Kaizen Tips

Lean as a Philosophy

It’s very common for people to describe Lean as a toolbox or a set of tools. Yes, tools are helpful… but as I blogged about recently, Toyota leaders would tell you the philosophy is the most important thing.

That philosophy starts with:

  1. Customer first; provide customers with what they want, when they want it, and in the amount they want it
  2. People are the most valuable resource; Deeply respect, engage, and develop people
  3. Continuous improvement (kaizen); Engage everyone each and every day
  4. Shop floor (gemba) focus: Go to where the work is done to find and solve problems

Organizations that try to use Lean tools (or the mechanics of Kaizen) won’t get very far without the right philosophy. Are your improvement efforts focused on the needs of customers or patients? Franciscan St. Francis Health has increased patient/family satisfaction scores to the 99th percentile through the practice of Kaizen. These concepts all go hand in hand. They respect employees as their most important resource. Managers get out of their office to “the gemba” to work with employees to continuously improve… to create a better workplace AND to improve patient care.

Has your organization been working to adopt this philosophy?

Kaizen Tips

Kaizen: Don’t Do It All Yourself!

Kaizen- Everybody ParticipatesWithout an effective Kaizen methodology in place, what normally happens when an employee has an idea?

“I send an email to my manager.”

“I write up a list of ideas and put it under the director’s door.”

What usually happens next?

“I never hear anything back” (that’s a big problem)

“My manager takes care of it for me” (that’s a problem too)

We can’t let employee ideas fall into a black hole (that’s a major problem with suggestion box systems, too).

The other thing that doesn’t work is letting employee ideas become a “to-do list” for the manager. Managers might think they are being “servant leaders,” but doing everything for your employees probably isn’t the best definition of servant leadership.

If you have 20 employees and they each give you an idea or suggestion… the manager, as the sole implementer, becomes quite the bottleneck! This isn’t the manager’s fault. They have limited time. They can only do so much. Plus, they don’t understand the employee’s situation as well as the employee does.

What needs to happen, instead, is for the manager to be a delegator, coach, and facilitator. When 20 employees have an idea, I’d bet that 18 of those can be investigated or tested by the employee (alone or with some of their peers). There are SOME cases when a manager NEEDS to help or to escalate an issue. But, a Kaizen system can’t breed or reinforce over dependence on the manager.

Managers need to trust their employees and let them take action… but also need to be there to help or give input as needed. You’re not leaving the employees alone on an island… and you’re not doing it all yourself.

That’s the balance we need to strike in an effective Kaizen system.

Come see how this works, first hand, by participating in our “Kaizen Live!” experience at Franciscan St. Francis Health in April, 2016.

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 10.12.18 AM

Kaizen Tips Uncategorized

Kaizen Tip: A New Lifestyle, Not a Short-Term Resolution

Happy New Year 2016It’s a new year, which is a time for reflection. Many people make resolutions about what they plan to do differently in the new year.

People often talk about personal resolutions, such as getting healthier and losing weight. A vast majority of these resolutions fail to take root – they’re not sustained. Supposedly, only 8% of resolutions succeed. 40% of us make such resolutions… and most of us fail… every single year.

What are your professional resolutions?

To engage everybody in Lean and continuous improvement? To engage more people?

To be a better listener?

To not jump to solutions? To not tell others what to do instead of letting them think?

“We’re going to be more Lean in 2016.”

Making resolutions is easy… keeping them proves to be difficult. There’s a reason that gyms are so busy in January… but by March, not as much.

How do you plan on making your resolution a sustainable change??

Don’t think of Lean, Kaizen, or continuous improvement practices as a program. Think of them as a new lifestyle. Lean is not a crash diet. A culture of continuous improvement is not achieved through a week or a month of intense effort.

We need new habits. We probably need somebody to hold us accountable if they see us slipping back into old ways. We might need constant reminders about our new behaviors and practices.

