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Global Leader & Pioneer in Kaizen/Lean/Operational Excellence domain

….LEAN…..6sigma …. Kaizen – True Transformation….from Monkey to Man

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Recently during the month of March, while the global leaders of the Kaizen Institute met at Venice for the annual awards, I got chatting with our Sensei…(Japanese for guru), our founding chairman Masaki Imai on a topic dear to heart -organizational transformation! It was early evening, we were relaxing before dinner and Imai san went on to narrate ananecdote and share some pearls of wisdom on matters relating to organizational transformation.

Once, a chimp was dressed up in a pair of trousers, shirt, jacket, a pair of sun glasses and a smart hat to complete the getup. He was let loose on the street and soon the chip started walking towards an office building. A group of people saw this ‘object’ approaching them & each one started guessing who it could be? Some were sure it resembled jack, while other were betting it was Jim walking towards ….or was it Peter ? As the object got closer, it started looking less like jack , Jim or Peter and more like a stranger with a funny hunched and awkward gait! When it got really close, they soon were shocked to find that it actually a chimp DRESSED UP as a human!!

What is the point here? That a chimp dressed up as a human, does NOT ever become a human! A chimp can never become a human unless his very bones, his fundamental skeletal structure changes! The chimp has a curved or bow of  a back bone; we human have erect back bones! This fundamental difference makes us different, though from far we may ‘resemble’ each other!

True organizational transformation happen when the very bones…the skeletal structure is challenged and changed. When old paradigms and structures are questioned and replaced when needed. One can’t fool one self or others by mere ‘dressing up’! Sadly, often time, this is the case within many organizations who adopt LEAN/ 6 Sigma or any other transformation approach. Especially this applies to manufacturing or transformation related to operations as in LEAN/ LEAN Sigma or similar implementation.

Often organizations get started with tools. 5s, SMED, AM, Cellular Layouts etc are tools that are launched and implemented with encouraging results, but many a times the efforts start and end with these tools. These tools are an means to an end. The end being Sustainable Growth and Profits!

NEVER ever can these disjointed, tool focused approach truly be considered as organizational transformation! We do get enthused by book like The Toyota Way, which does offer more than a peep into Toyota’s culture transformation under way since some many decades (they say it is still work in progress! Kaizen). But not many of us are able to appreciate the deep organization cultural transformation which drives everything else. This is what Imai san says is true Kaizen…Everyday, Everyone, Everywhere Kaizen ….continual improvement. It is not few people, few days, few places ….Kaizen!

While tools drive improvements, it is how one builds the underlying cultural transformation that is the key. From the Kaizen Management System perspective, culture is an outcome that comes by staying focused on three key elements: (a) system & model for change within the organization (b) building skills / capability across the board to learn & drive change (c) coupled with setting clear goals, anaudit mechanism linked to performance management. It is this judicious combination of these three elements that powers true transformation, which in turn, powers sustenance of a Kaizen culture within any organization.

As one perfects the tools of change, one should not loose sight on the cultural aspects as mentioned above. There is no meaning in fooling ourselves or other stake holders, by calling a ‘dressed up’ chimp as a homo sapien! The message is clear….apply tools, but address the culture!

In Imai san’s words….LEAN or 6 Sigma is the outcome, whereas Kaizen is the process that drives these outcomes! We got down to dinner that night, with these words swirling around in our minds, like the bubbles in our fizzy drinks! 

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Author: Kaizen Institute - India!

Kaizen Institute – India is part of the Global Kaizen Institute operations. Kaizen Institute was established by Sensei Masaaki Imai, the GURU of Kaizen. He wrote the 1st book 28 yrs ago and that is when it all started . We operate in 30+ countries today and have over 400+ coaches helping more then 600 organizations Learn, Apply, Sustain – Kaizen/ Operational Excellence. In India we have two physical offices – Pune & Ahmedabad and 27 coaches in all.

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