Ever heard a term used in a discussion and thought, “just what does that mean? Am I supposed to know that already? Everyone around me is nodding their heads like they know. If I ask, they’ll know I don’t have a clue…” This internal conversation can go and on until you feel completely inept and miserable.

Of course, you could ask someone for the definition. But maybe you’re the sort who does a quick search on your smartphone right in the moment. Or maybe you’re the sort who goes back to the office and looks it up in private. Or maybe you’re the sort who vents to a friend and then finds out what it means.

No matter which method is your preferred one, you’ve engaged with the process known as kaizen. You’ve used the moment to learn something new and enhance your knowledge. It’s a small thing but it’s added to your skill set. When you do this all the time, it is considered “continuous improvement.”

A little history….Kaizen is the Japanese concept that means continuous and incremental improvement. There’s an explanation on Wikipedia that details the development of the concept. “The more interesting part is that “kaizen” is a daily process, the purpose of which goes beyond simple productivity improvement. It is also a process that, when done correctly humanizes the workplace. eliminates hard work (“muri”), and teaches people how to perform experiments on their work using the scientific method and learn how to spot and eliminate waste in business processes. In all, it suggests a humanized approach to workers and to increasing productivity. The idea is to nurture the company’s human resources as much as it is to praise and encourage participation in kaizen activities.”

Sounds good but what does it mean in real life? During a conversation with my friend, Ken, he referred me to a post he had written about continuous improvement. One of his key points was the emphasis on how continuous goes far beyond short-term or mid-term goals. Basically, your strategic plan has to account for various time frames such as quarterly, 6 month, 1 year, 3 year or 5 year.

But to incorporate kaizen, take a look at your operational plan. Think about your goals and objectives. What makes your company money? What are you doing to make that happen? How do you measure your results? Kaizen is usable by everyone from a sole proprietorship up to a larger corporation.

There is a catch though. You have to be willing to be curious and disatisfied with your status quo. So Product A is your primary revenue stream. What would an examination reveal? Now instead of doing a major overhaul (unless it’s necessary, of course) on Product A, what smaller steps can be followed to improve it? Or would it be another system, say the marketing of Product A, that could be enhanced?  Ken put it best, “Organizations that matter understand that continuous improvement is just that: continuous. You don’t boil the ocean, but you do figure out which processes help you excel and shine a bright analytical light on those processes to make them more effective and more efficient. You accept that some of the ways to improve don’t exist yet. You may need to gain more experience first or you might even need someone else to invent a better toolset.”

What could you do to add kaizen to your business?

What does it mean to humanize your workplace?

How would it affect your performance if you were in a learner/experimenter mindset continuously?