Sustainability and the Humanization of Work
Few problems in business are truly solved simply by throwing more money and resources at them. Certainly, having the people, tools and supplies to get the work done well is a business requirement, and many organizations take a “building out” approach to addressing growing workloads and customer demand. On the other hand, there are business owners who recognize that things can always be accomplished better and more efficiently, and that improvements in these areas can make the difference between ending up with an overburdened organization with more mass than agility, or a lean organization with the ability to sustain itself while continuously adjusting to meet changing internal and external challenges.
It is said that the only constant is change, and businesses must find a way to effectively and cost-efficiently meet changing demands and conditions in order to survive. What frustrates many business owners is that change is generally disruptive to the business, representing a significant challenge when it comes to the re-development of internal processes and procedures. At issue is the understanding that proven, structured and repeatable processes help to improve efficiency, yet changing conditions often require changes to these processes. In many cases, businesses find that the requirement to structure and document activities is work that must be re-done in the event of broad changes. Too often, the work falls by the wayside because the minute it is completed, some change comes along and renders it obsolete. It is somewhat like the child who questions making their bed each day, as they’re just going to sleep in it again and make it messy.
There may be a solution, and a lesson to be learned, in the “kaizen” approach to change and improvement. Wikipedia’s entry on Kaizen identifies the meaning of the Japanese-Kanji word as simply “good change”. Similar to the English word “improvement”, kaizen does not refer specifically to any single or ongoing change. Rather, it has come to describe an approach to business which recognizes the potential for improvement – improvement in work product, work conditions, worker satisfaction, and worker performance – at all levels throughout the enterprise. Further, kaizen does not describe change as being broad-ranging or particularly intrusive. Beneficial (good) change may come at any level and may be identified by almost any source.
Kaizen is a daily process, the purpose of which goes beyond simple productivity improvement. It is also a process that, when done correctly, humanizes the workplace, eliminates overly hard work (“muri”), and teaches people how to perform experiments on their work using the scientific method and how to learn to spot and eliminate waste in business processes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaizen
The ultimate business goals are, of course, improved productivity, product quality and profitability. A “Kaizen” approach to business recognizes that these goals are often met through gaining the participation of the entire organization. Whether approached as individual effort, small or large group, or via suggestion system, the purpose is to nurture the company’s human resource and help focus it towards making improvements in work environment and activities which lead to improved productivity. After all, the most valuable asset a business has is its people. It is logical to apply this individual and collective intelligence and source of business knowledge towards making the company better – and a better place to work.