The Japanese word, kaizen, is often translated as continuous improvement. A more literal translation is change (kai) better (zen). Continuous change happens while taking one step at a time into the future. Continuous – meaning that we never arrive at perfection, but steadily work to improve. Matt May describes the kaizen steps using the acronym IDEA: “Investigate, Design, Experiment, Adjust.”
I’ve been reflecting on the power of combining kaizen with Appreciative Inquiry. Together they create a unique process for organization development. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) asks us to investigate, inquire, and discover what is working well. It asks us to imagine and design next steps. Then, without conclusion, AI cycles to delivering results and back to renewed inquiry. Adding the “Experiment” from IDEA into the process, improves and strengthens the design by asking us to innovate using design thinking.
AI opens a conversation with every level of an organization. It builds on existing resources and strengths, creating possibilities. I’ve seen managers surprised by the energy and ideas coming from within their team. I’ve seen departments shift their focus, creating entirely new opportunities and practices. I’ve seen large systems discover ways of engaging across formerly impermeable boundaries. I’ve seen individuals take steps toward personal goals. Appreciative Inquiry is an effective framework for kaizen and organization development.
When and how have you experienced kaizen? What processes do you use to support “change better?”