Using Kaizen in Coaching
Once a client approaches a coach with a large goal that has made him/her uncertain how to proceed, the most common process a coach uses is to first support the client to find clarity round the goal and after that guide the client to construct his or her own path of small steps to reach the goal. That’s all exactly very much Kaizen.
The aspect Kaizen reinforces is the definite requirement to study the small steps even further to make sure that those are really the smallest possible steps, steps that are minimalistic enough to push the person in action. In Kaizen no change is too small or trivial, all action will finally result to greater good.
The engine of Kaizen is continuous action. Actions itself is energizing and motivating. It makes a person as well as organization “living”. Keeping the actions small but many ensures continuous dose of energy. Fulfilling the small tasks is self rewarding but it often brings in positive external feedback as well. All this creates an atmosphere of positivity that carries on to further action.
Kaizen brings in also the idea of not only continuos action but continuous improvement and it challenges one to find always new areas of improvement as well as new levels of doing things. In coaching the coach follows the clients agenda and wan’t press this aspect of Kaizen as it’s done in business environment where increasing productivity is continuously a topic. Anyhow letting the client know that the positive effects she or he experienced in his/ her life once using the Kaizen approach were based not only on the improvements or actions executed but also on the continuous flow of them, gives the client a tool she / he can use to approach other parts of his / her life if willing to do so.
Kaizen or continuous action supports well many different coaching situations. It’s ability to avoid stepping to the zone where fear freezes execution makes it effective with concrete as well as more abstract issues. The small step approach is extremely safe in emotionally loaded situations. The very simple structure of finding the comfort zone of taking action works well in situations where there is one single topic to work on but where it really shows it’s power are situations where the client feels hopeless or overwhelmed by many tasks and responsibilities and need to overcome “the workload” first to be able to move to work on the deeper issues witch are often the root cause of the situation.
Coaching Attributes and Kaizen
There are a number a coaching tools or attributes that can be found in Kaizen way. This paper opens up following ones; intention and letting go, clarity of words, positive tone of questions and reframing.
Intention and Letting Go
When studying Kaizen deeper the characters Kai and Zen can be further broken to their parts kai can be broken into it’s two original characters, witch are words carrying the meanings:
- self and whip
- inside character zen there are also two separate characters meaning:
- sheep and altar
So the deeper understanding of Kaizen opens up a scene where the improvement, change for better happens trough one’s own little sacrifices. (iv)
It is not uncommon to find a situation in coaching where the client needs to let go of some prejudice, behaviors, thoughts or attitudes that don’t serve him/ her. This requires a new level of awareness, witch can be supported by coach, but witch requires always client’s own self-reflection. Even tough the client may be able to identify the area of improvement letting go of something old and familiar is not always easy and doing so might even feel as a sacrifice. If so, that sacrifice will create space for something new and more powerful and it will enable the person to fully commit to his or her true intention in the area she /he is working on.
Clarity of Words
Once starting a Kaizen process the first step is to find the small goals that are motivating but still small enough. To be able to do that, it is crucial to use very clear language. For example using the word fear might be more beneficial than using words like stress, anxiety, nervousness or tense because none of these words addresses the real feeling that needs to be understood living in the world where no one can totally alone control their life.
Positive tone of Questions
The human brain is wired to find answers to questions continuously brought up to it. Being aware of the tone of the questions one holds for the brain to work on, holds a key to effectiveness and mental wellbeing. Holding negative or self doubt filled questions invites the brain to find negative answers where’s holding positive small questions invites the brain to find creative positive outcomes. Once wired to Kaizen’s curiosity of finding new areas of improvement and living trough the process of defining and executing small changes the positive tone is bought in very naturally. (v)
Kaizen invites one to find the smallest actions or improvements that bring him / her closer to the goal by doing so the perspective shifts very naturally from large and often complex issues to more manageable, light and even fun tasks. When adding that that the client also starts to occupy his mind with positively toned questions the whole situation is quickly seen in a different light and the client will able to reframe the goal as well as the actions needed on a new more motivating and energizing level. (vi)
Many people in different level of corporations have been practicing Kaizen for decades and even when brought into coaching Kaizen is nothing totally new. It’s familiarity, very down to earth approach and simple science behind it’s success mechanism make it a fabulous tool to many different situations.
Because Kaizen is already a proven tool for leaders, managers and supervisors in corporations to improve productivity in different business functions a coach who brings it in when introducing coaching might well find a instant common ground from where to start.
Even tough Kaizen is most familiar in corporate environment, using the approach is not limited there but it works everywhere, where someone is planning to change or to start something new. The brain function of business leader, aspiring artist or multitasking homemaker are exactly the same. The need of avoiding the amygdala to interfere the process of gaining the results wanted is the same. The positive effect of continuos actions brings to ones life is again the same. Kaizen suits remarkably well to boost the process of a person who want’s to keep growing continuously but can not afford to step out of ordinary lives daily tasks and responsibilities and must therefore be sure the actions she / he plans are small enough to be executed.
In Toyota culture leaders encourage and develop Kaizen thorough guidance, trust and discipline – in coaching the coach uses Kaizen to energize and give the client a safe place to grow trough continuous support and acknowledgement, showing trust in the clients abilities and if needed keeping the client accountable.
A coach deepest desire is to support the client to find a place or mindset that fuels higher levels of creativity, productivity, innovation and enjoyment – Kaizen gives a coach one more tool to do so.
Kaizen activities (e.g mall improvements to achieve a goal) are the incubator of innovation. This is because Kaizen activities create an atmosphere of change.
Akira Takahashi, Toyota (vii)
References and Resources
Fields Jonathan, Uncertainty Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance (vi)
Gemba Academy, YouTube video “Learn what the true meaning of Kaizen is” (iv)
Liker Jeffrey K, Hoseus Michael, Toyota Culture, The Heart and Soul of the Toyota Way (ii, vii)
Maurer Robert Ph.D, One Small Step Can Change Your Life - The Kaizen Way, (iii, v)
Womack James P., Jones Daniel T, Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, (i)