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.