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Jeff Liker

Dan Jones: Creating a Kaizen Culture

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Monday, July 26, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

In my experience a Kaizen culture is set by example, is enabled using a common method and language and is nurtured by recognising achievements, telling stories and building upon the resulting learning. In 1993 I was fortunate to be involved in creating what is still one of the best examples of a Kaizen culture at the Unipart Group of companies in the UK, who make and distribute automotive components. From the beginning the initiative has been led by the Chief Executive, who teaches regularly in the company university, reviews progress on the shop floor of their many operations and attends every one of their monthly recognition ceremonies. Quite simply if managers don’t have time for Kaizen then neither will their employees.

From the beginning Unipart found and developed lean experts from within the group who could teach and support all aspects of continuous improvement. They created and branded their Kaizen programme, which encouraged and facilitated continuous improvement across the group, using a common reporting methodology. The resulting success stories, both individual efforts to go the extra mile for the customer and team projects to redesign their work processes, were reviewed by management and presented at regular recognition ceremonies. Telling the winning stories at award ceremonies and on the group intranet profoundly changed expectations about “the way things a done round here” and were really appreciated by employees.

But perhaps the most significant result is that every improvement activity is entered into a group wide intranet database, searchable by topic in every work location. Over time this proved to be an invaluable resource base enabling anyone in their widely dispersed locations around the world to learn whether someone had already found a solution to this or a similar problem. It also shows who solved the problem, what tools they used and which internal experts taught them and how they went about solving it. It not only avoided reinventing the wheel again and again but brought focus and discipline to everyone’s Kaizen efforts.

All of this continued to deliver real savings year on year and allowed Unipart to win new business by distinguishing themselves from and delivering superior performance to their competitors. But it required sustained management attention to continually refresh the importance of the programme. Building a Kaizen culture has to be central to the way an organisation works, not something to do if or when you have the time.

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