Kaizen. Kai - Zen. Two conjoined words, Japanese for change and good. Together they stand for continual improvement. Traditionally, Kaizen was rooted in business process and system improvement under the notion that removing minor errors or negative placements within a specific business area will accumulate and deliver significant benefits - most often in manufacturing. Collectively, all members of a team or organisation will work together, using the Kaizen principles to achieve increased efficiency. Yet, there are four types of Kaizen established throughout business, which leaders at every level can assimilate the principles into leadership development, two of which are described below.
This is almost an anomaly within the Kaizen philosophy, based within project definition whereby there is a defined outcome within defined, often short time parameters (pseudo-projects that are routine are not projects). Kaizen Events are specifically generated to solve a specific problem or provide an immediate fix to a newly encountered issue. However, Kaizen Events require complex planning to deliver results accordingly. Generally, it is owned by management but incorporates many team members, including specialists, sub-team leaders, process owners and, depending on what stream of thinking you align to, can include De Bono’s Thinking Hats. The Thinking Hat principle (devised by De Bono, 1985) employs several people to act in roles specifically focusing on elements within the criticality spectrum to aid in situational analysis.
Using De Bono's Thinking Hats with Kaizen
The White Hat
Neutrality or Neutral Objectivity. Concerned with data and facts, information and proven outcomes. People employed as White Hats, if skilled enough, can analyse using the DIKW (Data>Information>Knowledge>Wisdom) Model, filtering the relevant from the irrelevant and maintaining focus. The prime question asked by the White Hat is, What do I know?
The Red Hat
Representing emotions and feelings, Red Hats focus on gut feelings, instincts and go with what feels right. Red Hats will typically be one of two types of people: experienced and senior members of the team with a proven track record, although these can be viewed as mavericks, and new, inexperienced members not subject to organisational norms, history or first-hand experience of such decision-making processes. It is at the event leaders discretion as to whom they employ to act in every role, not just Red Hats. The prime question asked by the Red Hat is What am I feeling right now?
The Yellow Hat
Logic and positivity. Yellow Hats represent promising outcomes and look for the good in every situation, even if at first it appears there is none. Yellow hats can take extracts from plans to highlight specific activities that may inform and benefit the working group—customarily reserved for team members who are used to the organisation’s planning or analysis methodology. The prime question asked by the Yellow Hat is Why is this idea useful to the plan?
The Green Hat
Representing creativity and innovation, the Green Hat is paired with the Black Hat; the Green Hat is used to play Devil’s Advocate to caution, providing insight to ingenious ideas and providing input by thinking outside the box. Another Hat is generally employed by junior or inexperienced team members not influenced by organisational constructs and often provides renewed insights. The prime question asked by the Green Hat is What solutions can I provide to counter the Black Hat?
The Black Hat
Not the traditional black hat as depicted in Westerns or Cyber, the Black Hat is risk-averse and applies caution to every element presented. They will provide input to alternative planning involving the dissolution of plans with inherent risk or providing second or even third-order analysis in the background. Paired with the Green Hat to maintain equilibrium, there are no generalisations for the seniority of the Black Hat. The prime question asked by the Black Hat is What risks are presented in every iteration of the process?
The Blue Hat
The organiser. Issues the starting requirements, initial plan and provides discussant closure to the event leader on outcomes and collective insight. The Blue Hat controls the use of the other Hats, employing them in conjunction with the team leader. Usually always reserved for senior team members or external executive leadership. The prime question asked by the Blue Hat is What thinking or direction is needed?
Kaizen Events generally follow a set format
The team will collectively identify waste processes or waste within processes and collect data on each. The team will analyse the data to create ideas to remove the identified waste, employing various tools to develop and inform their plan. Next is the time to enact the implementation phase of the analysis, which resulted in the plan. Next, the team must refine any minor issues within the improvement plan and may involve the development of another Kaizen Event to analyse the following process entwined with the current. The work completed must be presented to management, process owners and system users for integration.
So, how can this be used in a leadership context?
You can adapt this to create an experiential leadership outcome following the Event principle. Identifying what occurred during an (ordinarily adverse) leadership event is key to improving the product. Adverse leadership events are toxic, driving divides between leaders and their teams or between team members - even those not party to them. You must analyse every step of the event, from start to end, logging your thoughts, actions, emotions or logic (even logic based on misunderstanding). Once you have logged the micro-events, you need to develop your plan to amend, adapt or transform your internal processes and overturn the event into positive action. Once you have implemented your action plan, you must continually refine it until your procedure has reached a satisfactory outcome. Presenting your transformed leadership event is through your next experience, reaction to, and handling of adverse leadership events. If you find yourself defaulting to your previous position, you should regress a stage to refine the process. Again, if it reoccurs, you should revert yet another step to your action plan, then again to re-analyse.
At its heart, Teian is about daily improvements. Defined as a culture improvement, human Teian encourages every team member to identify shortfalls in themselves, and to a lesser extent, their leaders (check our insights page for our 360 Delegation post). All about flow, Teian relies on exploiting the most significant source of internal conflict and criticality - the mind itself. Teian is perfectly aligned to both traditional and contemporary leadership development theory, from Fiedler to Winckler, Goleman to Maxwell - it resounds with the very concept of leadership, and in turn, professional and personal development. If Teian can teach us anything, everywhere we look, there is underutilised talent, unexplored potential and undelivered performance.
So what else can Kaizen offer us?
A relatively new concept in industry, but one that we all know of and employ is Kaikaku. Very simply, the process of radical change. If a system, method or service continually fails, is counterproductive or inherently reduces efficiency, the only feasible way to provide a solution is to upend it and follow Muzyka et al. transformation constructs: to re-engineer, restructure, renew or regenerate. The idea of Kaikaku lies within two of these constructs: Renew, where improved effectiveness is delivered through empowerment, and regeneration, where existing processes are fundamentally changed to revisit the portfolios of opportunities.
If you are continually met with poor subordination, face toxicity within your teams, or find your default leadership style being transactional, you should look to regenerate and transform to transformational.