I continue to see lot’s of discussion about what kaizen is and is not, so I’m going to cut to the chase here.
Kaizen is about one thing and one thing only: contribution. It is not Lean, it is not something you do in an orchestrated event or blitz, and it is not something you need a program for. If you need any of those things to do kaizen, then it is not kaizen.
Because a firm is a cooperative system, the key executive challenge is how to obtain cooperative effort from everyone to fulfill the organization’s purpose and objectives. On one level, cooperative effort is doing one’s job. All employees have a responsibility and obligation to do the work they are paid to do. But they also have a contributive responsibility – to contribute towards making the work go better and helping the firm to better fulfill its purpose and objectives. In many Western firms, the contributive responsibility of employees is not nurtured or encouraged by management.
There can be no kaizen without contribution because kaizen is contribution. The key task of management is to elicit sustained contribution from all employees – to define and communicate a purpose so compelling that employees will contribute beyond their mere job description towards fulfilling it. Purpose and communication are the antecedents of kaizen and no program or event can take their place.