In discussions of “kaizen” (the Japanese word that is translated to “continuous improvement” or “change for the better”), I often hear of organizations talk about getting goals and targets for the number of kaizen ideas that employees come up with in a year?
Long story short, the question for debate today: Does getting a goal or target violate the spirit of kaizen?
It’s often thrown around that Japanese companies get two kaizen ideas per month from each employee and the average American company gets an idea from an employee once every seven years. I think Norman Bodek taught that and I heard it repeated in a presentation last week. I don’t know the source, but it’s probably directionally correct.
That said, I don’t think “Japanese vs. American” is the right comparison point anymore, as many American factories get many ideas each month from an average employee. So let’s compare companies with traditional management versus those with Lean management.
Why don’t employees in traditional organizations give suggestions and ideas? It’s not that these employees are lazy or less creative. There are many barriers to kaizen, as this post and the excellent comments detail.
The main barrier to kaizen probably is not “well, we didn’t have a quota or goal for the number of ideas we were supposed to give.”
Traditionally managed companies, when they hear about kaizen are probably tempted to say “well, we’d better set a target for people, so we can hold them accountable, otherwise we won’t get many ideas.”
But kaizen is supposed to be driven by intrinsic motivation – kaizen tends to be ideas that make your own work easier or allow you to do a better job for customers or patients. People should WANT to do kaizen, if we can only get out of their way and quit discouraging kaizen.
If we have the right environment, we shouldn’t need a quota. Kaizen will just happen. And we’ll get way more than one idea every seven years.
Dr. W. Edwards Deming warned us against setting targets and goals and quotas, as this post describes. He said we must substitute leadership. If you are a leader who wants more kaizen, don’t set and communicate a higher target…. understand WHY people aren’t submitting ideas. There’s bound to be an organizational root cause to be found and addressed.
Some might say “but getting a target for kaizen doesn’t mean we will punish people for not hitting the target.” I think we certainly shouldn’t be punishing people for not hitting a target like that. So then why have that goal? Instead of measuring the number of kaizens, maybe we should be looking at our core performance measures that matter. If it is a hospital laboratory, the measures might include turnaround time for test results. Kaizen suggestions should help improve turnaround time, quality, productivity, etc.
Even without punishment, does the target get in the way? If a team had a contest offering a prize to the person or people who submitted the most ideas, this can turn into a different type of dysfunction. As the author Daniel H. Pink points out, having prizes and incentives can actually interfere with creative thinking and can hurt performance.
What are your thoughts on this?
- is it reasonable to set a target or goal for the # of kaizen ideas submitted and implemented?
- is a goal sometimes necessary to get the ball rolling?
- are goals and targets almost always dysfunctional?
- should we merely “substitute leadership” as Dr. Deming suggested?
- how do we foster intrinsic motivation for kaizen?