Workforce Management: The Kaizen Way


Competition for skilled labor (especially in the manufacturing industry) has never been tougher, so any advantage for attracting and retaining talent is crucial to staying ahead. This is why savvy HR pros are focused on refining their methodologies to ensure the most effective, efficient processes for their organizations. Sometimes, the best prescription for the future comes to us from the past. In this instance, HR practitioners are rediscovering the wisdom of the Kaizen method as it can be applied to workforce management.

Originating in the Japanese business community following the end of World War II, Kaizen is a continuous improvement doctrine that has been successfully adopted by many of the world’s leading manufacturing organizations. In fact, the word “Kaizen” translates literally to “continuous improvement.” Its origins in Japanese manufacturing, notably within Toyota Motor Company, have since spread across numerous industries where the ethic of continuous improvement is highly valued, including the workforce management industry.

While there are volumes of detailed methodologies surrounding the practice of Kaizen, a general mindfulness about Kaizen-style process improvement among HR and workforce managers can yield significant benefits to any program. Kaizen focuses on two broad elements: process and flow. For the workforce manager, these two elements are crucial to examine.


HR managers should make regular, standardized efforts to review their workforce management processes. They might examine their processes for sourcing, on-boarding, worker classification, risk mitigation and other regularly occurring activities central to their day-to-day operations. Wherever no standard exists, a well-conceived process should be formally drafted.

As Kaizen dictates, such processes should be assessed regularly and their performance should be measured. Each time a process is examined, a goal should be set for performance improvement by the time the next assessment occurs. Whether the goals are always met or not is irrelevant. Simply working toward improvement consistently, over time, yields incremental improvements toward the goal of achieving best practices in every functional area.


HR managers should similarly perform regular audits of their flows. If an HR department doesn’t already have its workflow processes mapped out, they should start with that exercise using Visio or another workflow mapping tool. Having the processes clearly mapped from requisition through settlement can be an eye-opening exercise. Sometimes individual processes are strong, but the order of operational execution is inefficient and causes delays or other productivity/quality-sapping problems. Similar to the process audits, convening regularly-scheduled flow audits is a Kaizen-style activity that can have an outsized impact on overall quality within your workforce management function.

There is a wealth of great information on Kaizen and its underlying precepts available at the Kaizen Institute website. If you’re serious about total quality management in your HR department, it may be worth investing the time to learn more about how this discipline can help you better your operations. Or, you may reach out to one of our workforce advisors to find out how nextSource can improve both your process and flow.

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