The kaizen philosophy is a management method that was derived from Japanese culture. Initially applied in the context of social functioning, family, and personal development, it eventually began to spread into the business world – from small businesses to corporations. How can you use this professional development strategy to improve your company’s performance and achieve your goals faster? Let’s find out!

Kaizen philosophy – table of contents:

  1. What is the kaizen philosophy?
  2. Principles of the kaizen philosophy
  3. Kaizen philosophy in professional development strategy
  4. Examples of kaizen application
  5. How to implement a continuous improvement strategy?
  6. Why doesn’t the kaizen philosophy always work?
  7. The kaizen philosophy – summary

What is the kaizen philosophy?

Kaizen is a concept based on the idea of ceaseless improvement of various processes within a company. It is a term made up of 2 words – kai, meaning change, and zen, meaning better, which can be interpreted as change for the better. It emphasizes the need for systematic planning, implementation and analysis, due to dynamic changes in industries and competition. One possible area of application for this strategy concerns human resources and employee professional development.

Principles of the kaizen philosophy

The kaizen attitude applies to all aspects, related to the operation of the company – processes, products or services, personnel, etc. Its overarching principles, which should be implemented as part of this strategy, are:

  • Transparency

A company should inform each employee about the data or effects of all improvements. It should also conduct surveys with tools that will demonstrate the reliability of its results.

  • Customer value

Every action taken should have our customer’s satisfaction in mind, as it is through them that we can achieve our business goals. Always keep in mind that the products or services offered need to add value for the consumer and manage operational processes in such a way as to eliminate unnecessary elements.

  • Reducing waste

It refers to the previous principle – the results of work should create added value. This requires the removal of improper consumption of resources (financial, material, etc.).

  • Gemba Walk

Management has to recognize and understand the location and conditions associated with the workplace. For example, in the case of running an online store, it could be the customer service department, warehouse, etc. (this is also dependent on the size and scope of the business in question), which requires occasional visits. The idea is to have an overview of the operational processes taking place, however, this is not just to enforce the duties performed by the staff, but to communicate openly and find and solve potential problems.

  • Strengthening the sense of belonging

Staff who communicate clearly with each other and establish collaborative relationships with management will be more committed to improving the company.

Kaizen philosophy in professional development strategy

Employees are valuable assets of a company, who contribute greatly to the achievement of the company’s goals. Therefore, the way human resources are managed and effectively motivated plays an important role here. Kaizen emphasizes the role of engaging all team members in the life of the company, who have great potential within themselves. We can distinguish several models contributing to the realization of a continuous improvement strategy:


The 3M diagram refers to the words muda, mura and muri, which are considered obstacles to achieving kaizen and hinder the smooth execution of processes. They are put together because usually, the occurrence of one is due to the presence of the other two. Knowing the individual reasons for the presence of constraints, the management strategy should seek to remove them (this is not always possible) or at least reduce their impact.

  • Muda – refers to the waste of resources, which can manifest itself in overproduction (making products that are not in demand at the moment; focusing too much on planning rather than action; writing too long, elaborate e-mails, etc.), holding too much inventory, which generates additional costs; interrupting the continuity of work, conducting unnecessary training; not harnessing the competence and potential of employees, etc.
  • Mura – unevenness that manifests itself through the lack of established work standards or the instructions given are incomprehensible, unequal distribution of duties, seasonality of the industry, the variable pace of work, etc.
  • Muri – overload, which is the result of, for example, excessive effort – overtime, the monotony of work, an excessive number of duties/tasks to be performed, the fast pace of work, etc.

Figure 1: 3M model

kaizen philosophy


We have already mentioned the 5S principle in a previous article, so if you don’t know what it is yet, be sure to read it.


Investing in sustainable employee development requires some sort of verification to know if it is effective. It can be helpful to know the PDCA cycle, which is an acronym for Plan (plan), Do (implement), Check (check), and Act (act).

Figure 2: The PDCA cycle

kaizen philosophy
  1. PLAN
  2. It involves setting goals focusing on strategies for employee improvement.