It’s a bit ironic, perhaps, when we think about the word “diet” (and we usually think “unsustainable”). The Greek word “diatia” means “way of life” or “regimen.” That’s how we should view Lean and Kaizen, as a way of life.

I’ve helped teach people about Kaizen and continuous improvement. I always emphasize that it’s about building new daily habits. This requires not just education, but coaching and support. When I helped lead a tour of Japan in 2014, I taught a 3-hour workshop on Kaizen. One of the hospitals, from Indonesia, brought these Kaizen practices back to their organization and they report saving $7 million (USD equivalent) during 2015 using Kaizen (and that’s in addition to other things that are harder to measure, like safety and quality). Organizations that I’ve helped with a “Kaizen Kickoff” have turned a two- or three-day kickstart workshop into daily continuous improvement that sustains and spreads (like this hospital in Iowa).

I hope your plans for 2016 include more engagement, more improvement, better quality, and outstanding performance. What are your tips and lessons learned from 2015? What are your goals and challenges for 2016? Please reply to this email to let me know… and let me know if I can help in some way. Happy New Year!

Kaizen Tips

Kaizen Tip: Give Thanks

When talking about engaging every employee in continuous improvement (or “Kaizen“), the question of rewards or incentives often comes up. For example, if an employee has an idea that saves $30,000 a year when implemented, isn’t it fair to share some of the savings with the employee? Should we give a reward for every implemented idea, regardless of it’s value?

Many talk about “rewards and recognition” — putting most of the emphasis on the “rewards” side of the equation. Rewards and incentives sometimes lead to more participation, but often get dysfunctional.

The part that’s too often overlooked is the “recognition” side. Employees participate in Kaizen because they’re self motivated to make things better for their patients or to make their own work less frustrating. Sure, cost savings might follow, but that’s not always the point.

In this American week of Thanksgiving, it’s important to remember the power of giving thanks to employees who participate in our Kaizen process.

You can thank them individually, with a handshake and a smile.

You can thank them in front of their colleagues, with sincere praise for their participation and efforts.

An executive can thank them in front of a larger health system gathering (or in a hospital newsletter).

There are many ways we can give thanks.

We’re giving thanks for employees being willing to speak up and we should also give thanks to the leaders who helped create the culture of continuous improvement that made it easier for people to speak up and give action.

Employees don’t need big incentives or rewards when their leaders and colleagues thank them and give recognition.

See this video that shows the power of intrinsic motivation and joy in improvement:

What are you doing to give thanks to people for their role in continuous improvement?

Kaizen Tips

Kaizen Tip: It’s Not a “Yes or No” Discussion

Last week, I facilitated a half-day workshop on “Kaizen Coaching” for people from different organizations who already had experience with continuous improvement. Let me know if you’d like me to facilitate a similar workshop for you, or a more basic “Kaizen 101” experience.

When you coach people, you have to know their baseline understanding and starting point. This is harder to do in a group workshop setting, compared to coaching individuals.

When I asked attendees to share their ‘ah-ha’ moments or key learnings at the end of the day, one leader said:

“I never realized the importance of working toward something to implement and coaching the employee ideas. We’ve been too focused on just accepting or rejecting ideas and then quickly assigning them to the right people.”

It surprised me a bit that they didn’t realize this already before the workshop. But, that’s why we teach and coach.

The old, outdated, and ineffective suggestion box model was focused on somebody (or some committee) simply saying yes or no to suggestions. As Norm Bodek says, there’s a ‘u’ in the word suggestion, meaning YOU should do something.

In Kaizen process, there’s an ‘i,’ meaning every individual can participate in improvement. The local team, more often than not, evaluates their ideas. They decide if they should TEST the idea in a small way, rather than some far-off committee or executive team magically knowing if something is a good idea or not. Not everything needs to be escalated to the executives.

If a manager or local team says “no” to an idea, we need to then as “what problem or opportunity was identified?” If we say no to the original idea, we have an obligation to keep brainstorming or discussing different ways we could:

  1. Solve the problem
  2. At least make things a little bit better

When we say “no” to people’s ideas, they disengage.

