Kaizen – Continuous Improvement

In 1991, I published a book titled, “40 Years, 20 Million Ideas – The Toyota Suggestion System by Yuzo Yasuda. In 1986, Toyota received 47.7 suggestions per employee with a 96% adoption rate and 95% of their employees participated saving millions of dollars and getting people more excited and motivated about their work. In America, the average company that participated in the American Suggestion Association received one idea from the average employee every seven years. At Toyota and with other Japanese companies their suggestion system was to get people involved while in America it was a cost saving system.

I once consulted with DCI in Newburgh, Oregon, a small company with less than 200 employees that received on the average three ideas per employee per week, around 150 ideas per employee per year. Most of the ideas were small, but they probably had the most motivated people in America. We ran a weekly competition with the team with the most suggestions receiving an award – money was not paid to the employees for the savings. They just considered that the suggestion system was part of their job.

One day back then, I received a call from the owner of a manufacturing company outside of Pittsburgh, who wanted me to train their employees. He said, “Norman, I heard about you from another company in the area and I want you to help us but I cannot afford your fees.” I said, “Yes, you can, just pay me 30% of the savings for one year.” He jumped at the idea. I came and trained around 30 employees. A few weeks later, I came back to train another group and looked at his very sad face. And I don’t know why but I said, “Forget about the deal and only pay me $35,000 to train all your employees.” He jumped and immediately agreed. We subsequently visited the plant and stopped in front of Tim, a polisher. I asked Tim to show me one of his ideas. He said, “I am a polisher and I was using a plate to hold two parts to polish. My idea was to make a larger plate to hold four parts to polish at the same time.” Tim with his one idea doubled his productivity and probably saved the company $40,000 for the year. (30% or $12,000 would have been my share.) The company received close to 2000 ideas that first year. I probably gave up millions of dollars.

People who do the work, know their job better than others, but are rarely asked to come up with and implement those ideas. Real continuous improvement is getting people involved, making them real partners in the improvement process and recognizing that they have both the brains and the ability to help your company.

Just ask people to come up with improvement ideas; let them implement their ideas, encourage them, praise them and then see what happens.

(To be continued – I will talk about how to make Lean work.)

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