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The old, outdated, and ineffective suggestion box model was focused on somebody (or some committee) simply saying yes or no to suggestions.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.