To develop yourself, you always have to break your status quo. It means that you have to be dissatisfied with how things are – but in a very positive way. I always explain it to my trainees, that they have to develop this courage to break the status quo. And for them to do that, we have to make sure they have clear organizational structure and support – Jun Nakamuro, Officially Endorsed Coach in Taiichi Ohno’s (PEC) Method of TPS and Kaizen, says in an interview for “Production Manager” magazine.
By Przemysław Ozga.
PM: What is ‘the spirit of Kaizen’ in your opinion, Mr Nakamuro? Is there a deep meaning that we, managers from Western cultures, cannot see?
JN: It is a bit difficult to put into words. But there surely is a difference between cultures: the Western culture has a very rational approach, you always reason things. When you look at the Japanese culture, in turn, everything is based on the human instinct. The human instinct is not the same thing as human nature, we have to be clear, and it is also something different from animal instinct; we are humans, so our instinct is different from an animal one. Human instinct works like science, it’s a logical way of getting to results. And as long as everything: theory, principles – I mean principles, not philosophy – is based on human instinct, on its scientific approach, you really get results. But when people start to rationalize the meaning of Kaizen or the roots of TPS, they will never understand it. This is because as long as people have not really experienced Kaizen or TPS, they can never understand them. There is no way that they can reason it or rationalize it, as these systems are based on experience – and these people have no experience to begin with.
Kaizen is similar to evolution when you compare it to the biblical story about how God created humans and everything else. Evolution, as scientists talk about it, is about how monkeys became humans. Of course, in Kaizen we do not talk about monkeys becoming humans – we are talking about people developing to become better people. The Japanese traditional culture, our traditional way of being is about evolving, so that once we are born to the society, we must develop ourselves to be better. And this is also the basis of Kaizen.
To develop yourself, you always have to break your status quo. It means that you have to be dissatisfied with how things are – but in a very positive way. I always explain it to my trainees, that they have to develop this courage to break the status quo. And for them to do that, we have to make sure they have clear organizational structure and support. So, if we need to engage frontline people, we need to encourage their managers to be fearless of change, and make sure they can take responsibility for any shortcomings from the frontline.
This is the ‘spirit of Kaizen’ for trainees. Being flipped around, as a consultant, I always tell myself – this is just my way of framing my mind – that today has been the worst day of my life. I learnt it from my teacher in Japan – that no matter how great your results are, or how much the trainees praise you, you should believe this has been the worst day of your life. This is how I break my status quo as a trainer so that I have energy to do better tomorrow.
Breaking the status quo does not have to have anything to do with physical change, like buying machines, a new factory, or hiring more people. It is about how you change your behaviour, which is the easiest thing to do, although at the same time it is the most difficult thing to do because of how others see it.
Generally, basing on my experience in many organisations and in introducing many different changes, I think that the meaning of ‘the spirit of Kaizen’ has to change as you evolve as a trainee or a trainer. I have seen many people who were not satisfied with just proceeding in the continuous improvement – this was because they did not know how to succeed, they did not evolve, only focusing on improvement understood as physical change.
PM: Could you please explain the main distinction beetwen kaizen and kairyo?
JN: Kaizen was originally translated into English as ‘continuous improvement’, but the translator did not really understand the deep meaning of Kaizen coming from the specific cultural background. Toyota Production System was born in Japan in 1946, out of need. The company did not have money nor manpower – Japan lost a war – and there were no natural resources. But there was a need to transform the industry, otherwise the Americans would take it all over, including car sector. Toyota had three years to catch up with American companies. Through trial and error, there were doing Kaizen for decades, until in 1978 a book by Taiichi Ohno was published. The very word kaizen was not even actually mentioned there yet. Then the book was translated into English in 1989, ten years after it was published. Meanwhile, in 1980, Taiichi Ohno left Toyota and partnered with my teacher in Japan.
