The entire week of our annual ‘Corporate Summit’ was drawing to a close. The week had seen a lot of debates, presentations, plans and above all, organizational restructuring. The final moments were what we all were waiting for. The key address of Mr. Wanaka – our Jt. MD.
He rose to a thunderous applause from more than 600 employees. The applause fell sharply followed by a pin drop silence, everyone waiting eagerly for his key announcements.
He surprised us all. For he had no announcements to make. He had a very different agenda. Agenda, which we had never expected.
He waited for the guffaws to die down before pointing out gently: “If any thing in life will change you, then the next half hour will. If not; I would consider myself a great failure in life. Today is the day where I hope that we (Honda) contribute our most valuable tool in our JV (with Kinetic) by delivering to you the most powerful formula for success.”
Our casual attitude which we had so deeply imbibed in our engineering college days provoked us to compare his statement to some famous deliverables of Big B in his film ‘Deewar’.
“I have been watching individual presentations and have dwelled over and analysed the issues raised by some of you regarding your performances. Here is where I think that it would help our team to stay focused and continually improve our performances. I introduce you the traditional Japanese method of ‘Kaizen’. – A method that concentrates at improving the process rather than at achieving certain results. It is a means of continuing improvement in personal life, home life, social life, and working life.
At the workplace, Kaizen means continuing improvement involving everyone—managers and workers alike. The Kaizen business strategy involves everyone in an organization working together to make improvements without large capital investments.To adopt Kaizen means to be ever willing to change, for if you don’t, you surrender yourself and your market to those who do.”
We had no emotions to show. We were trying to figure out whether it was a Japanese way of saying; “You guys are useless and need a lot of improvement. This lecture is the last attempt. If this works then it is okay or you can consider your selves as dead”.
He went on, “Kaizen guides an organization towards paying attention to small but significant details. It is encouraged to improve the efficiency of existing infrastructure instead of investing in more of the same. This can happen only if the employees are familiar with every inch of their workplace”.
And then he made a statement that we all seemingly understood:”Kaizen makes you dissatisfied with your existing performance and strives to push you out of your established comfort zone”. He went on, “For every process in the organization, one should make a habit of questioning the current process, think of unconventional ideas. One needs to focus on how to do it, not why it cannot be done. One should seek the wisdom of ten people rather than rely on the knowledge of one. Kaizen is a strategy that begins and ends with people. It requires the leadership to ensure sustained improvement to continuously improve the company’s ability to meet expectations of high quality, low cost products and on-time delivery”.
Listening to Wanaka, I could not help but notice the relevance of Kaizen in areas of life other than the workplace. Nothing is permanent but change. Each individual deserves to improve for the better continually. An ancient Japanese saying expresses similar sentiments: “If a man has not been seen for three days, his friends should take a good look at him to see what changes have befallen him.”
I decided to try putting ‘Kaizen’ in practice. So when we finished our corporate meeting, I spent a few minutes examining the week long sessions during the ‘Corporate Summit’.
I asked several questions to myself: Was I just a spectator or did I contribute? Was my body language professional or was it casual? Which presentation was the best? why? Which region scored the maximum points? Why? What can I do to be better in the next meeting? Do I need to prepare better? The questions were endless. But I could already see the benefit of this retrospection and had already decided on a few things that I would do differently the next day during our parting bash.
I have tried to inculcate this habit in my professional as well as personal areas and agree that it has made a difference.
Welcome 2010. A year to force a welcome change in ourselves. I promise to myself to follow Kaizen to the next level!