I came across a sign reading, "Please bear with us while we work to maintain our standards" while strolling the grounds of the hotel where we recently held our annual meeting. It was humbling to realize that I haven't spoken these words nearly often enough. We may acknowledge that our job includes both daily work and KAIZEN™, but how often do we design our daily work around the maintenance of standards? Almost all process failures come from either our inability to follow standards, or following inadequate standards. KAIZEN™ is setting and improving from standards. It is the responsibility of management to insure that standards are maintained and that people can follow standards.
Broadly defined, KAIZEN™ is the maintenance of standards plus incremental improvements plus innovative step improvements. This maintenance and upgrading applies to products, processes, skills of people - all. Yet too often we neglect the very foundation that allows continual improvement - the maintenance of standards. Why? We have too many opportunities for improvement and not enough time. We want to expand into new markets. We want to offer new training courses, to extend services into new sectors, and so forth.
Maintaining standards is the most respectful and humble yet valuable of actions a leader can take. It is the first action before making bold improvements. It is also one of the most boring actions. Many leaders, me included, have formed the bad habit of chasing after the new and exciting at the expense of standards on which the health of the business rests. We pay later and dearly for our immature and selfish choices through endless fire-fighting and repair work.
Dear customers, colleagues, partners, our families and all those whom we serve, on behalf of management, please bear with us while we work to maintain our standards.