Want to Solve Millennial Engagement? Look Toward the Japanese: Try Kaizen Groups

Want to Solve Millennial Engagement? Look Toward the Japanese: Try Kaizen Groups

The question most employers have about Millennial employees boils down to this:

What the hell do I do with them? Isn’t there a simple solution that can make them happy so I don’t have to engage with them?

Employers complain about Millennial employees being woefully unprepared for the workforce and lacking essential professional skills. But employers also need to keep their Millennial staff around to replace senior staff as they retire, help with knowledge transfer, and create the workplace of the future, all while avoiding the high costs that come with Millennial turnover.

How do you keep these fresh-graduates and future leaders engaged in their work, feeling valued, provide them opportunities to develop their skills, and allow them to make an impact on the company, all while minimizing costs?

One possible solution comes from Japan.

Kaizen, The Theory

Imagine a stereotypical mid-20th century manufacturing plant: A CEO or other heads of the company make decisions about how the plant runs and the employees on the production floor change their behavior according to the orders they receive from the top. Improvements in this scenario are often made through large-scale, expensive, and reactive changes.

But if you were to go to a Toyota plant during the same time period (and now), you would find something very different.

Employees on the production lines carry out their tasks much like their American counterparts, but there is an important difference: the employees on the production floor in Japan regularly meet together, identify issues, discuss suggestions on how to make the production process more efficient, and then they execute those small improvements.

This process of bottom-up continuous improvement is called Kai (change) Zen (good). Developed in Japan by Toyota after WWII, Kaizen can refer to any efforts where small optimizations are continuously made to produce large-scale improvements over time.

The idea is that employees closest to a given process are in the best position to make suggestions for improving that process. Individual employees are empowered to ask “how can this be done better?” or “how can we do this better?”  Employees are often then grouped in Kaizen Groups, which regularly meet to share the issues they have identified during the course of their work, present and discuss solutions, and then execute those solutions on their area of the business.

Over time, these small, proactive, incremental improvements across an entire company’s operations can make a big difference in quality and efficiency.

Though they were created as a tool to achieve lean production, Kaizen Groups can be repurposed to help engage Millennial staff in your workplace by creating Millennial Kaizen Groups. The rationale is that Kaizen is the ultimate form of Professional Development and that is exactly what Millennials need to stay engaged at work.

How to Create and Utilize Millennial Peer to Peer Kaizen Groups

Creating Millennial Kaizen Groups is fairly straightforward. A Kaizen Group is formed with a few younger staff and the group is tasked with developing lists of issues that they come across during the course of their daily work. The team regularly meets together to discuss the issues they identify as well as develop proposals for solutions to those issues.

Every two weeks (or however often is appropriate), the Millennial Kaizen Group meets with senior staff and upper management (as high up in the hierarchy as possible) and presents their list of identified issues as well as their solutions to those issues. Senior staff then have a chance to provide feedback and insights on the solutions presented and the group works together to decide which solutions are feasible and why.

Any solutions that are accepted by the senior management team are then executed by the Kaizen Group and the results of the optimizations are tracked and regularly reviewed. The cycle then continues with the group regularly meeting, making proposals, developing plans of execution with senior staff, and reviewing the results of those changes.

Why Millennial Peer to Peer Kaizen Groups Can Work

Forming Kaizen Groups in this way is a simple but powerful way of engaging Millennial staff and has a host of benefits for younger staff and the company as a whole.

Consider the potential benefits for Professional Development by participating in Kaizen Groups for Millennial staff:

  • Increased Engagement:

    Group members are more engaged in their daily work, constantly seeking ways that the processes or tools that they work within can be improved.

  • Real Feedback on Their Ideas:

    Group members have the opportunity to see how their ideas stand up to the scrutiny of senior management and learn from the holes that senior staff poke in their ideas.

  • Presentation/Communication Skills:

    The Kaizen Group regularly gives a formal presentation to senior staff. It’s an opportunity to practice their communication and presentation skills, two skills employers feel younger staff severely lack.

  • Sense of Value:

    Even if their ideas are rejected, the Kaizen Group has the opportunity to be heard by upper management, an important demonstration that the younger staff are valued.

  • Increased “Peer to Peer” Camaraderie:

    The Kaizen Group works together closely to pool issues, create pitches, develop solutions, and work as a team.

  • Sense of Purpose through Impact:

    The group enjoys a sense of making a genuine impact as a result of the proposals that are approved and implemented.

Millennial Peer to Peer Kaizen Groups benefit senior staff and the company as a whole as well. These groups are a chance for senior management to provide feedback on the group’s ideas and the presentation of their ideas, walk them through any areas where their ideas are lacking, and mold them for the mindset of the company. Millennial Kaizen Groups are a rare opportunity for senior staff to evaluate their younger talent (and their ideas) up close and critique their thinking, an important aspect of mentorship and training many Millennials crave but often lack in the workplace.

And, in the instances where the group presents a good solution to an issue, the company is improved in small ways that can have a large impact over time with little to no monetary investment.

American and British car companies, sick of playing catch-up to the Japanese, were eventually forced to adopt Kaizen into their own production processes. Companies struggling to keep their young talent from walking out of the door should feel a similar pressure. Millennial Peer to Peer Kaizen Groups have the potential to ease generational tensions and develop young talent at little to no cost.

And that is a damn good deal.

Need help setting one up? launchbox365 knows how.