Kaizen is a familiar word for nearly anyone who has worked for a large corporation in the last 20 years. Many small business owners may not be aware of the concept and tools involved in this continuous improvement method. Kaizen is a method adopted from the Japanese, particularly Toyota, by American corporations that focuses on small and continuous improvement at all levels. Instead of asking really big questions, the focus is on any small process that can be even slightly improved.

An excellent, easy to read introduction to Kaizen for both business and your personal life is One Small Step Can Change Your Life by Robert Maurer, PhD. The book is broken down into tips on mind sculpture (aka visualization which we discussed here), suggestions for small questions to ask, small steps to break larger problems down and encouragement to solve small problems first.

How can you implement the Kaizen method into your small business? First, it is a requirement that everyone be involved, from the lowest paid part-time employee to you, the company owner. Install a suggestion box if people seem reluctant to share their ideas. Encourage them to share anything that they think could be done better or less expensively. They have to look for solutions, not just point out problems.

Then you have to review these suggestions periodically. If the change isn’t feasible, sit down with the person who made the suggestion and explain why their idea won’t work at this time and brainstorm other solutions with them. If you just take in the information and don’t respond, you will not get continual buy-in from your team! They will feel like they are throwing thoughts into a bottomless well.

It isn’t always necessary to make huge changes to see big results in a small business. Asking yourself frequently “what small improvements could our business make?” and continuing to implement them can reap big rewards over time. As a coach, I work with clients on improving processes and asking key questions to guide them towards increased success in business and in their personal lives.


by Steven Schlagel