What Taiichi Ohno realized was that Toyota Production had to be based on the culture of Toyota. So this is the first thing to develop a Lean or TPS-based company – first you have to look how to create the mindset of Toyota. ‘Toyota mindset’ can be translated as Kaizen. Of course, this mindset was not created at once – it has been something that Toyota had to perfect, and they have not perfected it yet.
The term Kaizen itself really came out beyond that book, between 1980 and 1990. I think American MIT researchers went to Japan, discovered the term and just translated it directly into English as continuous improvement – which does not convey the core of it. When you look up the term ‘continuous improvement’ in a Japanese dictionary, you will see kairyo, not kaizen – these two terms are written differently in Japanese.
Kairyo is the external change, in most cases involving financial expenses to get more resources for solving particular problems. In contrast to this, Kaizen is basically for free, it does not cost any money – it is about changing your behaviour in a positive way, so that other people, seeing you do that and following their human instinct, could become able to do the same to you. This becomes a continuous circle of Kaizen: if someone initiates the changing of their behaviour to benefit others, then whoever is looking at it and getting the benefits, wants to do the same. This is typical of Japanese society, it is one of its basic principles. But I think Poland is in a similar situation – you also are a small country, you have to help each other, it is a kind of a village concept: you have to exchange goods, help other people, and everybody has to be a leader of a change that everybody needs. The negative thing is that you are afraid of breaking the status quo for fear of other people pointing out that you are making a change. The Japanese are similar in this respect. But usually when you make that change, the others follow. It also works similarly in organizations. You only have to maintain the right sequence: you cannot engage frontline people to make a change while senior leaders, the CEO or the board members are not participating. This is the difference. And if you want to do Lean or TPS in your country, these are the things on which I would focus.
PM: You sometimes criticize positive thinking because it has a potential to freeze us in the status quo. What is wrong with the status quo? Can you explain the role of hansei in the way of Kaizen?
JN: When you think there is nothing wrong with the status quo, it means you have not wholly understood the sense of urgency. Toyota had to understand it – they only had three years to catch up before American automotive manufacturers came into Japan. So when I am going to a company and they are not willing to change the status quo, I first work with the CEO or the president to communicate the sense of urgency. The best argument to communicate this to workers is the financial one: if we continue this way, we will not be in the business. And you can actually end there, but then people may think that this is an organizational problem. Thus, you have to somehow map the organizational sense of urgency on the personal sense of urgency so that the problem that the organization is facing becomes a worker’s personal business. This gives them the sense of urgency and motivates them to change. And once they become motivated, we have to make sure they are not just making any type of a change, but a change that will give them better results.
As for positive thinking, the term is vague because people can differ on what is positive. But no matter what the understanding is, it should not be the first step. When I coach senior leaders on how to engage people, I always make sure that when they address the group, the first step they do is communicate the sense of urgency, that is the difference between the ideal state and the current state. If leaders can help the middle managers and frontline people first see the negative things, the shortcomings, and make a consensus on the ideal vision, then these shortcomings, instead of being only obstacles, become motivators to develop the sense of urgency. And only then, having seen the sense of urgency together, you can take up positive thinking. However, I do not like to call it positive thinking, I rather say: achievable goals. So, instead of saying: hey, let us reduce the costs by fifty per cent in three years – that is not achievable – we can say: hey, this month let us reduce the costs of the administration or the finance department by five per cent. The know-how that they get by doing this can then be replicated to other departments. By giving the workers achievable goals and providing them with help and assistance from Lean and TPS perspective, we can guarantee them to achieve the goal – and this is the positive thinking we should strive for. Then we can say: you have done a good job achieving five per cent – but that is not good enough. It is important to end every sentence with a challenge, not with a compliment, because compliments do not really develop people. I think this is the essence of hansei.
PM: What does it mean to be a leader according to Jun Nakamuro?
