Operational excellence is a philosophy that encompasses the efforts of everyone in a business, where teamwork, problem-solving, and effective leadership result in the ongoing improvement of an organisation. It can only be achieved by ingraining a culture of change and development into every level and every person in the company, from executives all the way down to the employees producing the products on the factory floor. In recent years it's been found that two management strategies, usually associated with production lines and manufacturing are equally as successful when applied holistically to a business, particularly in the food and drink industry. These strategies are Kaizen and Lean; philosophies focused on continual improvements and the reduction of waste, or wasteful activities.
Kaizen is a Japanese term that when translated to English means “Change for the better” is more widely recognised as continuous improvement. Although first created to manage production and operational efforts, modern times have allowed it to evolve into an all-encompassing strategy where employees across all departments and levels of a business proactively work together. This consistent teamwork, strive for excellence and steady improvement now goes beyond the manufacturing process; it combines the collective talents of the individuals of a company to create a powerful strategy for development and success.
Kaizen philosophy assumes that everything can be improved or can perform better or more efficiently. The identification of the three MUs – Muda (wastes), Mura (variation/inconsistency) and Muri (strain/burden on people and machines) help to target the areas of the business that need streamlining and improving. This facilitates an organisational culture that utilises personal creativity and ingenuity to help employees with identifying problems that they themselves are accountable for. It then urges them to develop and implement ideas to solve those problems.
Fundamentally, it's about building a culture where all employees don’t just follow leadership, but learn to offer suggestions and want to implement improvements to the company themselves. In time it becomes a natural way of thinking where everyone is striving to improve. This teamwork allows the company to succeed in creating incredible long-term value and competitive advantage.
When a company decides to become ‘lean’ it means it is focusing on removal of ‘wastes’, or ‘Muda’ as mentioned above. Not only does this mean streamlining operations on the bottom floor, but also evaluating the operations that fail to create value for the end consumer. Any activity that doesn't produce a significant return on investment can be deemed as 'wasteful.'
Lean Office is a modern management philosophy that was developed after studies of the Toyota Production System. As a famous Japanese company that follows Kaizen practices, they combine many continuous improvement strategies to utilise their resources and workforce. The Lean office strategy is used to enhance value for customers by improving and smoothing administration processes in the same way you would on the factory floor, but applied to an office space and its workers. It’s a tool for increasing productivity and enhancing customer satisfaction with fewer resources while continuing to reduce waste.
Three tips for the practical applications of the theory
If you want your employees or workforce to act or think in a certain way, you must demonstrate this to encourage them to follow you. For Example, if punctuality is a problem within your team, ensure you're always on time. It's you who sets the standards. If you want a clean workplace, then keep your workspace tidy and remove rubbish from the floor. Leading by example is important and can be subtle yet extremely effective. Imagine every action is a bit like marketing; it's estimated that it takes around seven exposures to retain a message but given enough repetition, these deliberate but indirect messages can have more impact than simply telling people what to do. The Kaizen philosophy will spread across the organisation more quickly if everybody gets on board and notices how small changes are making a big difference; ultimately creating a culture of continuous improvement.
It's well known that teams and individuals are more motivated when there is a goal to achieve and part of the learning experience is the ability to overcome and solve problems in the process. Very few things go smoothly or completely to plan, but it's a willingness to work together, overcome issues and reflect on our actions that allows us to identify what went wrong and how it can be avoided in the future. Maybe certain processes or tasks will be scrapped due to them being inefficient, therefore streamlining the process and becoming ‘lean’. Or maybe a new approach is suggested that presents a new way of working, resulting in an improved process (Kaizen). Remember, team members will learn from each other; this personal improvement will reflect significantly as a stronger company.
The process of listening, speaking and ensuring your intentions are known unreservedly and in advance is crucial when aiming to achieve operational excellence. Being fair, open and honest creates a relationship of trust. Once you've demonstrated credibility and proved that you want to help others succeed, people will take more interest in your own communication, which in return can produce a wealth of feedback and ideas for improvement. Lastly, don’t forget to reward these ideas. Everybody is equally accountable for self and company improvement, therefore encourage and incentivise activities that do just that.
It's important to realise that one of these strategies is no better than the other – a company can benefit from the knowledge, use and benefits of implementing both. Remember, these are philosophies designed to improve and streamline; they're not training courses. They're an opportunity to ingrain a new way of thinking into a company’s culture, which is something that needs to be built and developed. The company spirit should be focused on improving, allowing employees to flourish independently as individuals, not to solely benefit a company. In addition, this gradual change of current habits, thought processes and opinions can ultimately result in achieving operational excellence across all levels of the business.