Ongoing performance dialogues and a feedback culture help ensure kaizen success

This guest post comes from Paul W. Swaney III, Lean Transformation consultant and author of “Cultural Kaizen: The story of how simple concepts can transform an organization’s culture, engagement and bottom-line”. In this post, Paul shares how regular performance dialogue and feedback can help improve kaizen events.

When a problem is so significant that 3-5% improvement will not scratch the surface of success, consider running a kaizen event. These events are structured problem solving at its best.

Planning and executing a kaizen event is an effective way to improve organizational culture, process and the bottom line. These types of events run from 3 to 5 days and serve to bring together a group of employees (e.g. a cross-functional team of front-line associates, subject matter experts (SMEs) and support staff) to focus on improving a business challenge or outlining how to achieve a specific goal. The end result of a kaizen event should be at least 30% improvement of defined metrics.

Any organization can benefit from running a kaizen event

Kaizen events can be used to improve processes anywhere from a call center to a quality lab and are also popular in manufacturing organizations. Kaizen events are an incredibly valuable tool in building and maintaining a Lean culture. That said, any organization can benefit from implementing a kaizen event. However, making a kaizen event effective requires some planning.

It also requires two-way communication between all participants throughout each phase of the event. Here is some guidance on how to ensure regular performance dialog and feedback when organizing your own kaizen event.

First, let’s look at the phases of a 5-day kaizen event:

The process is fairly straight forward, and yet many companies end up with mixed results.


Personally, I believe the root cause is a lack of interaction with, and feedback for, the team throughout each phase. Oftentimes, managers confuse process for something robotic that requires no effort to maintain. They forget that the people behind the systems (process) are individuals requiring ongoing performance dialogues and feedback.

This view neglects the fact that people run processes. The people behind the systems are individuals requiring performance dialogues and feedback.

The role of participants in a kaizen event

Every participant on the team plays an important role and communicating this importance is crucial to achieving a successful outcome. Nothing is more powerful than telling a group of front-line associates that we will fail without their knowledge and expertise.

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Example Kaizen Team (for a quality lab kaizen)RolePurposeTeam leaderLab Supervisor (using an insider helps to ensure ‘ownership’ the new process; change management becomes easier with an insider)Team memberSenior Lab Analyst (for subject matter expertise)Team memberJunior Lab Analyst (for a fresh perspective)Team memberJunior Lab Analyst (for a fresh perspective)Team memberProduction Operator (for outside perspective)Team memberHR Representative (to engage the support staff)Facilitator (stakeholder)Quality ManagerStakeholderSite Manager

Event pre-work

3-4 weeks prior to an event, I recommend having a scoping session with your team and then scheduling weekly updates. Using a performance management system, like Halogen eAppraisal, you can set up an appraisal process with goals to help set expectations for the event.

Doing so helps all participants, particularly those new to a kaizen event, to understand their role in providing feedback, encouraging discussion, and recording key insights. You can also set up self appraisals post-event to allow team members to reflect on what they learned.

The mechanical aspects of the initial scoping session, although important, are not the primary focus of these meetings. Instead, there are 3 basic questions to ask:

  1. How is my team leader feeling about the event?
  2. Are there any obstacles to event success?
  3. What can I do to help facilitate the pre-work process and transition to event week?

Asking these questions and addressing any concerns now will help to ensure everyone understands the event’s purpose and their role in its success.

One day prior to the event

Immediately prior to the event, I recommend having a capability building session. The goal of this meeting is to set expectations for the team and, simultaneously, communicate support. This is a good time to edify the team leader’s ability to be successful so that the team leader has the credibility to facilitate the event. Other additional outcomes of this meeting:

1. Communicate metrics for the event. Target metrics should be set during the pre-work phase and now is the time to communicate them. Team members are usually shocked when you tell them that they must double or half the baseline of the target they are trying to improve, but this is imperative to change their thinking.

2. Set team building exercises. There are numerous exercises you can weave into a kaizen session, but the fundamental concept to realize is that the team leader, facilitator, and all stakeholders need to be in the room supporting the team. This means that all of the stakeholders are participating in all facets of the meeting.

