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The 6 States of Kaizen

Updated on December 17, 2016

Shitte imasu or Knowing

There comes a time in every business experience when there is a deep understanding that something is wrong with the process. For an auto plant manager, it may be that a defective gas line has reached the client. For a human resources manager, there may be an extremely high turnover rate. In government, a newspaper reporter may uncover waste or fraud at a local, state, or federal agency. In all of these instances, the "Shitte imasu" or knowing comes at a steep price.

From maintaining high customer satisfaction to increasing profits, flipping the experience by making the organization Kaizen or "change for the better" is necessary for organizational effectiveness. There are two sides to the business experience. There is the Zen or good experience that every businessman wants to maintain. There is the opposite experience which is a result of an internal imbalance within the organization.

However, just as the imbalance exists within the organization, the balance that resolves the problem exists, as well. For within Shitte imasu is the perfect understanding of the state of being that the executive wants the company to reach. Whether it is zero defects, 100 percent customer satisfaction, or high profit margins, executives know what they want.

Dasei or Habit

A defective gas line is a result of a variation in the process. The variation in the process has turned into a habit. The habit remains unchanged which results in poor quality that eventually reaches the client. The momentum caused by one variation is like a ripple affect, an inertia. Inertia is the resistance of a physical object to change in its state of motion. This includes changes of speed, direction or state of rest. Objects in inertia keep moving at constant velocity. Unless there is a counteracting force, the habit will continue. What represents a counteracting force in manufacturing? The resolution may be as simple as additional training for workers, equipment maintenance, or revisions to quality controls.

Invariably, high-turnover is a result of employee dissatisfaction. Understanding common threads of human experience is essential to implementing employee programs which show appreciation for the value the employee brings to the process. An employer-employee relationship is a human relationship. Though it may have its origin in business, the underlying dynamics are human interaction. Trust is the underlying factor which builds or tears down a relationship. Therefore, building trust is the most important element to creating loyalty among employees. Positive and encouraging words followed by actions begin a momentum or Dasei which creates long-term satisfaction for the employee and the employer.

In order to resolve the variation which creates the imbalance, one must reverse the momentum of the habit through planning.

Kei or Plan

Change for the better requires that an organization be in a state of constant planning. Kei or plan is a means of deep reflection on a company's direction and underlying philosophy. The totality of the organization's experiences is a result of all existing elements within the organization. This includes its people, processes, goals, and structure.

Being customer-focused from the Six Sigma methodology viewpoint is a focus on every person in the process. Six Sigma is a project management methodology developed at Motorola in 1986 which decreases defects and increases profit. In Six Sigma, every person from the customer service representative and the customer to the executive and the supplier is the customer. Every customer has a voice which means that everyone in the process is valued. Though a hierarchical structure may exist within the organization, every person has equal importance. The roles are different, but the value is the same.

Inclusive planning helps to bring each voice to the table to express satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the process. Hearing and implementing plans that address the voice of each "customer" creates a synergistic plan. When implemented, this plan increases opportunities for satisfaction for everyone in the process.

Kohyo or Review

Planning can only be successful with honest review and critical analysis of an organization's current state of being and the state of balance or zen which the organization seeks to reach. Businesses are made of humans who are imperfect. However, a process may be near perfect and produce near perfect results, if a company is not afraid to dig deep into the issues which cause variations.

Issues which cause problems, but executive are not aware of them are called "hidden factories" in Six Sigma. Other issues that are glaringly apparent are simply called problems. Both types of issues cause revenue leaks and overhead costs. In a Six Sigma problem statement, the problem should be measured quantitatively by identifying its severity and financial impact.

Often, problems within an organization are caused by qualitative issues that affect the company's quantitative results. Since attitude reflects leadership, executives must first look within themselves to determine whether they hold biases or faults which may filter down to influence employees and the business process.

Tracing each problem back to the root cause is tricky. Sometimes, deflection from one employee to another may cause the improper placing of credit for good work or blame for challenges. This occurs in highly competitive environments.

Suru or to do

The solution already exists for each business problem. A plan of implementation or Suru that has been designed with inclusive planning is the first step to achieving Zen or balance within an organization. To move one's business to a state of balance, an executive must perform deep analysis of the underlying problems that exist within the company. Reflecting on and correcting personal faults are one way to move the company forward. The organization is driven by the vision and character of the head executive.

Listening to all those who interact with the company by means of surveys, focus groups, and meetings gives one an opportunity to see the company through different eyes. By accepting your organization's imperfection, an executive opens the door for the possibility of perfection through change. Many little habits created from various points can create extensive, continuous lines of inertia that may only be offset with practical solutions created by the "customers" who are a part of the process. For it is only with honest reflection and genuine concern for everyone in the process that businesses take great leaps forward in process improvement.


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