JN: I would distinguish three levels of leadership: there is a manager, a leader, and a sponsor. A leader is more than just a regular manager, but not yet a sponsor. For example, the true leader cannot ask the subordinates to do something that they cannot do themselves. And when the subordinates cannot do the thing they are asked to do, the leader says: let us do it together. This is the first behaviour that I want to see when I coach leaders. Another thing is that when a leaders wants to empower frontline people, they have to make sure they are not delegating their own responsibilities by empowering others. On the contrary – the leaders have to show with their own actions how things should be done. A good leader can say: hey guys, if you are winning at the front end, do not let me know. But if there is a problem that you cannot solve, come and get me any time. Generally, becoming a true leader is a long way around of having to revisit everybody’s work and learn how it is being performed. On this basis the leader can identify the current state and the ideal state, and create the sense of urgency, the motivation to correct the issues.
As they develop, the leaders have to go through the behavioural change so that they can become sponsors. A sponsor does not have to lead any more – they are to develop other leaders. A sponsor can say: hey guys, you make the decision on your own. But if you ever fail, I take the full responsibility.
PM: What are the main differences between the traditional leadership style and the leadership style within the Cycle of Kaizen?
JN: The traditional leadership style is very control-based, very top-down. Actually, every transformation has to come from the top, but the traditional leadership too much focuses on the top-down direction.
PM: There is too much focus on the ‘pyramid’ structure?
JN: Definitely. In the cycle of Kaizen, the sense of urgency has to come from the top – but only the sense of urgency. It does not tell people how to solve problems; it is the frontline people that have to figure it out. The leaders do not care about problems as long as they are solved in the end.
Apart from providing the sense of urgency, leadership has to serve as an example to the workers. In the cycle of Kaizen, the leaders have to demonstrate actions and attitudes from the top, in practice, because seeing is believing. Actually, I think this is the most successful way of removing the fear of change in the frontline people to let them see their managers making a similar change, so that they can think: well, my managers are doing this, so it is OK to make this change. You can write a book on how to remove fear, or how you can overcome resistance, but it all comes down to one or two things that a CEO has to do. Balance is very important. For example Apple, when Steve Jobs was alive, used to have very traditional leadership, very much like micromanagement. Now it is turning to bottom-up leadership, but they do not have a good leader. So, it is about a balancing the top, the bottom, and the middle. In this, always the middle guys face the biggest challenge. That is probably why they get paid more… (laughter)
PM: Let us talk about the culture of respect, about the respect towards workers. What was Mr Taiichi Ohno’s definition and how do you define it?
JN: It is not Taiichi Ohno’s definition; it is the Japanese cultural definition. Most importantly, being respectful is not equal to being nice. Sometimes it is exactly the opposite – for example, if I see someone that is doing something wrong, like crossing the road at the red light, I could say – well, it is that person’s responsibility, they might get hit by a car but it does not matter, I am just trying to be nice, not to disturb them… People tend to think that this is respect, but it is not so. True respect is about calling out what is wrong, no matter who you are talking to, for the betterment of the society – of course in a polite way, without pointing that out, or making that person angry. And it has to begin from the leaders. The concept of respect – or harmony – in Japanese culture goes back to 604 CE, when Japanese emperor issued our original constitution, the Seventeenth Articles, which regulated the way leaders behaved towards each other. It taught them: if you want to get the truth from your subjects, you need to start telling the truth yourself. Another problem with leadership at that time was that the leaders used to do war with bottom line their own benefits. They did not really care for what was good for the society. The constitution required them to start acting not only for their personal benefit, but above all for the common good. At first, they did not want to do all these things. But once they made these changes, the truth started to come out to them, the good was reciprocated. This is how respect and harmony work. And although practicing them may seem extremely difficult at first, it is the right thing to do.
PM: How did you and Mr Ohno understand baka-yoke and poka-yoke, and how should we react, as leaders, to workers that are baka and poka?
