Kaizen – continuous improvement

One of our core values at Switch is “We learn from our mistakes and don’t repeat them”. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, we’ve started to feel that it does not push us far enough in the direction we want to go. Yes, we should learn from and ideally not repeat mistakes – but it’s a reaction rather than proactive behavior. What if, instead of only learning from them, we could prevent more and more mistakes from happening in the first place?

Enter Kaizen. The original meaning in Japanese is “change for better”, but business efforts spearheaded by Toyota have given way to the typical English translation of “continuous improvement.”

When we first heard about the concept a few years ago, we immediately knew that this was the missing piece. It was our core value – but with a proactive twist.

So in June 2017, we visited the only Toyota manufacturing plant in Australia, in Altona.

Impressive production facilities, fully obeying to Kaizen

The more we learned on that visit, the more deeply impressed we became with Kaizen. And while Toyota is taking it a bit further than we felt was useful for our office environment, we definitely felt that our staff, our customers and essentially our business as a whole could massively benefit from the Kaizen mindset.  

In order to keep Kaizen always on our staff’s mind, we therefore introduced the monthly Kaizen award at our office. 

Mat is loving his award

How does the Kaizen award work? It’s passed on from staff member to staff member, handed out by the person currently holding it. So after Mat has been handed the award, it’s his task to keep an eye on things and identify the staff member who over the next month has most efficiently and effectively implemented the Kaizen mindset into the daily work routine.

So what effect does that have beyond yet another reason to celebrate something at the office (which, we admit, we quite love doing)?

  • It keeps all of us on our toes: How do we make things better instead of being annoyed and simply ignoring them?
  • It helps us think customer-centric: What are things that might annoy our customers, things we feel they’re not 100% happy with?
  • It levels the playing field: We pride ourselves on a super flat company structure already, but Kaizen puts everyone at the absolute same level. Everyone is asked to do it, anyone can win the award. 
  • It heightens social awareness: We’re forced to look at each other and how we do things instead of getting lost in our computer screens.

Since we’ve introduced the system and the award, we have seen improvements across the board, from small things like improving kitchen amenities to major changes like shifting our mindset when it comes to the correlation between presence hours at the office and the resulting productivity.

The return on investment on Kaizen has been outstanding, no question. And we’re only just getting started – the sky is the limit. Because there will always be things we can do better, especially in our industry. Until we make telco perfect, that is…

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