Japanese manufacturers have a reputation for making high-quality goods at low cost using maximum efficiency, but it wasn't always that way. Back in the 1950s, "Made in Japan" often meant shoddy workmanship and inconsistent delivery. That's when companies like Toyota began developing corporate philosophies and business practices built around the idea of "continuous improvement" or Kaizen.
In Japanese, the word Kaizen literally means "change" (kai) "for the better" (zen). It's pronounced "KY-zen." In the West, Kaizen was popularized by the Japanese management guru Masaaki Imai, founder of the Kaizen Institute, and the philosophy has been adopted by high-profile American corporations like Ford Motor Company and Lockheed Martin, as well as countless other manufacturers, hospitals, banks and more.
Imai and other organizational experts insist that every type of company and workplace — from restaurants to accountants — would benefit immensely from embracing the Kaizen mindset of continuous improvement, not only to be more efficient and competitive, but to create happier, more engaged workers.
The 5 principles of Kaizen are: Know your Customer, Let it Flow, Go to Gemba, Empower People and Be Transparent. (See the video below for more details on the five principles.)