JN: Mr Ohno clearly defined baka-yoke and poka-yoke. Baka-yoke is ‘stupid-proof’ and poka-yoke is ‘error-proof’. Ohno wanted to articulate this difference, but the translator decided it was not polite to call people stupid. However, there is a clear difference here. As an employer, the last thing you want to do is hire people who intentionally make mistakes, who are actively disengaged – and that is poka, ‘forgetful’. But there are also some people that have no ability to avoid errors – they are baka. I know that ‘stupid’ is a negative word, but it just means here the inability to learn new things. To empower these people not to make any mistakes, you can install a special system. When it comes to poka workers, a system does not solve the problem because they make errors in an active way.
PM: So you do not have to get rid of baka workers? You should create a system for them?
JN: Yes, exactly.
PM: How much resources should we spend on the understanding of the current state before jumping into the PDCA cycle?
JN: Understanding the current state and achieving a consensus of what is current by as many workers as possible is the best improvement that you can make. When I go to a factory or an organization, I take the president or the CEO around the area in which the work is being performed, because from my experience I know what results you can get just by looking at it. The amount of time depends on your experience. If you are a consultant experienced in a given industry, by looking at the general situation, the costing, the budget of an organization, you already know what the current state is. Many managers spend too much time in a conference room, trying to understand the current state, without even knowing what the second step is going to be. They think they get a consensus on the current state this way, but then, when you talk to the frontline people, they say: no, this is not what is happening.
Another important thing is to keep the changes small when it comes to improvements on the frontline, because if a change happens not to work because you did not understand the current state correctly, all you have to do is say: I am sorry, let us put everything to normal, let us correctly define the current state and then resume the cycle.
PM: How to overcome cultural barriers and initiate the Kaizen culture in a multicultural environment, with many people from many nations working in one factory? I am asking because of a new situation in Poland: today, we not only have foreign frontline workers, but also foreign managers – from Ukraine, Germany, Japan… Sometimes this becomes a bottleneck, as the managers have to overcome the fear of the local frontline people, who do not know what to expect from a manager from a different culture…
JN: I have encountered situations like these and what I did was I advised the foreign managers to get to know the local people better, for example by doing simple socializing activities that require both of the cultural groups to step out of their comfort zones, to do something that is new for them – for example a team sport that none of them have played before.
What is very important is that, no matter what integration strategy we choose, the managers should always have the same, or even slightly bigger challenges than the local workers. Why? Because if a few managers do not show up to work, the factory can still make money. But if all the local people do not show up to work, the factory has to be shut down. Who needs to make the biggest effort then? The managers just have to do it, also for their self-improvement and their own financial and career-wise benefit.
The question is only if they are ready to step out of their comfort zone if they expect other people to get out of theirs. Generally, these questions are super-easy, but people just do not think this way, although these are valid questions, there is globalization… In Japan, we have many frontline workers from Philippines and South-East Asia and we often implement a recognition and incentive system for them. This is another strategy and also something that can be done quickly – creating an incentive system based on local cultural values. This is also probably the easiest way.
PM: How do you communicate in a multicultural environment?
JN: In such an environment visual management is very key. Of course, you should also use other methods, e.g. create teams of frontline workers in which team leaders are bilingual to some extent, but to be able to communicate all the way to the frontline, visual management is the best means to use. Mostly in a form of visibility boards on which first you should use colours, then shapes, and third, as the last resort, words and numbers.
PM: There are three different alphabets in Japanese. Because of that, you can understand muda in two different way – as a process or as a part of a process…
JN: Yes, there is one type of ‘waste’ that is a process itself, an unnecessary process. There are many processes like that. But there are also processes that are necessary themselves, but have unnecessary elements. For example, when you are checking in at a hotel, there are some processes that you do not think are required, e.g. they staff wants to help you with your luggage and you are so worried about security that the help becomes waste. So, while the checking-in process is necessary, there is much waste in it. This is just one example of how one concept, when written down in different, can have multiple meanings. I have been trying to explain it, but generally you do not need a PhD to analyze this all. Lean is based on TPS and TPS is designed for machinists who did not have any education, but they had good skills.
PM: A number of Polish production companies use financial gratification as a motivating factor to make technical or organizational improvements. Employees know they will get money if they make any improvement in gemba, in their workplace. Is this the right way?
