"Kaizen"= improvement. Masaaki Immai, in his excellent book KAIZEN, provides the following definition:

"KAIZEN means improvement. Moreover it means continuing improvement in personal life, home life, social life, and working life. When applied to the workplace, KAIZEN means continuing improvement involving everyone - managers and workers alike."

Effectiveness - the totality of organizational life; of being effective in every sense, both short and long-term. Effective in meeting the needs of ALL stakeholders in the enterprise - stockholders, customers, suppliers, employees and their unions (where they exist), managers, executives and the communities in which the organizations operate.

"Effectiveness" not only applies to hard, economic dimensions - cost, quality, delivery, but to human dimensions as well - growth and development, feelings of self-worth and dignity, having fun at work and making a contribution.

"Kaizen" - continuous improvement in effectiveness - is the only vehicle for true competitiveness in the warp-speed changing, global marketplace in which we find ourselves.


I have observed what appear to be some beliefs or apparent operating assumptions that pervade all too many of our workplaces, amounting to the major barrier to effectiveness and competitiveness. "Beliefs" are those assumptions or 'working premises' that guide the decisions, actions and behaviors of people.

These premises are:

A. "The problem is unrestricted imports". There is absolutely no question that many countries have taken advantage of the world marketplace and "dumped" products onto the American marketplace at subsidized prices. There is also no doubt that many American companies simply cannot, no matter what they do, be competitive in the short term without some form of assistance.

BUT, to believe that the only solution to subsidized competition is permanent tariff protection is incorrect. A "level playing field", to use the words of Lynn Williams, former International President of the USWA, is essential for American companies to compete equally with other countries. If, however, we continue to produce poorly designed products, of poor quality, delivered late to customers, the highest tariff barriers in the world won't save us.

Blind belief in import quotas as the solution leads American managers, unions, and workers to blame foreigners and behave like ostriches, behaviors that do NOT address what must be done to become more competitive. In other words, as long as I can blame lack of profitability and competitiveness on someone else, then I, as an employee, manager or union leader, can avoid the responsibility that I must take to make improvements.

B. Another premise is that "All we have to do is copy the Japanese". Japan has been VERY successful. Japan also has a very different culture. Blind copying of the Japanese, who have developed approaches appropriate for their culture, might work for us in the short term, but would fail miserably over the long term.

Perhaps we should relearn from the Japanese who have adapted concepts, tactics, and procedures in this country. So, too, we must take responsibility for seeking out alternative approaches, then adapting and reinventing those appropriate for our culture.

C. "The problem is OSHA, the EEOC, the SEC, Congress, Federal Legislation (or the lack of it), the unions, welfare, aid to dependent children, etc., etc.". This belief that the lack of competitiveness of American companies is due to causes OUTSIDE the company, diffuses energythat must be placed on making ourselves competitive, again.

D. "I'm sure we can fix the problem if we can only find the right "technique" (read "gimmick") to install in our existing organizations." Americans have traditionally believed in the "quick fix", a program or technique that will instantly solve our problems.

JIT, Quality Circles, KAMBAN, PDCA cycling, Six Sigma, TPM, TQC, flexible manufacturing, etc. are all highly touted examples of "quick-fixes" - miraculous electronic modules to simply plug in and make good things happen.

During a recent visit to a client, an employee, whom I had just met said, "Oh, you're the guy with AFP." I responded, "No". "I know that, but you're still with AFP", he said. I asked him what AFP meant and he said - "another f---ing program!"

Any or all of these and other techniques have value but only part of integrated implementation. Our blind reliance on the "quick fix" is not only a poor solution; it is part of the problem.

E. "If we could only straighten out the attitudes of today's workers, we'd be fine. They certainly don't work like I did when I was their age. What ever happened to the good old work ethic"?

The corollary seems to be - "we asked for workers, but people came instead." "Workers" are extensions of machines; they follow orders; they only want money for their work; they are prime candidates for Tayloristic forms of work organization.

" People" have values and needs. They are creative and can be a boundless source of creativity, organizational effectiveness and competitiveness.