  3. DO
  4. Take action to achieve predetermined goals.

  5. CHECK
  6. The changes that have been made must be evaluated to see if they have fulfilled their function, what effects they have had and what lessons they have learned.

  7. ACT
  8. The development of a professional development strategy is considered a guarantee of greater involvement of staff and better quality of their duties. This includes not only the clear and precise designation of duties and rules of conduct but above all, the opportunity to improve workers’ skills. Still, finding certain deficiencies that may limit development can take place during the earlier stages. Identifying them is the premise for organizing thematic training to meet the needs of team members.

Examples of kaizen application


Toyota is regarded as a pioneer of the kaizen approach, the first company to incorporate this philosophy into its management strategy and has gained a lot from it. Management rightly recognized that they were not always infallible, so it made sense to encourage subordinates to propose solutions and become more involved. Employees were paid in exchange for ideas to improve the company’s processes. Importantly, this was not a one-time initiative, but at each stage of Toyota’s development, there was an opportunity to share their opinions and insights.

The aforementioned 3M, 5S, and PDCA models were introduced at this very company to reduce costs and increase productivity as much as possible.


In the Polish branch of Masterfoods, on the other hand, the introduction of the position of continuous improvement specialist can be seen as a Japanese accent of the kaizen philosophy. Individual teams have the opportunity to participate in the kaizen management training courses to exchange experiences and best be able to implement positive changes. When positions are eliminated, employees are not laid off, but efforts are made to offer them a job in another position in the current company. It also operates an employee proposal program, which allows rank-and-file employees to come to the table and learn about their perspectives and ideas. The best of these are rewarded in the form of bonuses, etc.

How to implement a continuous improvement strategy?

The key issue for the successful introduction of a kaizen strategy is to identify existing problems in the company and develop such procedures that will eliminate them. What actions can you take in this direction?

  1. Raise awareness
  2. When you implement a new concept, employee awareness is essential to put it into practice. The same goes for kaizen. Make your team members understand how the kaizen strategy will be applied.

  3. Clarify your goals
  4. The team needs a path as to where and how it should go. Well-set goals focus attention on the right actions.

  5. Collaborate
  6. You can hold a discussion or brainstorm with your team to get the point of view of its members. The proposed solutions can help increase the efficiency of daily work and optimize resources. Given that they had a say in the final decisions, they will be more willing to adapt to the new conditions.

  7. Ask for feedback and accept criticism
  8. Encourage people to ask questions, share opinions about the actions taken, and don’t be afraid of criticism (but it should be constructive). Keep the goal of continuous improvement in mind.

  9. Reduce waste
  10. Get rid of the barriers that limit the company’s efficiency – wasted resources, inequality and overload (3M).

  11. Determine the competencies of employees
  12. Knowing the skills of individual team members, you can assign them tasks that are best suited to them and achieve their goals. It will also provide you with information on what gaps exist in their skills and, based on this, introduce a plan for training, and workshops. Consider what budget you can allocate for this initiative.

Why doesn’t the kaizen philosophy always work?

Implementing this philosophy into one’s management style is not at all an easy task. Much depends on the attitude of superiors as well as subordinates. Continuous improvement should be based on dialogue and free expression of opinions, and not, as sometimes happens, on giving or carrying out orders. Ideas should come primarily from people who know the specifics of the job and have experience in it. The consequences of a poorly applied continuous improvement strategy are, for example.

  • Short-term nature of the changes, the organization reverts to old habits after some time;
  • Solutions imposed by management are resented by employees;
  • Little involvement of subordinates in real improvements.

The kaizen philosophy – summary

Implementing the kaizen philosophy in your company is a challenge. Reforms require not only taking the right steps but, above all, a change in thinking and perception of work. Focusing only on effects and results can be disastrous, so you have to focus on quality and systematic process improvement. Such a flexible approach is necessary especially now when only those entities that can respond to dynamic changes and modernization have a raison d’être in the market.

Read also: How to implement Agile in your company?

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Author: Caroline Becker

As a Project Manager, Caroline is an expert in finding new methods to design the best workflows and optimize processes. Her organizational skills and ability to work under time pressure make her the best person to turn complicated projects into reality.