Business transformation, disruption and the power of continuous improvement

Toyota uses a philosophy known as “kaizen,” or continuous improvement, to guide its growth and development. This is an intriguing idea that has captivated our attention.

Continuous improvement, as the name suggests, is an ongoing process where an organization fine tunes and tweaks its operations to incrementally increase performance. The core of this philosophy is quickly prototyping, testing and implementing new ideas.

As opposed to shoehorning large changes overnight, kaizen strives for small solutions that can be scaled up quickly. It helps ensure an organization stays nimble and doesn’t get mired in transformation and change initiatives.

That being said, the trick with continuous improvement is processing large change and disruptions. Kaizen can be a double edged sword: even though it can decompose large changes into small, digestible chunks, it also risks losing sight of the big picture by focusing on local matters.

Therefore we must not lose sight of the big picture. That’s where our leaders come in.

They have distance from the daily nitty-gritty to evaluate the strategic shifts that result from a sea of small changes. From their vantage point, they can inform the rest of the organization about breakdowns.

When we’re present to the big picture and working continuously and consistently to reach it, kaizen comes into its own. Take for example, the frenzied pace of technological change. Adapting to such change is a must for any organization hoping to survive, never mind succeed.

But no matter how hungry you are for change, it’s physically impossible to assimilate every new technology and tool all at once. Here the incremental model can help cope with the volume of change. You integrate changes piecemeal as you build toward a critical mass of local changes.

One of this model’s strengths is that it’s the front line employees who drive change. That is, the people closest to the problems and challenges your business faces. That’s not to say there’s no role for management, thought leaders and consultants, but front line staff can provide extremely valuable insight into a problem.

And by involving them in creating a solution, you empower your staff with responsibility and control over their circumstances. They don’t feel at the whim of inscrutable business processes and faceless managers.

Instead they become masters of their own destiny and look forward to coming to work because they get to solve problems. That’s what the power of continuous improvement can look like.

How do you approach change and business transformation? Drop a comment below.