«How to prevent Kaizen from failing in your company: lessons from Dr. Nowzaradan»

And before the insults begin, let me clarify that I have been a believer and practitioner of Kaizen for many years and that is why I am convinced of what I say: in the vast majority of companies, Kaizen never meets expectations.

And what makes me come to that conclusion? Something very basic is called objective evidence. I have seen hundreds of factories enthusiastically practicing Kaizen for many years and after doing hundreds of improvement events investing so much time and effort, they still continue, in my opinion, with average performance. Kaizen just keeps them afloat. The only ones convinced that it works are those who promote it internally and those who sell it.

Kaizen is not a medicine that you can take and you will automatically feel better. Kaizen is a surgery and before applying it you must make sure that the patient is ready for it, otherwise the complications can be counterproductive.

“Deadly Kilos”: when life is at stake

I like to cite as an analogy a popular television program in the United States. “Deadly Kilos” and its star Dr. Nowzaradan.

Patients come to this program in very poor health and with their lives at risk if drastic measures are not taken. However, rather than immediately scheduling them for surgery, Dr. Nowzaradan has to take several prior steps to ensure the patient is ready for surgery, otherwise the overriding goal, which is to save his life, is compromised.

Dr. Nowzaradan knows that this current condition is the result of the way of thinking and the habits that the patient has had throughout his life and that unless he manages to change this, any short-term effects of surgery will be nullified, that is, there will be a recurrence, and all the effort and risk incurred will have been in vain.

Therefore, the first steps are always aimed at testing the determination of patients to change and this will not be an easy task.

For Dr. Nowzaradan, the goal is clear: to save the patient’s life and improve their quality of life in the long term. To achieve this, he knows that it is necessary to go beyond the surgery itself and first work on the way of thinking and the habits of the patients. His focus is on promoting good, sustainable habits to ensure the health of his patients after surgery.

His experience has taught him that there are no shortcuts and that you cannot take the easy route if you want to achieve lasting results.

This means that it is not enough to apply surgery and hope that the patient will recover on their own. It is necessary to work on the discipline, mentality and habits of patients to ensure that they can maintain progress in the long term and improve their quality of life in a lasting way.

In Dr. Nowzaradan’s Methodology, I identified 6 steps:

  1. To ensure that the patient is making real progress, he focuses on key indicators, primarily their weight. Don’t get distracted by non-essential metrics. This is how you establish the initial state and set specific goals: lose “X” amount of kilos in a period of a few months.
  1. Now it is time to impose rules, he never prescribes medication, he only imposes a diet, an exercise regimen and sometimes psychological therapy. The burden of work is on the patient. He must show that he is willing to change. If he’s not able to show that he can be disciplined, he’s not going to be approved for surgery.
  1. When the patient makes an effort to follow the rules, little by little he will develop habits that will not only improve his health, but also change his way of thinking, which is the most important thing for his long-term health.
  1. Dr. Nowzaradan is clear that if the patient’s weight drops at the expected rate in the following months, it will be because he is strictly following the rules. The improvement in these indicators will be the product of discipline, not drugs or surgical interventions.
  1. The evident improvement in the indicators serves to reinforce the correct habits and motivate the patient to continue with the effort, which is by no means an easy task. However, if the indicators deteriorate or their rate of improvement is very slow, it will be evidence that the patient is systematically breaking the rules. This warrants a reprimand from the doctor and the threat that the surgical procedure will not be approved making sure to stress the life threatening consequences of this.
  1. Only when the patient achieves the established goals by demonstrating that they have made changes in their lifestyle and sustained them for several months, then gastric band surgery is approved. These changes in their way of thinking and acting will allow the results of the surgical procedure to be sustainable in the long term and to achieve the objectives initially established, saving the patient’s life and improving their quality of life.

The process of continuous improvement in organizations «must» follow a similar process. However, many consultants or managers arrive and without further ado, they begin to do Kaizen. This does not work! As much as they tell you that they have the secret formula, that they give you the course almost in Japanese, that they say that they were anointed by Japanese and that LEAN is not the same as TPS, in no scenario will Kaizen work if the organization does not she is ready. Kaizen does not work in an environment where there is excessive variation.

Even if standards exist, variation will force people to break them. In Mexico, the situation is different from Japan and Germany, here there is a lot of job turnover at all levels, there are low salaries that have an effect on motivation, suppliers that do not have excellent quality and service, among other things that make it unpredictable. what will enter the process. For this reason, the priority should always be to «stabilize» the conditions that the process faces, this in itself will bring an improvement.

It is always published that LEAN must promote the culture of continuous improvement and therein lies the mistake; first we must promote the culture of discipline, without it, the first will have no benefit in the long term.

Like Dr. Nowzaradan, what works for me is to focus on the mindset and habits of everyone involved. Set the rules that are needed for everything to go well and stick to them, question each time we are forced to break a standard and take actions that prevent us from doing it again. And this process can take us months and it won’t be easy, but it will be months well spent. This is just what airlines do and this is how they achieve high levels of reliability.

Best of all, is that the performance in quality, cost and delivery will improve and will be stable and sustainable!! The organization will come out of the fire-extinguishing mode, which causes so much damage, but not as a result of Kaizen, but as a result of good habits and discipline. Then, and only then, will the organization eventually be ready for the surgery that kaizen represents and enjoy its benefits.

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