How does your organization inspire change?

Doing so can be incredibly difficult, especially if your business is made up of employees who are highly set in their ways. Over time, the team may become blind to problems that arise or concerns made by other employees. When this happens, it can have detrimental effects across all departments.

If the goal is to achieve long-term success, then it’s in everyone’s best interest to approach change with an open mind, which is easier said than done. In order to evoke positive and necessary change from the ground up, consider holding a kaizen meeting.

What is a Kaizen Meeting? 

Before you and your team can hold an effective kaizen meeting, you first need to know exactly what it is.

The term kaizen is derived from two Japanese words, kai and zen, which mean “change” and “better.” Kaizen directly translates to “change for good” or “change for the better,” which is then developed to be an approach that advocates for progressive change in an organization.

Holding a kaizen meeting is the first step in working through improving businesses, which can occur across all industries. This approach is typically used for personal development, new ideas, and general improvement across the board. They usually last for four or five days, focusing on discussing problems within an organization, identifying solutions, and then coordinating a plan for moving forward. This plan is then put in place within 72 hours.

Why are Kaizen events important? 

If you’ve never held a kaizen event before, they can be crucial to your company’s success. For starters, they’re a great way to bring about rapid change within an organization. They can be an effective way to get all key stakeholders and decision-makers on the same page, making everyone responsible for identifying the gaps and ineffective policies or procedures across departments.

Additionally, everyone in attendance suggests where improvements can and should take place. Because the overall aim of a kaizen event is to improve productivity, reduce waste, and inspire effectiveness and safety, there is a huge return when they’re done correctly.

The end result of a kaizen event usually looks like:

  • Employees are more satisfied 
  • Waste has been eliminated regarding inventory and tools that may not be the most effective option
  • Team members have a greater commitment to their role and a higher stake in their job
  • Employee skills are utilized correctly
  • Retention is improved throughout all departments
  • Improved problem solving with greater solutions
  • Teams that are more in sync with one another and in turn more productive 

The structure of a Kaizen Meeting

If your organization is interested in partaking in a kaizen-style meeting, there’s a specific structure that you should follow to ensure it’s a success for everyone.

1 Pre-event planning 

When it comes to a kaizen event, there’s a lot of pre-planning involved. First, a date needs to be chosen where all key players can be in attendance. Then, take the time to cultivate a formal agenda that includes talking points, breakout sessions, and even when the food will arrive. The schedule should also outline the deliverables and expectations of the kaizen event.

Remember that it’s okay if the pre-planning stage takes 3-6 months. You want this to feel like a well-organized event and not something thrown together in a day. It’s essential to come up with the purpose of the meeting and what outcomes you’re looking to have at the end before anything concrete takes place.

Here’s a quick checklist to run through before the big day:

  • Book a location
  • Invite all necessary attendees
  • Build an agenda
  • Coordinate a seating arrangement
  • Prepare the meeting room with essential tools, like name tags, post-in notes, flip charts, markers, and highlighters
  • Determine the end-goal for each day of the event
  • Set ground rules for each session

Pro tip

Use a meeting management tool like Fellow to organize your meeting with talking points, action items, and more!

2 Current state evaluation

Once all the planning is complete, it’s time to start the overall evaluation. As the meeting is underway, start with introducing the attendees to the kaizen approach to meetings, and the goal is to achieve continuous improvement.

One critical method to the kaizen approach is implementing “the five whys,” which is an excellent place to start. When a problem occurs within an organization, specific events lead up to its occurrence. To understand those events, you’ll need to ask why and ask it five times. When everyone analyzes the problem with the five whys, chances are good that a solution is right around the corner. 

Create a list of the current state of problems and go through each with the five why statements for a better look at each concern or issue. You can also use technical analysis techniques like value stream mapping, to get to the bottom of a problem.

3 Future state opportunities

Next, meeting attendees will come together to brainstorm solutions. Brainstorm sessions can be outside the box, as the whole purpose of a kaizen meeting is to approach ideas that may not have been on the table before. 

Once meeting attendees have come up with solutions or ways to improve, create both a short and long-term future state of how you’d like the organization to look like. What improvements should be in place in two weeks and what process improvements should perhaps wait until you’re six months out?

No matter what plan is in place, it’s important that meeting attendees all agree on the plan of action and what details will lead to change.

4 Kaizen experiments 

Finally, it’s all about the follow-up. After the changes are implemented, team members should monitor progress. You’ll want to define a cadence or schedule for how often members of the kaizen meeting check-in with one another and evaluate the outcome, define what’s working, and what should be tweaked. 

If the outcome is less than expected, it may be time to conduct another kaizen exercise. Similarly, if the goal is achieved and there is long-term improvement in place, consider planning another event that targets a different department or area for change. 

7 tips for an optimal Kaizen event 

Ready to conduct a kaizen event? Don’t forget to apply these last minute-tips to ensure it’s a success.

1 Set clear and measurable goals

If you want to inspire change, make sure to define what change looks like. Narrow down the business metrics you’re looking to improve and be as specific as possible.

2 Get the necessary buy-in

A kaizen event isn’t meant to be a short and sweet meeting. Because of this, establish strong executive support from the team beforehand. Make sure everyone is on board and committed to an event of this magnitude and that you have the backing of management on your side.

3 Invite the right people

You definitely want the right group of employees to partake in the discussions. Whether it be a strong leader or facilitator, an engineer or manager who knows the ins and outs of processes, or the people dealing face to face with customers, make sure they can attend. 

4 Set aside all other tasks

Attendees of the kaizen meeting need to be completely focused on the discussions taking place. Because of this, it’s common to put a pause on all other deadlines or work-related projects so that everyone can stay on task. 

5 Build a roadmap

Because kaizen events take so much preparation, make sure you have done all of the necessary planning, organizing, and setting up beforehand. Additionally, stock up on any must-have supplies beforehand, including handouts, gifts, swag, or snags.

6 Have proper documentation

With so many brainstorming sessions, ideas, and potential conclusions over the course of the kaizen meeting, it’s a must that you properly document all key discussion points with thorough meeting notes. That way, you’ll know exactly what was accomplished at the end of each day.

7 Celebrate

At the end of each day, take the time to celebrate even the small wins the team has achieved. Because kaizen events are over the course of four or five days, you want to stifle burnout for as long as possible. Find something to celebrate at the end of each day and reward all attendees. Take this one step further on the final day of the kaizen meeting.

A change will do you good

Remember that the goal of a kaizen event isn’t to come up with a quick fix or slap a bandaid on a serious problem or crisis. The purpose of conducting this type of meeting is for continual use as your organization strives for perfection. When you take the time to prepare ahead of time and execute the necessary changes, they can lead to improvement from everyone within the organization and a boost in employee morale and satisfaction. 

You’ll be surprised how big of an impact a small change can make.