When we say “no, but let’s find something we can implement,” people stay engaged and we make progress toward our goals of a culture of continuous improvement, which leads to better performance.

Remember, Kaizen is not a “yes or no” exercise. We have to coach people and work with them to find something we can implement and improve.

Kaizen Tips

Questions That Aren’t Really Questions

Click the image below to read this post from Mark Graban’s

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 8.25.44 AM


Kaizen Tips

Kaizen Coaching: Don’t Give People Answers, Let Them Learn

Click the image to see this post on Mark Graban’s

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 8.16.46 AM

Kaizen Tips

Where do we hang our Kaizen Board?

In this space, I’ve been sharing a Kaizen tip each month. This month, I’ll address a question that gets asked a lot — where do we hang our Kaizen Board (aka Visual Idea Board)?

One easy answer is that the board should be hung in a location that your staff or team members will walk past frequently. If the board is out of sight, it will more likely be out of mind. Make sure the board is highly visible, as that will encourage more ideas and more improvement.

People often wonder whether the board can be in a public place or if it should be kept private. My personal preference is that it’s OK to hang the board in a hallway that patients and visitors can see. Most Kaizen improvements are not anything to be embarrassed about. The board can be framed in a very positive light that shows that the hospital and its staff are continually working to make things better. Anybody who has stayed in the hospital knows there are problems and things that go wrong… you’re not really hiding that from anybody. So why hide the improvement efforts?

That said, some organizations just aren’t comfortable with that level of transparency – about their improvement work or their performance measures. Kaizen boards (or other “huddle boards”) are often kept in a break room or a meeting room. Either way, make sure it’s in a highly trafficked area for staff, not a far off corner that’s never visited.

Of course, some organizations are using electronic solutions (likeKaiNexus) instead of physical boards.

Kaizen Tips

Picking on the PICK Chart – Do we Need to Prioritize and Kibosh Ideas?

In this space, I’ve been sharing a Kaizen tip each month. This month, the tip is to not get hung up on prioritizing and sorting your team’s improvement ideas… if you spread out the workload and get creative, you can get far more ideas implemented.

In my recent blog post, I explained a commonly used method – the “PICK” chart. The assumption is that we have a lot of employee ideas, but we have limited resources to implement them. Therefore, we must prioritize and there’s another assumption – that we can only implement SOME of our ideas.

In a Kaizen culture, data shows that organizations (including in healthcare) can implement 80 to 90% of the submitted ideas (or some version of an idea that might change through collaborative discussion).

One reason we have to prioritize is because the manager is a bottleneck in improvement. There’s another assumption that says the manager has to do everything or be involved deeply in each Kaizen. That’s not always true. Or, the bottleneck has shifted to a key staff member or a Kaizen specialist. Kaizen is for everybody! If we spread out the workload, we don’t have as many bottlenecks and we can focus on testing and evaluating ideas through the implementation cycle instead of just talking and prioritizing.

There’s another assumption that’s bake into PICK charts… some ideas are deemed “high difficulty” so they might be called a Challenge or they might be Kiboshed. Instead of just giving up and parking those ideas forever, leaders in a Kaizen culture will collaborate with their team members to find easier and simpler things to implement. These simpler ideas might not fix the problem completely, but it’s better to have a little improvement instead of none at all.

Click the link below to read the entire post:

Picking on the PICK Chart

Kaizen Tips

The Important Role of Leaders and Their Behaviors

In this space, I’ve been sharing a Kaizen tip each month. This month, the tip is to practice the 25 behaviors that I shared, with Dr. Greg Jacobson, in this webinar that was held last week:

Click the link below to view the recorded webinar, to view the slides, and to download a free eBook version of the webinar:

Leadership Behaviors that Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Let me know what you think about that list of behaviors by leaving a comment below.