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The Secret to Continuous Improvement: Follow a Series of Small, Focused Steps

Kaizen: A Principle for Work and Life


Chances are you’ve already abandoned the New Year’s resolutions you made way back in January. If so, you’re not alone. More than 45% of Americans admit to making resolutions each year, but less than half make it past 6 months and only 8% actually achieve them.1

In part, the failure to make significant, permanent changes may be caused by a lack of a real commitment to your goal. But it may also be that the goals most people set are much too ambitious to be achievable – losing 50 pounds, running a marathon, becoming a concert pianist, for example.  

So how about aiming for a series of smaller, more reasonable goals instead?

Little steps lead to great improvements

This is the approach Fidelity Chairman Edward C. Johnson 3d began to take nearly 30 years ago when he adopted the Japanese principles of Kaizen – or continuous improvement – into the culture of our parent company, Fidelity Investments.

Kaizen is a concept pioneered by Masaaki Imai and Japanese manufacturers in the mid-80s and quickly adopted by businesses all over the world. “The Kaizen philosophy assumes that our way of life—be it our working life, our social life, or our home life—should focus on constant improvement efforts,” Imai says.2

Never just “one and done”

Defined by the dictionary as “a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices, personal efficiency, etc.,”3 Kaizen involves everyone in the workplace – managers and workers. It often represents the cumulative effect of small, incremental changes, which are relatively inexpensive.

As we start working with new clients, we encourage them to begin with one process improvement for workflow automation. The momentum and knowledge gained from that first accomplishment can then be leveraged to tackle the next hurdle and the one after that to build on lasting achievements. We believe these focused small steps lead to accomplishing more of what the client set out to do.

The idea of continuous improvement is fundamental to our success at XTRAC today. Making improvements to a system or a process is never just “one and done.” It’s constant, consistent, continuous and incremental.

1StatisticBrain.com -- http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/

2Masaaki Imai, Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense Approach to a Continuous Improvement Strategy, McGraw-Hill Education; 2 edition (June 13, 2012)