The term kaizen (改善) is a fusion of the Japanese words ‘kai’ and ‘zen’ which mean change and better.
It's a method that I commonly refer to as the "baby steps technique" in my coaching, but the name Kaizen sounds much more appealing, doesn’t it?
This concept, which originated in the Toyota factories of Japan in the 1950s, has subsequently been adopted across the business world and describes a process of eliminating waste and increasing efficiency. On a more personal level, it can also be applied to daily life. Kaizen encourages people to take small steps towards an ambitious goal by making daily improvements. In the same way that a steady stream of drops of water can fill a vase and even make it overflow, small gestures and actions can add up to become huge life changes!
In other words, kaizen is a process of continuous improvement based on gradual progress. It is the opposite of radical change which might often generate some resistance because of the potential danger it represents for our brains …
Here are some ideas for how you can put kaizen into practice:
Ask yourself questions
Just as a mountaineer wouldn’t climb a mountain in a straight line, break down your goal into different stages. What should be the first step? And the second? etc. How much time do you need to spend on your goal every day in order to best achieve it?
Get a routine
Think about establishing a routine that you follow every day or at regular intervals. Then, look at how this regular routine can help you achieve your goals. What areas of your life will reap the benefits? If, after a while, you find it isn't working, be flexible and change it! Give yourself permission to fail ... The principle of kaizen is not to strive for perfection but for continuous improvement. Perfection will be achieved by repeating the small improvements on a daily basis.
Once you have identified the steps, put one or more of the processes in place, define your priorities to be more efficient. Which is the best action to begin with? Be disciplined and stick to the commitments you have set yourself.
We all know that there are only so many hours in a day and things can crop up unexpectedly. To achieve your goal, it is important to set aside time in your diary to carry out the steps outlined above. The idea is not to do too much, but to be realistic and do just enough. Finally, don’t be tempted to procrastinate - this has no place in the kaizen method.
Keep track and celebrate
Kaizen is not about implementing sudden change, but about making small daily changes. Write down each step, like a to-do list from which you cross off each task as soon as it is completed. Track your progress as you go and remind yourself that each step is a victory, however small! You are also entitled to celebrate your progress, don't you agree? Any form of encouragement to continue your efforts, in whatever way suits you, will strengthen you on the path to reaching your goal ...
As you move forward, you will find that some processes don’t bring the added value you expected and are very time consuming. Stop what you are doing, take a step back, see if your actions are having any effect and make the necessary readjustments for improved efficiency. Keep challenging yourself: even if something is working, always seek to improve it. Remember, kaizen is about continuous improvement at every level and at all times!
If you do have a problem, don't just focus on treating the symptoms, but make an effort to identify its source, otherwise you risk running into the same problem again. Once the source has been identified, kaizen recommends solving the problem immediately before it becomes more complex and more expensive.
Here's how you might use the kaizen method if, for example, your goal is to find a new job:
Day 1: Start by making an appointment with the IÉSEG Network Executive Coach for some help in thinking about what direction you want to take! ;-)
Day 2: List any questions you currently have related to your work life
Day 3: Have your coaching session
Day 4: Set up a routine and a schedule thinking about what you need and want depending on the Coach's recommendations
Once you’ve decided on your career plan:
Day 1: Update your CV and covering letter
Day 2: Update your LinkedIn profile so it’s relevant to your new career plan
Day 3: Prepare your presentation pitch
Day 4: Practise pitching
Day 5: Tell people close to you about your job search and ask them if they have any leads
Day 6: Surf the internet to find out about new jobs that already exist or that are emerging in the sectors/areas in which you want to work
Day 7: Identify businesses that match your expectations
Day 8: Create alerts with keywords to find adverts that correspond to your interests
Day 9: Identify recruitment firms specialising in your chosen field and contact them
Day 10: Define and implement a network strategy for making contacts
Day 11: Look for events related to your field that you can attend, to gain visibility and make contacts.
Day 12: Register for these events
By following this plan, in just a few days you will have made considerable progress!
This is just one example of many. It's up to you to find the areas that you want to improve and try to do 1% better than the day before. Take things step by step, working regularly and consistently to establish new habits, while aiming to always do things a little better than the day before ...
Now it's up to you! What have you decided to “kaizen"?