Kaizen Coaching: Avoid the Shut Down


Mark's Note: Today brings another guest post from Joe Swartz, my co-author for our Healthcare Kaizen series of books. Read his previous posts here.    I also did a  podcast  with him about his experiences at the Franciscan St. Francis Health System. Also, check out  this video about their Kaizen approach. You can also read  a journal article we co-authored.


A few years ago, I discovered that our organization's most prolific “Kaizeneer” (a person who does Kaizen) from the year before hadn't yet completed a single Kaizen in the new year.

So, I approached her and said, “Thanks so much for your great contributions last year.   I noticed that we hadn't received any Kaizens from you this year and was wondering why.”

“I have a new manager and she doesn't get it,” she said, shaking her head from side to side. “My old manager was very encouraging and supportive of my ideas.  My new manager has said ‘no' to my ideas.” She looked down and turned up her hands, “and so I simply stopped doing Kaizen.”

The leader's role is critical to creating a culture of continuous improvement.   Leaders can shut down employees wanting to do Kaizen. It only takes a few “no's” and even the most motivated and engaged employee can shut down.

We coach our leaders to aim for a 90% or greater Kaizen implementation rate.   Our pharmacy department, which is a tightly regulated area with inherent patient safety risks, has been able to achieve an 89% Kaizen implementation rate.

This doesn't mean a supervisor or manager has to say yes to every “crazy” idea.   This does mean that they should search for a kernel of good in each idea and work with the Kaizeneer to create something that can be implemented from every idea.

For example, an idea to build a parking garage shouldn't be summarily dismissed.   Instead, a supervisor can dialog with the Kaizeneer and understand what it is about a parking garage that they want.   If they want to keep out of the rain, could the Kaizeneer test using an umbrella?   If it is to keep ice or sun off of their car, could they test a car cover for their car?  Each of these relatively inexpensive ideas, and many more, could be tested prior to going through the exercise of attempting to cost justify a new parking garage.

The goal of Kaizen is to develop employees by helping them identify creative ideas that they can implement and test themselves.   Figuring out how to say yes to each and every idea not only avoids shutting down employees, but it can also creates energy and excitement and opens up the flow of more creative ideas.

The views expressed are those of Joseph E. Swartz and  do not represent the views of Franciscan Alliance or the Franciscan St. Francis Health System.  

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Joseph E. Swartz
Joseph E. Swartz is the Administrative Director of Business Transformation for Franciscan St. Francis Health of Indianapolis, Indiana. He has been leading continuous improvement efforts for over 20 years, including seven years in healthcare, and has led more than 200 Lean and Six Sigma improvement projects. Joseph is the co-author of Seeing David in the Stone and was previously an instructor at the University of Wisconsin. Joseph earned an MS in Management from Purdue University as a Krannert Scholar for academic excellence. Joseph is co-author of the Shingo Award-winning book Healthcare Kaizen and The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen.


  1. Excellent quick-hitting points, Joe. I’m sure this mistake has been made in many places. All the more reason to get new managers/leaders in sync quickly with the rest of the organization before too much damage is done.


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