What do you do when you are running at a loss? When your staff turnover rates are high? Or when your market competitors are overtaking you?
Kaizen is the Japanese word for improvement, and more specifically, continuous improvement. Literally translating to ‘good change’ (1), the kaizen philosophy has been used by businesses all over the world to ensure improvements equate to big wins.
Originally developed in 1930s Japan, the concept was cultivated in the US during WWII. It was quickly adopted and expanded upon as managers and workers left domestic goods factories to join the army. The US Government had to efficiently adapt these factories into centres for wartime manufacturing. But with limited time, combined with untrained citizens, this was no easy feat (1).
By the 1970s, the US Government introduced the ‘Training Within Industry’ program. The program aimed to teach efficiency, preventing production lines from making extensive changes and instead encouraging the implementation of hundreds of zero or low-cost improvements. These ideas spread across the globe, and combined with the original Japanese theory of Kaizen, Toyota became one the first businesses to introduce quality circles to its production process (1).
It can be applied to processes, purchasing, logistics, employees… the limits are endless when Kaizen is initiated into a workforce. By making subtle, ongoing changes, natural improvement is encouraged within the company and is significantly less disruptive than a large, and often forced, ‘shake-up’.
The approach can frequently be undervalued within larger companies, where typically, departments are compartmentalised and free-flowing ideas between sections are more restricted. However, using Kaizen, positive change can be integrated slowly to equate to more cost-effective and streamlined ways of working.
The big and often daunting question is, where do you start?
Changing has never been easy. Often change is seen as ‘revolutionary’ and something that requires ‘immediate action’. Our brains are designed to react to change with fear and suspicion, and so shut down access to our mental resources when we need them most. The ability to think freely and creatively enough to deal with significant changes is blocked by our fear response, causing these ‘big ideas’ to frequently flop.
The word innovation is often headlined during big company revamps, and while innovation can be a key player in creating great change, it should not be forced. Our fear response lends itself to one of two things: fight or flight. During a big revamp within a business, an employee’s natural instinct is to fight against the change. This is completely normal, and not something that employees should be punished or reprimanded for.
By introducing Kaizen, small manageable steps can be introduced to achieve these changes. They are so small that they slowly and subtly bypass the natural fear response. These steps within your company can be zero or low-cost and while the changes are so tiny that they might seem pointless at first, they equate to vast changes in the long run.
It is important to remember when implementing small steps that money is not always the driving factor. The Kaizen process will perform far better and more cohesively if employees are behind the management of the change and feel valued and heard.
When looking at small steps to take, Kaizen asks business owners to think about how they can:
- Boost morale
- Cut costs
- Improve quality
- Develop new products and services
- Increase sales
Take boosting morale, for example. In many companies, management often dictates changes to their employees without including them on key decisions. And although management may think they are making informed decisions, they can fail to fully understand the consequences or pitfalls of their actions, leading to high staff turnover rates and low levels of employee satisfaction.
A small step to improving this could be developing lines for open-discussion and giving employees a platform where they can be heard. This isn’t an anonymous comments box in the breakroom, but a positive face-to-face or inclusive channel where employees can feel like their opinions are listened to.
This could be weekly open discussions involving all staff members, focused around current issues. Or perhaps a Microsoft Teams channel simply labelled ‘Improvements’. By opening lines of communication, it removes departmental barriers so that mistakes can be spotted earlier, small cost savings are snapped up, and most importantly, employees gain greater job satisfaction.
Boosting company morale is a great way to not only reduce staff turnover but also drive revenue. If an employee feels valued by their boss and peers, they are far more likely to work harder and support the company with its growth and scalability; something especially important in start-ups.
If the company is struggling financially, it should invite employees to come up with small cost-saving techniques or ways to drive revenue. By being completely transparent and expressing any concerns early on, it allows employees to work together to solve the issue without needing large budget cuts or unnecessary layoffs.
These actions can be as simple as ensuring the lights in the office are turned off at the end of the day to reduce bills. Or perhaps implementing customer satisfaction surveys to identify why take-up of your products or services is low. What might seem like a small and incremental step can add up over time and make all the difference.
Success in any business can be a tricky tightrope, which is why with any and every step, sustainability is key in ensuring the return is fruitful. Start small and big impacts will follow.
When it comes to implementing Kaizen into legal teams, technology like Summize can be a great starting point. Focusing on working smarter, not harder, and recognising where technology can be implemented to assist employees can have real time-saving effects and improve the work-life quality of any team.
There is often a stigma behind legal tech. Heavy, machine learning tools frequently are brought in to replace the day-to-day of a lawyer, instantly triggering our fear of change response. However, Summize works alongside lawyers to help speed up and improve working with contracts - it isn’t there to replace them. It gives the team back their time, ensuring that it can be spent on high-value, high-risk tasks, rather than low-value manual work.
UserZoom is a great example of this. Back in October 2020, UserZoom’s in-house legal team faced the task of reviewing 450 software, services, and customer contracts: a tedious and highly-time consuming task. By bringing on Summize, they took the step needed to improve their workflow without enforcing a dramatic change. Summize can even be used in Microsoft Word, so legal teams don’t have to change the way they work. Due to this, UserZoom reviewed 450 contracts in less than a day.
Many legal tech platforms set-out to change how the legal team does things, but at Summize, we focus on accompanying the day-to-day of legal teams.
Here at Summize, we proudly capture the Kaizen philosophy and promote continuous improvement; not only for our customers but also for our employees.
Whether working in the office or remotely, we create collaborative spaces where all employees have an input. It may only be a small thing, but we opt for open-plan offices where all departments are easily accessible to one another. By embracing this, current problems become unrestricted discussions using feedback from everyone. Identifying issues early on also reduces mistakes further down the line and can have a positive impact on cost savings.
Another small step taken at Summize was the introduction of weekly meetings. We celebrate successes, discuss failures, and suggest small improvements – every week. Each employee is heard and made to feel valued within our company; something often missed within large corporate companies. We all take the time to communicate with one another and recognise individuals for their commitment and outstanding work. No one is left behind with our strong team ethos.
As well as improvement within the company, personal development is consistently encouraged. Supporting our employees in developing their skills, no matter how small the improvement, builds a stronger team.
From the people to the product, the capabilities of Summize are advancing daily. Our platform continues to move from strength to strength, following the Kaizen philosophy and taking small steps to constantly improve the capabilities of our product.
So… how could I get started with Summize?
The first step is as small as booking a demo via our contact us page. Whether you’re an in-house or private practice lawyer, or you work in an SME, start your journey into legal tech and the Kaizen philosophy with Summize.