The true meaning of Kaizen

Working for Nakama I am often asked when meeting people ‘Oh are you a Japanese company?’ and of course the answer is no. The name Nakama was selected due to its translation around circle of friends, partners and associates. I like this and I like Japan so it’s not surprising that Nakama isn’t the only ‘Japan related’ (in some sense of the word) business I have gravitated towards and learned from during my career.

Upon arriving back in the UK from my post-University travels I stepped into the professional work place and found myself working with a businessman by the name of Mr Kurahashi. Kurahashi san was the GM of the European arm of a Japanese car parts manufacturer who supplied plastic components to the European market, mainly Toyota. It was a small satellite office comprising of me plus 4 other members and my role involved assisting him in dealing with buyers, logistics and managing the European based factories we employed as suppliers to make the parts.

Kurahashi san and I traveled across Europe to places like France, Poland, Germany and Hungary together and what I learned from him during those endless hours in airports, taxi cabs and hotel lobbies will forever stay with me.

One of the things he taught me was about the Japanese meaning of ‘Kaizen’

Kaizen is the practice of continuous improvement based on certain guiding principles and by making many small and ongoing process improvements.

I could see how this was absolutely relevant in the manufacturing world in which we were operating, certainly where production and logistics were involved, making production more efficient and supply chains more streamlined.

It made sense. However, it wasn’t until in later life that I realized that Kaizen can be adapted in any working environment and is something that should be continuously developed, especially in my field of recruitment. The value of an always developing and efficient recruitment process; at every touch point along the way, can benefit businesses immensely and save millions of dollars.

The time it takes to, post, screen, interview, select, discuss, reference check, survey salaries, have a contract printed, posted out, stamp placed on the envelope(!), verbally make an offer and then finally accepted, plus on boarded in some organisations can involve a variety of different peoples time during the course of the entire process, and then all of that work is only equal to one hire, who may in turn chose to ultimately join a business or not, at which point the process may need to start all over again.

Therefore, the need to have consultants in our business who build close relationships with their clients that are constantly worked on and tweaked to be highly efficient running processes (or machines) is a majorly important part of what we need to do if our clients are to get good value from our services.

You see the other lesson Mr Kurahashi taught me was that ‘people do business, with people who it is easy to do business with’, which rings true in an ever improving and streamline process for repeat and long lasting relationships.

This also has to work the other way. All recruiters have their ‘favorite clients’, and the pre-conception on this is that ‘a recruiter’s favorite client may simply be the one who gives them the most business’. From my experience this is generally NEVER the case. It is actually the client who is ‘easy to work with’ and who they have a great understanding and efficient & ever evolving working process in place; this is generally the client who gets the recruiters undivided attention, best candidates, and thus get the most value from it.

Therefore, by working on a little process improvement every single day, it goes a long way to building long lasting, efficient, ever improving relationships and streamlined recruitment processes. These in turn are what create healthy business transactions in our sector, that are only good ones ‘when both parties get value from them’… another wise piece of wisdom passed on by the great Mr Kurahashi.

Adam Williams is Managing Director of Nakama Hong Kong.