The Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the Kaizen Institute recently held their 17th Annual Congress, and I’m writing about it as I was one of the keynote speakers at the event. I have for long been an admirer of Kaizen, which is all about waste reduction and continuous improvement.
It was first largely applied in the manufacturing environment, but it soon spread to other sectors – for who doesn’t want to do away with waste, and shouldn’t we all be focused on continuous improvement?
The reason I was asked to contribute to the congress is because however necessary the technical aspects of Kaizen are, the waste reduction and improvement cannot be actualised unless the non-technical, or human, aspects are also taken care of. This is what takes an organisation from doing the necessary to thinking through to the sufficient.
These non-technical aspects require a significant investment of time and resources, but many technically-focused and task-focused people complain that this just takes away from efficiency, delaying the completion of tasks. Yet what they do not appreciate is the consequence of not investing time in aligning those involved in the tasks with each other.
It is this kind of neglect that sees people confined in their narrow functional or geographical silos; focused on short-term sub-optimisation at the expense of long-term sustainability; witnesses them indulging in conflicts that lead to stalemates and prevent timely or appropriate decision-making.
When attention is not paid to how well people communicate with one another, some will stay silent without contributing their thoughts, some will be too assertive, and poor listeners.
So my presentation urged the participants not be so “efficient” that it prevents them from being “effective”, suggesting they should invest time in building high-trust relationships, that then enable collaboration and consensus building.
They should also invest time in building a coaching mindset in their organisations, so their people develop and where personal goals align with organisational ones.
The return on this investment is that the staff will offer superior contributions, and good people will be attracted and retained, as they learn and they grow.
By taking time to develop both their technical and non-technical skills, and within a high-trust culture, leaders will feel comfortable empowering others and delegating to them, freeing them up for more strategic activity.
Another “inefficient” use of time is holding back from the default position of telling others what to do, but rather taking time to understand before seeking to be understood. For we must accept that we don’t know what we don’t know.
The speaker before me was the Kaizen Institute’s Joint Managing Director Jayanth Murthy, who proposed that we all pray for “Better, More, Faster”, for quality, growth and speed – which is what Kaizen delivers.
He reminded us that most strategies fail because of poor execution, and showed us a cartoon of a pair of exhausted fellows pushing a cart with square wheels… while within the cart are round ones!
He then gave examples of how this is manifested in real life, quoting Charles Darwin’s observation that “it is not the strongest of the species who survive, or the most intelligent, but those who are most adaptable to change”.
After me came another confident optimist, Jas Bedi, the Chairman of KEPROBA, the Kenya Export Promotion and Branding Authority, who talked about the huge potential in Kenya for import substitution and exports, and about the need to have a borderless EAC and for the continent as a whole. We must add value, and consolidate imports as a regional redistribution hub, he also insisted.
The room at Kempinski was filled with Kaizenologists from leading manufacturing companies around Kenya… all taking “inefficient” time away from their tasks back in their gemba (Kaizen terminology for the workplace), so as to learn and to share. Ah yes, the full spirit of Kaizen lived here: the best knowing they can still get better.