THE DEATH OF KAIZEN – 1
“You can’t shrink your way to greatness” – Arthur Martinez
“Wall street won’t pay any more for raising profit margins on a stagnant sales base. The crucial issue has become how far does a company stretch for growth.” Pankaj Ghemawat
The global competitive business environment of the 70s to the mid-80s necessitated a quest not only for visibility but for a significant market share through quality products and services. Western Europe and North America were the clear market leaders in almost every dimension of consumer products ranging from electronics to automobiles. Asia came a very distant third – or even fourth. In the automobile industry, it was the age of the Peugeot, Citroen, Renault from France, Fiat from Italy, Mercedes Benz, BMW, and Volkswagen from Germany, Ford, Cadillac, Buick, Jeep, Chevrolet and a few other brands from the United States of America. Two other brands, Moscovitch and Lada from the then Soviet Union were not exactly popular brands in the international auto market. In electronics and other audio-visual equipment, the market was dominated by Grundig, Telefunken, Marshal, Celestion and many such brands primarily from Western Europe.
From the end of the 2nd World War, Japan was determined to break this seeming lopsidedness by coming out with products that not only competed favorably with others from any part of the world but which would, through continuous re-engineering, guarantee quality with a capacity to literally deliver ‘more’ for ‘less’. This quest birthed the concept of Kaizen.
Kaizen comes from a combination of two Japanese words “Kai” which means “to change, amend or reform” and “Zen” which means “that which is good, virtuous or right”. Kaizen, simply put, means a change for the better. It is used in reference to the philosophy or principles that are directed towards continuous improvement especially in the areas of the processes of manufacturing, engineering and business management. In the corporate environment and workplace, it refers to activities designed to consistently and continually improve all functions in a way that engages all employees from the CEO to the least paid employee.
The practice of Kaizen presupposes a concerted approach that demands that all hands must be on deck in ensuring that the improvement process is a sustained and sustainable activity rather than a one-off, transient, ‘get-us-off the-hook’ event.
Although Kaizen was introduced in a few Japanese businesses after the Second World War, the deluge of products from the West and the opening up of a worldwide market with increasing demands for quality goods and services encouraged an industry-wide application of Kaizen. This was further boosted by the success of Kaizen in the production processes of Toyota vehicles, a development that saw Toyota taking over a chunk of market share from the hitherto established brands even in their home territories!
With Kaizen, Toyota vehicles came out more affordable, more durable, more fuel-efficient, and in terms of aesthetics, more visually appealing than its older competitors. Thereafter, the whole world began to take a closer look at the concept of Kaizen.
Kaizen has since become a global phenomenon that has been employed to give the world durable, quality products. It has been made even more so because it involves everyone in the system. For this reason, it is believed that the practice of Kaizen would result in higher productivity by improving quality. It is also expected to deliver a reduction in overhead costs, the benefits of which can be passed to the consumer. Moreover, it is expected to shorten delivery time. In addition, it is expected to enhance inventory control as well as lead to improvements in safety. Implementation of Kaizen is supposed to be easy and not capital intensive. The training has to do with function rather than formal education. This demands a hands-on approach to training that sidesteps the sometimes laborious processes involved in formal education and enhances competitiveness. The management of Kaizen makes it possible to have an inspired working environment that results in higher productivity and better quality of products at a price that is highly competitive. This is delivered through a collaborative effort that involves the spontaneous input of all stakeholders in the process. The direct corollary of this is a self-motivated, proactive workforce that is committed to continuous and consistent improvement.
With all the foregoing, how could anything be wrong with Kaizen? For something that has helped Toyota to become a universal brand, how can Kaizen not be the 8th wonder of the world? Yet… continued.
Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!