KaizenTips for Lean Managers

Kaizen Events Build Buy-in

By Jon Miller Published on July 13th, 2004

During a dinner meeting I had the chance to exchange views on the progress of the Lean effort at a client company with the President. They are early in the process, having trained all employees and having done two kaizens and are on their third. I felt things were progressing well both in terms of results and workforce involvement.
The President of the company was concerned that some of the team members were much less engaged during the kaizen than the others. While none of them were disruptive or resistant, they just weren’t as enthusiastic or involved. Should we continue to include people who are not as eager, and limit it only to the aggressive participants?
My recommendation was, and has always been that it’s important to involve those who may not be as engaged during the week, for several reasons.
First, if you only involve the “early adopters” you take the risk of charging ahead with enthusiasm only, without some of the critical thinking of the naysayers and those who know “why it won’t work”. The people standing by and watching may have some very valid concerns.
Second, even if some team members don’t take a leading role they need to be involved the kaizen process so they have a chance to give input and understand the process that was used to make decisions during the kaizen. They are given a chance, a voice, and educated in the team decision making process of kaizen.
Third, sometimes it takes people longer to understand, accept, or learn how to apply what they are seeing during a kaizen. Repeated exposure may be necessary. We have found that people who may take longer to “get it” often have a deeper understanding. It’s a matter of a different learning style.
The key thing is to keep team members from being bored during the kaizen week. This is less a matter of whether a team members is aggressive or passive and more a matter of having a team size that is right for the scope of the kaizen, and having effective facilitators or kaizen team leaders that can keep team members busy making improvements.
At least in the early stages, include team members who may seem disinterested and use the opportunity to build buy in for the process and the changes.

  1. Noel

    September 14, 2004 - 12:50 am

    The like the idea of involving those people who are not very eager to participate kaizen.
    But in my experience, there are lots of kaizen teams that just died. Lack of team enthusiam could be one of the factors.
    Can you give me a tips or possibly steps on how to implement an enthusiastic team in the factor. Your tips should include the role of the management,team leader and members.
    Your reply is highly appreciated.

  2. Jon Miller

    September 21, 2004 - 8:59 pm

    Dear Noel,
    Thanks for your question about kaizen teams. Based on my understanding of your message here is what I recommend.
    For kaizen to be successful, everyone must be involved. Naturally, some people will not want to change, so this is a big issue. The best way is to make it clear to everyone that kaizen is part of your job. Just doing your work is not enough, you have to find better easy to do work.
    You say that you have experiences lots of kaizen teams that just died because of lack of enthusiasm. This is a big concern. Kaizen should be fun, creative, exciting, and profitable. If one or more of those things are missing, people will not want to do it. So it could be a problem with how your kaizen program is designed or how it is being executed.
    You need to make it clear to people that kaizen is making your job simpler, safer, more enjoyable, and smoother. Kaizen can be small changes and should not cost a lot of money. Most people want to be creative and think of new ways rather than doing the same thing everyday. Even so, most people want to know “what’s in it for me?” This is because after all the hard work, if kaizen means less time is needed to do the same work or less people are needed, the good ideas people have are hurting the people financially. You must remove fear. If there is fear, there will not be enthusiasm for kaizen in the teams.
    Management’s role is to make a commitment to not firing people because of kaizen savings. Sometimes there is a sudden change in the market and a company has to make people redundant to survive. However, the management should do everything possible to increase sales and bring in more work to keep people employed.
    The team leader should be skilled in communicating, listening, and bringing people with different views together. This is equally important as knowing kaizen techniques or the Toyota Production System.
    It is the basics of being a good supervisor or team leader. The team leader should help the kaizen team brainstorm, make decisions, get
    management support, and make changes rapidly. The team leader should be more of a facilitator than a leader and empower the team members.
    The team members should be selected carefully and it is best to have a mix of personalities, backgrounds, and work experience.
    They should agree to have an open mind and be willing to try new things. They should understand “what’s in it for me” and have very little fear.
    They are the ‘experts’ in the process and know what the problems are so it is their ideas that will be implemented. Once the team members have been trained in seeing the 7 wastes, understanding flow, etc. they will have a common language and work better as a team.
    I hope this helps.

  3. kaye

    January 21, 2008 - 5:01 am

    Does the “team leader concept” replace supervisors as we know them in todays world?

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