Similiarities, Differences and Co-Existence of Kaizen and Innovation

When KaizenBiz community members suggest a post or topic, I listen and find a way to include it in our weekly chat. So, when Bernd Nurnberger (@CoCreatr) suggested a post on how Amazon is using kaizen, it seemed interesting to look at kaizen. Companies of all sizes are often looking for ways to be better, more efficient but there is also a desire to innovate products and services so they can capture more of the market. Where are the similarities and differences between kaizen and innovation? And can they co-exist in the same organization?

Kaizen – quick review

Kaizen is a Japanese concept of continuous and incremental improvement of a process. This process might be a manufacturing process, an accounting process or a customer service and the continuous improvements make the process more effective and efficient. Toyota is the most famous example of a company that uses kaizen although a number of companies also use it.


We’ve talked about innovation a few times on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz because it is somewhat elusive and much desired by nearly every company that exists. In “What’s All the Fuss About Innovation?“, I used this definition, “the process of translating an idea or invention to a good or service that creates value for which customers will pay.” Curiously, for this framing post, I ran across another definition from an Australian govemment initiative which described innovation as “…renewing, changing or creating more effective processes, products or ways of doing things.” With the Australian government’s definition, it might seem that there is little difference between kaizen and innovation.

Other overlaps

Here are some other overlaps that spring to mind:

  • Both kaizen and innovation rely on someone identifying that there is another (and better) way to do something.
  • Organizational leaders must be sponsors and/or supporters for the changes to be explored and implemented
  • They both depend on ideas
  • Iteration is often part of the process
  • Use creativity in problem solving

However there are differences

Even with a number of overlaps, there are ways that kaizen and innovation are not the same:

  • Kaizen is a continous process that uses incremental steps and can be rigorous in its application across the organization
  • Innovation can range from being small adjustments or changes or radical new things
  • Innovation can seem chaotic or without structure due to the creative process
  • Kaizen is typically anyone’s job in an organization while innovation tends to be assigned to a particular group of people
  • Kaizen focuses on what is and how it can better and more efficient
  • Innovation focuses on what could be and how it is new and/or disruptive

 But can they co-exist?

There are a few dynamics swirling around organizations. One is the memory of the experience of the Great Recession is still very fresh so there are policies, business goals and expectations created in response. This is certainly prudent as companies are rebuilding and adjusting to the current circumstances. Another dynamic is the rapid progression of technological advancements. One of the other dynamics is this mindset that unless a company is innovative, it is unsustainable and will fail. In a Forbes post, Vijay Govindarajan is quoted saying,

“The more you hardwire a company on total quality management, [the more] it is going to hurt breakthrough innovation. The mindset that is needed, the capabilities that are needed, the metrics that are needed, the whole culture that is needed for discontinuous innovation, are fundamentally different.”

That seems to indicate that they cannot co-exist. This opens a number of questions. Not all organizations are designed to pursue radical changes. There may even be a lack of understanding of both kaizen and innovation.

What do you think? Is there a place for kaizen alongside innovation? What similarities and differences do you believe exist?  Join us Friday, February 28, 2014 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT to look at this more closely on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz

Is there any chance that something is missing or missed as systems are tweaked and refined?

What is the difference between change and improvement?

In what ways could kaizen prevent innovation in an organization?

How could kaizen could co-exist with innovation? Are any adaptations necessary?




Will Current Employee Engagement Trends Continue Into Next Year?

employee engagement, organizationsThere is a scene from the movie, “Office Space” where a co-worker asks Peter if he has a case of the Mondays. If you have ever seen the movie, you know that Peter is far from engaged in his work. In real life, it isn’t exactly news that productivity depends on employee engagement either.

Some companies get it right

There are probably a large number of companies who have engaged employees but we tend to see more examples such as shown in the comic, Dilbert Two examples that have been highlighted in the news are Diamond Pet Foods in the US and Dah Sing Banking Group Limited in Hong Kong.

The Diamond Pet Group, featured in this Inc article,  enable higher levels of employee engagement because they believe in ROB (return on benefits). Their health insurance is paid for, emergency leave is granted without questions as well as receiving bonuses and profit sharing. Their pay is not substantially better but the benefits are. According to the example set by Diamond Pet Group, employees who aren’t worrying about their insurance costs or other financial concerns are more likely to stay longer with the company, offer ideas about how the company could operate better and maintain higher productivity levels.

In the case of Dah Sing Banking Group Limited, they were recognized by The Best Practice Management Group and received  “The Best Practice Award 2013 in Employee Engagement.” They believe that providing an environment where the employees are stakeholders and participants in strategy formation, implementation, accepting responsibility for their behavior and emphasizing alignment, transparency and communication.

Current global employee engagement trends

An interesting study by Aon Hewitt which looked at employee engagement around the world from 2008 to 2010. They surveyed 6.7 million employees in 2, 900 organizations. Overall there is a mixed picture geographically. Employee engagement is down in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific and yet no change in Latin America. Globally, employee engagement is beginning to improve and as was noted in the report,

While organizations acknowledge the power of engagement, many struggle to make progress in this area. Our research shows that employee loyalty and engagement is waning, especially in Europe. At a time when organizations are looking to employees to help them reduce costs, identify areas for growth, streamline processes, and innovate faster than their competitors, employees in many organizations are showing fatigue in response to the lengthy period of stress, uncertainty, and confusion of the economic downturn.
As long as employers do not offer (or offer on a limited basis) professional development or career opportunities, there is little to motivate employees from re-engaging or engaging more deeply.

Some of the current trends being noted in research by both Aon Hewitt, McKinsey and Company and BlessingWhite:

1. Career opportunities
2. Constant distraction and demanding workloads
3. Financial rewards matter
4. It helps if you are higher up in the organization
5. Companies with higher profits have better levels of engagement
6. Millenials are moving into leadership positions
7. Remote work is becoming norm
8. Intrapreneurship is encouraged to spur innovation
9. Women are gaining momentum

Employee engagement is an ongoing process of change and adaptation

The goals of attracting and retaining talent haven’t changed. However, employees are looking for more. As we’ve discussed on #KaizenBiz before, work and lifestyle choices are being integrated more frequently as the people are connected via smartphones and other devices. This changes how employees engage and what they want to make the engagement more enticing. Even employees with lower level positions are looking for their organizations to invest in them as well.

Do you have some thoughts on employee engagement? What are the trends telling us? Join us on Twitter and use the hastag #KaizenBiz to join the conversation on Friday, November 23, 2013 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT.

How is employee engagement defined by different generations?

What 2013 employee engagement trends will continue into 2014?

What do these trends have in common?

In real terms, how do you link employee engagement with accomplishing an organization’s business goals?

How could redefining management as facilitation rather than order-giver affect levels of employee engagement?