I’m crazy for Kaizen

I love Kaizen. Everyone loves Kaizen. That only leaves one question — what the heck is Kaizen?

Is Kaizen that hot new word game where you have to see how many words you can make using only six letters of the Mongolian alphabet? Is it an ancient martial arts discipline in which you train mind and body to face danger and then run like hell? Or is it the antidote to KonMari in which you take all the stuff Marie Kondo made you put in the dumpster, bring it back and then buy more?

Kaizen is a global management philosophy that seeks to improve performance through incremental change. Rather than wait for the big breakthrough, those who practice Kaizen believe “small, incremental changes are easier to implement than large, radical changes but they can have powerful cumulative results.”

Or so says Lisa Michaels in her article about the subject on The Job Network website.

While Kaizen was originally — and, one assumes, incrementally — developed for the factory floor, there’s no reason why you can’t put its principles to work in your executive cubicle or personal home.

If your spouse finds you dozing on the couch instead of steam-cleaning the dogs, as you promised to do, simply explain that you are utilizing Kaizen methods to incrementally implement the task, which, at this pace, should be completed in 2023.

Or maybe you should keep Kaizen in the workplace.

“Embrace incremental change” is one of the underlying principles of Kaizen. Don’t wait for an earthshaking breakthrough that revolutionizes your job 100% but challenge yourself to find “one percent improvement each day.”

Since you accomplish so little, calculating that 1% may require 10% extra effort. That’s why I prefer to think in terms of one-minute improvements. Say you came into work one minute later every day. No one will notice a minute here or there, and since there are 480 minutes in an 8-hour workday, that means in a skosh more than a year, you will be working exactly 11 minutes a day. Now that’s a real improvement!

You can make your teeny-weeny improvements on your own, but the true Kaizenista wants you to “seek feedback.” But “not all feedback is helpful,” Michaels points out, so you must “learn to evaluate and filter information.”

I agree. Evaluate and filter your manager’s helpful feedback — “You’re an idiot!” — and you will definitely know you are loved.

Eliminating waste is another critical step in the Kaizen process, since it “gives you the resources to create one percent improvement each day.”

Kaizenians believe that eliminating defective products is an important step in the process. Another potential waste area is “Extra Processing (includes higher quality than necessary processing).” On the factory floor, they may be processing metals or cottage cheese, but when it comes to knowledge workers, like you, the obvious process you need to cut is thinking. You don’t do a lot of thinking and not much of it is high quality but think how your job would be improved if you gave up thinking altogether.

You’re not a machine, but with a little dab of Kaizen magic, you could become one.

“Unnecessary Employee Movement” is another prime area for elimination. Moving your fingers all over your computer keyboard is totally unnecessary. There are only two letters you need: “N” and “O.” Use them as frequently as possible and watch your work life improve.

The ultimate goal of Kaizen is to create “a recipe using the fewest number of steps and ingredients to achieve the best results.” By identifying and implementing those 1% solutions, you will, over time, create a recipe worthy of Martha Stewart. In fact, you can jump-start the entire process and create a recipe all your own. Doesn’t this sound yummy:

1. Come to work.

2. Hang up your coat.

3. Sit down at your desk.

4. Get up from your desk.

5. Put on your coat

6. Leave work.

Give exactly one minute to each step and you’ll experience a dynamic, productive and Kaizen-approved workday. And you did it all in six minutes! (Assuming you can remember where you hung up your coat.)

Continue until your manager makes her own 1% improvement and fires your Kaizenian butt.

This could leave a very large hole in the work-history section of your resume, but if future employers want proof of your commitment to Kaizen, simply explain how you successfully eliminated your company’s most defective product — you.


Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California.


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