JN: It depends on how much results you want to achieve at the end. If you see an organization as a pyramid, then when you focus on kairyo, which is physical change, this does not factor the people at the ‘base’, right? But when you get more people at the ‘base’ involved, your pyramid gets bigger and you end up with bigger results. When you only do physical improvement, then if you own a company that manufactures products like coca-cola or beer, which is fully automated, computerized, then it does work. But as long as there is work that has been touched by people, then there is waste, that is non-value-added work there. This is why you always have to include people in the formula. What is great about Toyota Production System is that although TPS is a scientific approach to achieving greater results, there is a thing in which it differs from regular science: in a scientific formula, when you have an element that can vary, that is not constant, you always end up with wrong results at the end. It is not science then, because science is about how to repeat the same results. In Kaizen, on the contrary, although you have all the constants and people as the varying element, it turns out that the more you engage people, the more your value goes up, so you have exponential results!
It is important to introduce changes in a proportional way. As Enna Organisation Transformation Program diagram shows, while transforming your organization, you have to come at three things: one is technology – you need technology; the second is the management process – these two are the physical change – and finally, you have the mindset. These three factors should be improved in a simultaneous way: a little bit of the mindset, a little bit of the technology, and a little bit of the management process. This is how you end up getting results like big companies in Japan.
PM: Many Lean transformations in Poland die after the first period of enthusiasm. How to keep transformation alive, make it an ongoing process, a never-ending story?
JN: Yes… (laughter)You focus too much on the technology, whereas the leader’s mindset is not there. Actually, it is not even about mindset itself – it is about the consensus on the sense of urgency: why are we here, what do we want to achieve, by when? And if we achieve that sense of urgency, the company’s mission and vision – how will this satisfy me as a person and as a member of society? This connection is not always there. It is particularly difficult in a multicultural workplace, because you have to find something that is commonly important in all these cultures. Fortunately, I have seen many companies that have done this. Some of them, including these in the developing world, simply implement the recognition system – if somebody does a really good job, there are financial incentives, so they can support their families better. In this case it is simply money. Because, although money is not everything, it is something that people can understand, regardless of culture and religion. In your country, there also must be something at the core that both you and the immigrant workers, or managers, can understand. And it is a good thing for us to work towards this core, the shared goal – and build a system for that.
Sometimes, when a Lean transformation cannot be sustained, it is also the leadership issue. Let us remember that we cannot fail frontline people, because if they fail, we will lose customers. So we cannot let them fail, or make them feel disengaged or disappointed with any of these changes. But leaders can fail. Sometimes they even need to fail – to become better leaders. We have to understand this logic.
PM: What was the most important lesson you learnt from Mr Hitoshi Yamada?
JN: I learnt many things, but the most important one was that we tend to blame people for their cultural background, religion, ignoring the fact that there is the human potential in each human being to tap into. There was a theory that we use five or six per cent of our brains, right? The human potential is too often ignored in the reality of mass production and mass sales, where the work is divided, so workers do the same work for eight hours a day, not even seeing their products. But if you somehow connected customers and employees, and created a system in which the employees could unleash their potential, you would see success you could never think of before. We all are human, we have a great human instinct and we should leverage that. Human nature is something that we develop throughout our lives and sometimes it undergoes negative influences, we can become selfish, focus on our personal gains. But the human instinct is something that we are born with. And for example, when you see a child drowning in a river, then something tells you that you have to go and jump in, risk your life to save that child. This is the human instinct – animals do not have this. We do not know how we got this instinct, it is a great mystery. But as long as have it in ourselves, we are capable of sacrificing our own lives to go and rescue the child that we have never met before. Every individual has a potential to do something that is as great as this, although we are not aware of it. But when the moment is there, we just do it, not even having a second thought. Like when you drive – you do not think about how to drive, it becomes your muscle memory. Why cannot work be like that too? This is the greatest thing I have learnt.