Part 3 Creating KAIZEN™ culture in New Zealand public sector

Part 3 Creating KAIZEN™ culture in New Zealand public sector

In part 1 of my recent discussion with Jon Miller, Kaizen Institute Consulting Group CEO and co-author of Creating KAIZEN™ Culture, we talked about how a KAIZEN™ culture can be created in SMEs. In part 2 we focused on how a KAIZEN™ culture can be created in local branches where much of the direction, strategy and control come from overseas parent companies.

In this third instalment we focus on how a KAIZEN™ culture can be created in public sector organisations.

The NZ State Service Commission website mentions that the public sector represents one-quarter of New Zealand’s real economy and that it has a big influence on how our society and economy perform. There are many initiatives to try to improve efficiency in the public sector. However, we know full well that real sustainable efficiency is only possible with a cultural transformation that will motivate and equip all public servants to strive for continuous improvement everyday and everywhere.

With an election around the corner, we are reminded that a change in government and even uncertainty about the outcome of an upcoming election my have an impact on public sector direction and leadership. This provided a timely opportunity to ask Jon how public sector organisations can create a KAIZEN™ culture?

Jon:  The best way to create a lasting continuous improvement culture within organisations that may have to deal with leadership changeover is to create a strong "bureaucracy of innovation" or a "bureaucracy that enables innovation".

This sounds like a contradiction?

Jon: This is in fact what Toyota and many Lean companies have. They apply a certain rigor to the way that they engage people in improvement, how they engage customers in feedback on product or service quality, how they review processes, how they implement and follow up on improvements.
Bureaucracy in this sense need not mean complexity or hassle as we might often associate, but rather a set of people and practices dedicated to ensuring the smooth running of a society. At least that is the original intent of a bureaucracy.

For most people, bureaucracy will always have a negative connotation?

Jon: What often happens is that the bureaucracy loses its sense of purpose and mistakes the following of rules as being the reason for existence, rather than following rules to ensure progress towards a higher purpose such as improvement of society. When rules, routines, rituals, forms, and practices (various cultural artefacts that promote improvement and innovation) are designed and maintained by the same people who use them, (public servants, bureaucrats), then these practices survive leadership change. These things become too strong for a new leader to harm or kill because the people who use these innovation and improvement practices love them.

So how does bureaucracy become a positive enabler of continuous improvement and innovation?

Jon: This of course takes strong leadership to first establish. It also takes a strong commitment by the people in the organisation to the common purpose, such as serving the community or customer. This is really not so different from the challenge faced by many Western large corporations that have an average CEO turnover period of about 4 years. Once the organisation embeds simple daily practices that help people do and improve their work towards their higher organisational and personal purpose, it becomes much more able to withstand the influence of change in senior leadership. Provided they are sane, of average or better intelligence and not intent on doing harm, most new leaders will recognise the value of a highly engaged and effective organisation and will not meddle with the KAIZEN™ culture. In fact, they will harness it towards achieving their own political agenda.

So, public sector organisations realy have no excuse not to create a KAIZEN™ culture - on the contrarary, it makes so much sense to use good standards and the regulatory environment as basis for systematic (or in Jon's words, "bureaucratic") continuous improvement and innovation. It also means that a potential change in political direction should not slow down efficiency initiatives on put them on hold.


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