The premise that "if we only had workers instead of people we'd be fine" let's leaders and managers "off the hook" from dealing with the fundamental changes required to be effective.

F. "I made the standard rate on my job, now get off my case and leave me alone."

Most of us have been conditioned since childhood to "make an A", and when we did, we had done all we could. To accept that standards of any kind are the end point rather than merely a resting place, is a major barrier to continuous improvement.

Unfortunately, virtually every measure used in our society today, from our school systems to the basis for individual and group incentive programs, reward and recognition, are based upon a fixed measure. Until we view these measures differently - "today's goals are tomorrow's standards and they will always be going UP" - we can't get there from here.


A. We are now in a world economy. To be effective, we must compete in a global marketplace. Regardless of what may or may not be done regarding tariffs, anti-dumping, voluntary import constraints, etc., we must continue to improve based upon the fact that some day we are going to have to be able to compete on our own.

B. The only "constant" upon which organizational leaders can rely is change - continuous, rapid, gut-wrenching change. Unless we learn to lead and manage change, we cannot be competitive.

C. Every organization can be dramatically better than it is today and will have to be even better tomorrow and the next day. No matter how good we think we are, by whatever measures we choose, we are not good enough and, frankly, will never be "good enough" to stop.

D. In order to improve effectiveness we must focus on what's going on inside the organization to a much greater extent than what's going on outside the organization. While efforts to inform the public, increase and/or continue import restraints, etc. are important things to do, they should be addressed only after we have paid attention to our internal weaknesses.

In other words, we must face our task convinced that the causes for our lack of competitiveness are inside our organizations much more than they are outside them.

Rich Teerlink, former Chairmen and CEO of Harley-Davidson - one of America's best managed companies and consistently one of the FORTUNE "100 Best Places to Work" - includes in all his presentations, "It was only when we came to recognize that the problem was not outside the company that we were able to begin to become the company we wanted to be. The problem was us - the leaders and managers of the company."

D. People want and need to contribute, to be effective, to be creative, to "make a difference." The reason they don't has a great deal more to do with the way in which they are lead, managed, organized, treated, rewarded, trained and developed than with any inherent weakness in the "human condition" or "bad attitudes" that people supposedly bring to the workplaces.

F. The solution to our lack of competitiveness requires fundamental, comprehensive change in virtually EVERY aspect of an organization's existence. We must examine and be willing to change -- in an integrated, strategic manner -- virtually every 'sacred cow' we now hold; e.g, traditional hierarchical power structures; workflows and measures of work and our reward and recognition systems. We must take a very different look at training and development and involve all stakeholders - including employees - in decision making.

Remember the distinction between "workers" and "people"? Workers don't need alignment; people do! All aspects of the work environment must be aligned to be congruent with the values and needs of the people who comprise the enterprise, in light of the stark realities of global competition. It is that simple, and that difficult and complex.

As Pogo observed so accurately - "we have met the enemy and he is us."


I would like to suggest a somewhat different way of thinking about "behaviors and attitudes" based upon my experience.

A. At the core of all people is a set of basic values, ideas we hold so dear that they are virtually unchangeable. These values are so deep and central to each of us that others, even those closest to us, seldom see them. Incidentally, we have found that, at least in this country, these basic values are remarkably similar. All of us, when all the rhetoric is stripped away, really want the same things.

B. Our beliefs are more often revealed to others and are our way of attempting to operationalize our basic values in the world around us. Again, that set of assumptions or working premises that human beings use in determining their individual and collective actions.

C. Our attitudes are, essentially, our own "personal" excuse to ourselves for our failure to be perfect. None of us lives out, every day, all the time, our core values and beliefs - we are, after all, "human". To maintain our own sanity, we "explain away" this 'failure' by concocting an "attitude" about the situation.

D. The roles we play and the skills we have (or don't have) are the next span in the bridge.

E. Our behaviors are what the world knows of us as seen through the lenses of others biases, prejudices and other conditioning.

