If you were in business in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, you no doubt recall the quality and teaming efforts of the decade. Massive companies like Motorola, Toyota, IBM, BMW, Eli Lilly, Walt Disney, Procter and Gamble, and Johnson & Johnson, were all in the midst of major change.
“Kaizen” was a term commonly applied to organizations seeking to evolve and improve. At its root, Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy that encourages continuous improvement in all aspects of one’s life. When applied to business, it refers to the continuous improvement of all organizational functions from top to bottom. But the intention of Kaizen was not simply one of process improvement. In fact, Kaizen recognized the importance of humanizing the change effort. The idea was that systems and processes could be improved incrementally over time by the people who did the work, and therefore, knew it best.
The concept of Kaizen was closely followed by the concept of “Employee Empowerment,” when companies began to realize that in order for employees to affect change, they had to have a certain amount of authority and accountability. Employees were expected to make effective decisions and – in exchange – were given the autonomy to implement.
Efforts of the 1990’s laid the foundation for many of today’s blue chip organizations. Some have seen continued success, while others have reorganized, restructured, or been consumed. And new companies have entered the Fortune 500. Now, change is faster, more complex, and frankly, there is more of it. Today’s organizations rarely have a moment of rest. In the past, change was clear, significant and dramatic. Now, change is constant. It is no longer evolutionary, as in the days of Kaizen, but more revolutionary.
Although things are different now, the lessons we learned about the importance that people play in achieving results cannot be overlooked. The truth is that engaging people in the quest for success may be more important in 2016 than it has ever been. In the 1990’s people were committed to careers and companies that they expected to be in for a lifetime, but now, the workforce is more transient. People must make a concious choice to stay, and a concious choice to contribute while they are there. The onus is on today’s leaders to engage employees in a compelling vision that aligns with a noble purpose and encourages motivation and commitment.
What changes will alter the way you do business in the coming years? We’d love to hear from you. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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