Days 1-2

During the first 1-2 days, the team will be mapping out the process. When you are engaging the team leader, consider:

1. Has the team leader spent too little time mapping out the process? If you observe that the team is already trialing solutions to the problem before lunch time on Day 1, it is likely that the problem has been looked at from too high of a level. In this situation the stakeholder/facilitator’s goal is to coach the team without being directive. Ask questions that focus on the process and how the process works in its current state:

  • How are the identified wastes affecting the process flow? This could be material flow or backlog at a call center. The direct effect of most wastes is impeding flow. Removing those wastes permits flow.
  • Where is your process bottleneck? How is it constraining the process?
  • How does variability affect the process? How is the bottleneck shifting?

2. Has the team leader ‘pre-solved’ the problem? It’s tough not to have a gut instinct after doing 3 weeks of pre-work. Coach the team leader to keep an open mind while solving the problem and leverage participants to generate the answer. One of the cues you can use is: try not to jump in unless your team is at an impasse. The risk here is that if the pre-solution fails, the team may not recover. If the team leader jumps in with “the answer” there is a risk the team may become unmotivated to brainstorm other solutions.

Days 3-4

The typical roadblock that hits the team is: analysis paralysis. The team starts to realize that it cannot change the world in a week and members feel a great deal of pressure to produce results. Sometimes that pressure stops people from acting.

This time is critical for you to convey one simple concept: “I will still support you if you fail!” You have to communicate that you are willing to trust the team. I have literally brought a team together that was at an impasse and said, “What do you think… OK… great! Make a change!”

The context here is if you punish failure no one will be motivated to stick their neck out or suggest solutions.

Day 5 and beyond

The implementation plan is where the rubber meets the road. This is where many transformations fail. A great kaizen with no action yields no results. The stakeholders must work with the team to develop a plan and there must be follow-up. To ensure this, there are basic conversations that must occur:

1. Is the plan is on track or is it ahead of schedule? An inexperienced stakeholder/facilitator will tend to cancel this meeting if the implementation is going well. Resist that urge. It is important to spend personal time with the kaizen leader:

  • How does the team feel about the change?
  • What are the potential roadblocks that could affect us down the road?
  • What can we do next time you are a kaizen leader to be even more effective?

2. Is the plan is behind? This doesn’t have to be difficult as long as you frame the discussion correctly. The message that you need to convey is: “What do we need to do to get us on track?” Approach from this angle and listen with empathy.

Enhancing the Kaizen process with performance management tools

There are a number of tools in the Halogen Talent Management Suite that can help contribute to kaizen success.

A kaizen event review form can be set up to evaluate team members on their contribution against defined goals. The Halogen eAppraisal Manufacturing module even comes with a set of Lean competencies to cultivate Lean behaviors in your employees.

A Kaizen review form with Lean competencies

Here is an example of a kaizen event review form set up in Halogen eAppraisal Manufacturing:

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Providing feedback from the Halogen eAppraisal home page

Using Halogen Feedback Central, a key feature to Halogen eAppraisal, you can set up a specific feedback type such as a “Kaizen Event Hansei” that encourages reflection by the team during and after an event. Halogen Feedback Central can help improve engagement with the kaizen process by recording feedback from internal and external sources, such as participating consultants.

Kaizen team members can do this from the Halogen eAppraisal Manufacturing home page by simply selecting the feedback type:

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Share feedback with select participants for the entire kaizen team

Feedback entries can be added by the individual or shared amongst some or all of the team members:

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Adding feedback directly to the appraisal form

Later, the reflections included in this type of feedback can be added directly to a kaizen event review or a performance appraisal to better support ratings and comments:

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Ongoing performance dialogues and a feedback are essential

Multi-day improvement events can be effective as a catalyst for performance transformation. The important caveat to the equation is that people run processes not vice versa and the people in your organization need more than just a framework for execution.

Copious amounts of two-way communication and feedback are absolutely essential to making change stick.

For more information on talent management best practices, read our talent management Center of excellence for manufacturing organizations.

About Paul W. Swaney III

Paul Swaney is a Lean Transformation consultant primarily serving clients in the Pharmaceutical & Medical Products industries and mining industries.

Prior to working as a Lean consultant, Paul was the plant manager/site leader of a specialty chemical plant & distribution center and held various operations and maintenance management roles at chemical plants & refineries.

To learn more about Paul Swaney’s book, Cultural Kaizen: The story of how simple concepts can transform an organization’s culture, engagement and bottom-line, click here. You can also follow Paul on Twitter.

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