Employee Engagement, Kaizen and Japan

I will admit to being sometimes confused, as I am now…

My recollection is that one of Japan’s contributions to the world of quality was Kaizen and its focus on continuous improvement of production. Unlike the American approach of Big Innovative Leaps, Kaizen was accomplished through the generation of lots of ideas from employees, generating a more gradual improvement over time.

One stat from my files was that a manufacturer in 1986 got 6 million ideas from the employees (and one individual contributed 15,681!). One would logically think that Kaizen and engagement would be pretty tied together.

When I looked to confirm these same ideas in the TowersPerrin (2008) report on employee engagement, a pie-chart showed that only 3% of Japanese employees are engaged and 25% enrolled – that 16% are disengaged.

The numbers for the US are 14%, 42% and 11%, Hong Kong as 5%, 36% and 13%, PRC – China as 16%, 51% and 6%,and South Korea is 8%, 45% and 7% respectively for these same categories. Granted these are different cultures, to be sure. But such a small percentage of engaged employees for Japan?

country engaged enrolled disenchanted disengaged
Japan 3 25 56 16
US 29 43 22 6
Hong Kong 5 36 46 13
China 16 51 27 6
South Korea 8 45 40 7

We are not seeing that data like we used to see. Is it that the older workers in the big corporations have simply lost touch with the younger generation, who are so incredibly different? I posted up a blog recently about Millennials and issues of an aging workforce here – the statistics are not what you think they would show for the US workforce, but reflect the issues of the economy and the tenuous nature of “retirement income.”

So, I am confused. Anyone have thoughts or insights into these numbers and this situation? Is Kaizen still being done and can / will people make suggestions even when they are not involved and engaged with the company itself?

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/

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