How can you improve your operation? Ask your employees.

By Tony Topencik, director of manufacturing operations, The Raymond Corp.

Ten years ago, Raymond embarked on a journey to implement the Toyota Production System on its manufacturing floor. One major initiative from this endeavor was the introduction of the kaizen program. Kaizen is the practice of continuous improvement. If an employee believes there is a better way to perform a particular process or task in his or her usual work, the employee can submit the improved process idea as a kaizen. That kaizen may then be approved by a manager and opened for implementation by the team. These small incremental improvements over time build into large improvements and immense results.

Companies that implement kaizen programs create a workplace culture of continuous improvement fueled by open communication. This empowers employees and allows them to be closely involved in improvements to the department in which they work as well as the business on whole.

Here are some steps companies can take to build and implement a successful kaizen program:

  • Create a template: Provide employees with a simple, standardized form to fill out when submitting each kaizen. This can help eliminate confusion as to what details are needed and how to submit an idea.
  • Set goals: Set kaizen submission numbers to aim for and celebrate when these numbers are reached. Call out accomplishments with employee parties, social media posts or workplace awards. Advertising these accomplishments to other teams, customers, and business partners shows dedication to improvement and pride in employees.
  • Incentivize: Offer employee incentives for participation. For example, if each employee who submits a kaizen in a given month is entered in a drawing to win $100, participation rates may rise.
  • Illustrate improvements: With each successful kaizen that is implemented, illustrate how many steps or how much time has been saved. This will highlight the resulting improvements in efficiency and will encourage team members to keep proposing new process improvement ideas.
  • Recognize achievements: Acknowledge kaizen submissions that have been successfully implemented and the employees who were involved. Highlighting the employees who strengthen the program will encourage them to continue participating and searching for new areas of improvement.

A successful kaizen program can be the key to continuous improvement in any workplace, allowing employees – who know the job best – to be involved. Coupled with other benefits such as employee engagement and empowerment, taking the steps outlined above can help a kaizen program succeed.