In most American organizations we face a fundamental non-alignment, which is standing in the way of effectiveness and competitiveness. The common set of values we hold and the set of "competitive beliefs" we suggest on the one hand and the behaviors people are asked to deliver are all too often contrary to each other. This non-alignment absolutely diminishes if not destroys the unique contribution people can and want to make.

In our attempt to align beliefs and behaviors with the business, we suggest that the only effective place to start is on the "behaviors" and "roles/skills" side of the equation - NOT basic values, beliefs, or even worse "attitude". For those who have ever been told "you have a bad attitude", our response is a fight!

We do know that the driving force in human development is to align our own values, beliefs, skills and roles and behaviors. That is precisely the task ahead in the workplace. Until the values, beliefs, skills and roles and behaviors are more aligned at the organizational and individual levels, we cannot hope to be effective in any endeavor.


The points listed above - among others - are neither good nor bad in and of themselves. They do or do not make a contribution to continuous improvement in direct proportion to:

- the extent to which they are part of a cohered, integrated comprehensive strategic effort that clearly contributes to movement in the direction of a shared and understood vision of the organization, its business and its belief; and,

- the extent to which they are effectively implemented and supported

The first step towards real progress lies in the creation, by appropriate leaders, of a "vision" for the future. The Vision is the vehicle by which key leaders develop, understand and agree upon the fundamental purpose of the enterprise - the business of the business - and the belief systems by which they, as leaders, intend the enterprise to function and articulate these to all the stakeholders of the enterprise.

It has been my experience that the creation and articulation of a vision provides the framework for the development and implementation of practices, procedures, techniques and programs. Too often, leaders will hear of some new technique, fall madly in love with it, and then forcefully implement that technique within their organizations.

Is the technique really the right one? Is it the one that should be implemented at this time? Do all people understand and commit to the outcomes of the technique? Do the other systems (e.g. reward and recognition, data collection and measurement, basic engineering, product/service design, sales and marketing, financial, etc.) support people in their efforts to implement the technique?

A clearly stated vision, broadly articulated and mutually understood, provides the focus for human energy. Then and only then can various programs or techniques be truly effectively implemented. The essential purpose for such programs and techniques is for employees from the Board Room to the shop floor or office to understand the ways in which their behaviors must change in order that they become aligned with the business of the business and its beliefs.

A broad range of programs and techniques have failed and gotten a "bum rap" because they were not instituted as an integral part of an overall strategy for change. How many millions of dollars have been wasted? Human beings are capable of remarkable change when they understand why they need to change and are supported in their individual and collective efforts to modify their own behavior. One only needs to look at the superb efforts human beings put forth in emergencies, or when the "wolf is at the door".

Why don't we, as humans, do that in the absence of such dire circumstances? Do we have to continue to operate in a disjointed, herky jerky, "program of the month" mode until we are 60 days from Chapter 11, before we develop integrated, understood, and supported systemic change efforts or will we put in place a vision and the necessary activities to move in that direction BEFORE that fateful day?

One of the most remarkable examples is the dramatic turnaround and reformation of Harley-Davidson. Less than two days from bankruptcy in 1986 to the American success story of today. The efforts of the Harley-Davidson's of the world are extremely difficult. They require enormous commitment and leadership. (For a detailed recounting of the leadership journey at Harley-Davidson, see MORE THAN A MOTORCYCLE: The Leadership Journey at Harley-Davidson, by Rich Teerlink and Lee Ozley, Harvard Business School Press, 2000.)

American companies will be competitive in the global marketplace when they look inside themselves as the primary cause of their ineffectiveness and inability to competitive. We will become effective and competitive when the behaviors expected of people within the business, the skills they are provided and the roles they are asked to play are congruent with the 'business of the business' and the beliefs espoused and supported within the enterprise.

Absent this alignment, all the programs and techniques in the world will only delay the demise of the enterprise. Not unlike the dinosaurs who were once the most powerful and dominant species on earth. They bashed their heads against tomorrow while they were rushing at break neck speed doing things they way they had always done them, taking life one step at a time, in other words, looking backwards.