After more than one year battling lockdowns and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many leaders see a huge opportunity to re-shape the way we run businesses: Hybrid work, sustainable business models, circular economy – many topics that previously filled boardroom discussions with doubt now seem within reach. Let me give you a KAIZEN™ perspective on re-shaping the economy in a series of three articles over the coming weeks. The first one covers the role of leaders in actively shaping the future.
Mixed hopes for leaders
Let me start with a view from the top: What’s changing for CEOs and managers? Where is the opportunity for them to embark on a new future that overcomes some of their past challenges?
Large-scale quantitative studies, such as Microsoft's annual Work Trend Index, provide a starting point. Released in March 2021, the study confirms that overall, leaders are getting through the pandemic positively. For example, 61 percent say they are doing well in a mainly home office environment. Yet, there is also a flipside to this positive scenario: The report reveals that 41 percent of employees are considering leaving their employer. The pandemic has brought this figure to an all-time high, as many individuals are looking for their personal "why" and are willing to question fundamental things.
Start by looking at the flow of work
For many companies, this means initiating comprehensive cultural transformation in order to remain attractive employers. Masaaki Imai, founder of Kaizen Institute, specifically looks at this in his new book, Strategic KAIZEN™. While employees and customers alike are increasingly criticizing the fact that for many business leaders, the financial yardstick still applies first, the potential lies in customer-value-creating business processes, such as operations. Gemba (the place of value-creation) is where the work is getting done. That's where much of the time and resources are wasted and inefficiencies are commonplace – and that’s where leadership needs to happen.
KAIZEN™ urges executives to abandon the traditional focus on financials and volumes only and replace it with a concept of flow: a smooth, continuous, and expeditious flow of work, synchronized throughout the entire organization. Creating the conditions for flow to happen – this is the role of business leaders.
As a key lesson from Masaaki Imai, and that is backed by my experience in business, I would like to make the point that, from a leadership perspective, there are only three important things in making a business future-ready:
- Management Commitment
- Management Commitment
- Management Commitment
It’s almost as simple as that. KAIZEN™ is a very practical philosophy. We do not need loads of colourful slides to explain our approach to transformation: It is happening in process, we pay attention to where value is created, and try to optimize this step by step. This requires top management to be fully committed – and to be present at the places of action.
Against chaos in crisis
This mental presence helps us to avoid making things more complicated than they need to be. That’s particularly true in times of crisis and disruption. We can see this in many digitalization and automatization efforts of traditional companies: Some businesses tend to overprocess their efforts to make innovation happen. We are pro innovation, but against the chaos that is sometimes generated around new things. Let’s take the waste out of the process, and in that way to ensure a smooth process that is fast and flexible enough to embrace rapidly changing markets – and to be enabled for digitalization and automatization.
Doing more by less: A sustainable approach
This mindset is also helpful in addressing the urgent topics that the COVID-19 pandemic made even more visible for all of us: the growing demands from society on businesses to tackle social and environmental issues and the according request for more sustainable business models in the future. The principle of doing more by less can help to use raw materials in more efficient ways as well as innovating and developing more environmentally friendly processes and technologies.
One key question remains: How can businesses stay in flow with the environment? In order to find an appropriate answer, it is now the wrong time for leaders to be relaxed. There are many companies who managed to grow during the pandemic. These are the ones we need to look at, as they will most likely continue to thrive in the future. The gap between good and bad players in the economy may have widened – now is the right time to accelerate development. The leaders that train their muscles every day, will be ready to run any time!
Interested in reading why looking beyond the tools and implementing KAIZEN™ as a culture is equally important in shaping the post-pandemic economy? Watch out for the next blog post to be published next week!