Each year, firms hope to be more productive and profitable than the last. However, many want productivity and increased profits while everything else stays the same. In the midst of the full workloads, it can be difficult to embrace change, but making small, effective changes will position your firm for success throughout the year.
Kaizen is a Japanese technique which teaches small steps for continual improvement. In the book One Small Step Can Change Your Life, author Robert Maurer explains how to apply Kaizen to any situation. The first point in the book stresses the importance of understanding how to avoid the fears and failure associated with trying to make a drastic and dramatic change. Instead of trying to make a huge change all at once, Maurer suggests that taking small steps to achieve your goal will result in longer lasting success. He also emphasizes that the steps can be extremely small because even the smallest steps will take you closer to your goal. Maurer says, “Kaizen is an effective, enjoyable way to achieve a specific goal, but it also extends a more profound challenge: to meet life’s constant demands for change by seeking out continual – but always small – improvement.”
Maurer suggests the following practices to integrate Kaizen into your way of thinking:
Ask questions to dispel fear and inspire creativity
“Small questions create a mental environment that welcomes unabashed creativity and playfulness. When you ask small questions of others, you can channel that creative force toward team goals. By asking small questions of yourself, you lay the groundwork for a personalized kaizen program for change.”
Think small thoughts to develop new skills and habit
“The easy technique of mind sculpture uses “small thoughts” to help you develop new social, mental, and even physical skills – just by imagining yourself performing them!”
Take small actions that guarantee success
“By taking steps so tiny that they seem trivial or even laughable, you’ll sail calmly past obstacles that have defeated you before. Slowly – but painlessly! – you’ll cultivate an appetite for continued success and lay down a permanent new route to change.”
Solve small problems even when faced with an overwhelming crisis
“We are so accustomed to living with minor annoyances that it’s not always easy to identify them, let alone make corrections. But these annoyances have a way of acquiring mass and eventually blocking your path to change. By training yourself to spot and solve small problems, you can avoid undergoing much more painful remedies later.”
Bestow small rewards to produce the best results
“Whether you wish to train yourself or others to instill better habits, small rewards are the perfect encouragement. Not only are they inexpensive and convenient, but they also stimulate the internal motivation required for lasting change.”
Recognize the small but crucial moments that everyone else ignores
“The Kaizen approach to life requires a slower pace and an appreciation of small moments. This pleasant technique can lead to creative breakthroughs and strengthened relationships, and give you a daily boost towards excellence.”
If your goal is to improve communication within the firm, a Kaizen-oriented change could be as simple as defining the list of priorities for tax season and sharing this with the team. Another small result may be to create a box for people to anonymously submit questions or issues that they do not feel comfortable asking directly. These are small steps toward increasing firm communication, but the possibility for progress towards the goal is large.
As a word of caution, do not let small steps turn into stagnation. Sometimes we can fool ourselves into thinking all small steps are progress when they are just a creative means of procrastination or unnecessary distractions. This can be avoided by sharing goals with others for accountability and setting up a very basic schedule or timeline for the changes to occur.
By identifying firm goals, breaking them down into small steps and defining a reasonable timeline, you can avoid many failures that result simply from fear and feeling overwhelmed. Identifying minimal areas for change and following through on those changes can have a large impact. Take small steps to improve using the tools that you have while still focusing on what you do best. As long as you are making continual progress with the small steps, you can achieve your goal.
About the Author
As a consultant for Boomer Consulting, Inc., Arianna Campbell helps accounting firms challenge the status quo by leading process improvement initiatives that result in increased profitability and client satisfaction. She also facilitates the development and cultivation of future firm leaders in The P3 Leadership Academy™ Academy. Internally, she blends concepts from Lean Six Sigma and leadership development to drive innovation and continuous improvement within the company. Arianna also enjoys the opportunity to share knowledge through regular contributions to the Boomer Bulletin and other industry wide publications, as well as public speaking at industry conferences.