By Joe Swartz
A few years ago, I discovered that our organization’s most prolific “Kaizeneer” (a person who does Kaizen) from the year before hadn’t yet completed a single Kaizen in the new year.
So, I approached her and said, “Thanks so much for your great contributions last year. I noticed that we hadn’t received any Kaizens from you this year and was wondering why.”
“I have a new manager and she doesn’t get it,” she said, shaking her head from side to side. “My old manager was very encouraging and supportive of my ideas. My new manager has said ‘no’ to my ideas.” She looked down and turned up her hands, “and so I simply stopped doing Kaizen.”
The leader’s role is critical to creating a culture of continuous improvement. Leaders can shut down employees wanting to do Kaizen. It only takes a few “no’s” and even the most motivated and engaged employee can shut down.
We coach our leaders to aim for a 90% or greater Kaizen implementation rate. Our pharmacy department, which is a tightly regulated area with inherent patient safety risks, has been able to achieve an 89% Kaizen implementation rate.
This doesn’t mean a supervisor or manager has to say yes to every “crazy” idea. This does mean that they should search for a kernel of good in each idea and work with the Kaizeneer to create something that can be implemented from every idea.
For example, an idea to build a parking garage shouldn’t be summarily dismissed. Instead, a supervisor can dialog with the Kaizeneer and understand what it is about a parking garage that they want. If they want to keep out of the rain, could the Kaizeneer test using an umbrella? If it is to keep ice or sun off of their car, could they test a car cover for their car? Each of these relatively inexpensive ideas, and many more, could be tested prior to going through the exercise of attempting to cost justify a new parking garage.
The goal of Kaizen is to develop employees by helping them identify creative ideas that they can implement and test themselves. Figuring out how to say yes to each and every idea not only avoids shutting down employees, but it can also creates energy and excitement and opens up the flow of more creative ideas.