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A deep dive in Japan's corporate culture: the concept of Kaizen

By Maria Zoi Michailidou- Corporate Culture Correspondent at YNBC


As the Japanese proverb goes, virtue is not knowing but doing. Japan has definitely taken this to heart, especially when it concerns business. That’s why Japan is undoubtedly in possession of a very unique and fascinating corporate culture. In this article we are going to thoroughly examine a concept which characterizes the Japanese corporate world and is all about taking action: Kaizen.

Before we explain further, we should analyse the meaning of the word. In Japanese, the word kaizen (改善) means "change for the better" , which is usually translated in English by a single word: "continuous improvement". In the world of business, kaizen signifies the concept of trying to improve the functioning of a business, including in the process all of the employees, from the bottom to the top of the corporate ladder. Kaizen embraces the doctrine of continuous improvement, preferring a steady evolution rather than a rushed course of action.

We could say that the Kaizen approach is based on five equally important pillars, which are sometimes called the five S's:

  • Sieri as in sort: eliminating the unnecessary

  • Seiton as in set in order: establishing order

  • Seirso as in shine: striving for cleanliness

  • Seiketsu as in standardize: caring for uniform and personal safety

  • Shitsuke as in sustain: being disciplined and respecting the rules

These five principles demonstrate that improvement is impossible in an unorganized and undisciplined environment. Keep in mind that teamwork is key. No man is an island and that means that means that when there is progress to be made, all if the team has to be involved.

We could say that Kaizen has three main outcomes: elimination of waste, good housekeeping and standardization. Ideally, it would be so ingrained in a company's corporate culture that it would take place in a natural way.

Now that we have thoroughly analyzed how Kaizen functions, one probably can't help but ask one's self what are the benefits of applying this method in a business? Firstly, the satisfaction of both the employees and the customers is increased. Secondly, the business in question will be much more efficient and productive while reducing staff turnover.

In fact, one of the most famous companies that benefit form the Kaizen system is Toyota. Over the years, Toyota has undoubtedly perfected the art of Kaizen, mainly by figuring out how to accomplish tasks with the smallest number of employees possible in order for more personnel to be able to move around and help out in other tasks. In the true Kaizen spirit, Toyota is constantly trying to find ways to make their cars better. In fact, many companies have been so impressed by Toyota's system that they have actually tried copying it.

In conclusion, having witnessed the success of the Kaizen system, maybe it is time for the corporate world to get inspired by Japan and start implementing it more frequently. Who knows? Maybe we will finally learn that success won't come overnight but that it usually requires a lot of time, patience and effort to achieve one's goals, always one step at a time. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day, although it was burned in one.


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