan for longer-term growth. This approach to managing is based in personal responsibility to improve individual processes and eliminate waste.

According to Kanbanchi.com there are 10 principles of Kaizen that small-business owners can adopt to manage their enterprises more effectively and efficiently.

Never stop improving. You should never be complacent with the status quo. Always look for ways to improve how you do what you do. Whether it be how you handle quotes and proposals, how you respond to customer contacts, or how you execute the delivery of an order, you need to review the process continuously to improve it.

Eliminate old practices. Because you did something today the same way you did it yesterday doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider finding a better way.

If your voicemail message is “Thanks for calling. I’ll call you back ASAP,” why not ask yourself if you will get more business if you change your message to, “Thanks for calling, I’ll return the call within 24 hours” and then do it. You also have to be aware of the environment around you and change to meet the changes that confront you.

Be proactive. It is one thing to plan for change. Another thing to make the modification in practice to address a specific environmental change. Hesitation in changing because it is new or different is not the answer. Being proactive means acting now and not waiting for the situation to force you to change direction or approach.

Don’t assume. Anyone who served in the Armed Forces remembers the drill sergeant’s definition of assumption— the foundation of all screw-ups.

Don’t assume that the changes you make will work. Be prepared to adjust the adjustment. Many times you will read about how someone else addressed a situation and then you try it. It may not work for you for any number of reasons. Always challenge whether your modifications are working. If they aren’t, don’t be afraid to change again.

Make corrections. Part of the process of change and continuous improvement is to try it and then adjust if necessary.

There is nothing negative about a failure or misstep as long as you learn from it and make adjustments going forward.

Remember why. Kaizen focuses on why, just as Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle does. Always ask why before deciding to do anything, especially if it is contrary to your plan. Why before

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what and before how. If you can answer why, then you have justification for the decision.

Talk it out. Before making a decision that affects your team, get their input. Talk to others who are not so closely aligned with your mission, your work and the issues facing your business to get objective input. Then decide. Then ACT.

Kaizen avoids procrastination.

One of the most serious detractors to continuous improvement is procrastination. It may be caused by the feeling that change is just too hard, so avoid it. It may be that the actions you plan are just too big and are fearful of the impact on your team. The key is to make change manageable. Breakdown the changes into small chunks so they don’t seem so formidable. Keep your focus on the small changes that will eventually make the big change you need, want or desire.

Never stop improving. We started with this thought and will end with it. Your best approach to managing your enterprise is to never stop trying to make it better. Never stop continuous improvement. It may mean change and change is uncomfortable, but that is the only way you can test whether you are getting the most out of every ounce of productivity.

Kaizen starts with having a plan.

Continuous improvement starts with having a business plan. If you don’t have one try the one at strategizer.com, the Business Model Canvas. It is a one-page plan that can serve as a total business plan (without competitive analysis or financial statements) or as a change plan to address continuous improvement. The plan includes having long-term goals and SMART objectives (specific, measurable, assignable, relevant and time-based) as well as a vision for the future of your enterprise.

Contributed by Marc L. Goldberg, certified mentor. Sourced from developgoodhabits.com. For free and confidential mentoring, contact SCORE Cape Cod & the Islands for an appointment with a certified mentor or subject matter expert. Now offering advisory teams for the in-business client who does not have a board as a sounding board. Reach out at capecod.score.org, capecodscore@ verizon.net or 508-775-4884. We go where you are!

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