Kaizen is a Japanese concept that means “continuous improvement”. Widely used in Japan across many industries, it is a key management strategy used in manufacturing to improve productivity and standardization.

The term was created after World War 2, when Japan experienced its extraordinary economic boom, becoming the second-largest economy globally. Kai means change, and zen roughly translates to good. So, the primary meaning is good change, something that all businesses and people need, at least occasionally.

After such a disturbing period brought about by the pandemic, some businesses might need a restart. They might benefit a lot from putting things in order. This is where the 5S Kaizen model comes in handy.


Read more: How the pandemic transformed L&D


Putting to good use the 5S Kaizen model in L&D

Although developed for manufacturing businesses, we believe the 5S Kaizen model can also be adapted for the Learning & Development industry, especially by companies that might benefit from a positive change.

Let’s go through the five steps and see how they can be put to work in an L&D company!

  1. Sort, or Seiri

    This first step refers to sorting the clutter from the items that are needed for production.

    In an L&D company, Seiri might be about choosing goals, focusing on the most successful training programs that bring in revenue and contribute to your client’s success.

    Seiri is the opportunity to give up the superfluous gadgets, materials, and other unnecessary things that are used during the training sessions. To use another Japanese cultural reference: keep it only if it sparks joy!


    Read more: When it’s time to let go of an LMS


  2. Set in order, or Seiton

    The second step, Seiton, is all about putting things in the right order to generate a more efficient workflow.

    In an L&D company, this second step might be extremely useful for the creation of valuable procedures and more effective processes. For instance, let’s say a company creates its own training materials from scratch. Seiton allows you to create an effective process, which begins with hiring the best experts and ends with the post-production of an online course.

    All professionals involved in this process – instructional designers, editors, proofreaders, marketing specialists, etc. – should follow the procedures.


    Read more: The importance of establishing concrete business processes


  3. Shine, or Seiso

    In manufacturing, Seiso is “house cleaning”.

    In an L&D company, it can be either performing that final course review or, for face-to-face training, it can mean literally cleaning the space.

    Companies that have training locations can do a thorough cleaning or a total overhaul if the budget allows. Who wouldn’t like to attend training sessions in a clean, beautiful, and functional space? It’s worth investing in your space, as it will make clients happier.

  4. Standardize, or Seiketsu

    At this stage, setting standards to ensure consistency is the name of the game.

    In an L&D company, as in any other kind of company for that matter, standards are practical tools to help people focus on their goals. For instance, more efficient training programs or techniques become the shared standards for the entire staff.

    Training materials that have proven their efficiency can be used as examples of good practice.


    Read more: Best practices on measuring the impact of organizational learning


  5. Sustain, or Shitsuke

    Shitsuke is all about maintaining the results and keeping a “we can do better” mentality.

    In the final stage of the 5S model, the company must make sure that the good change will be sustained.

    Time and again, we see that maintaining results can be challenging. For instance, maintaining a high score for all training assessments is far more difficult than for the first (usually easier) module. It’s not easy to sustain the results we have achieved with so much effort.

To sum up

The 5S Kaizen model might be helpful to all companies that need a good change and, even more important, for companies that want change to stick. With its focus on continuous improvement, the Kaizen philosophy delivers great results when applied constantly and methodically. After all, change is in our nature. Why not integrate it into the company culture?

As Winston Churchill said,

To improve is to change; to perfect is to change often.

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