November 27, 2022

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Associations and Kaizen – BusinessMirror

3 min read

IN this 300th column (thanks BusinessMirror for this milestone!) I will address an issue that is very close to my heart as it has been part of my work and commitment to association management.

The term Kaizen is a fusion of two Japanese words that can be translated as “good change” or “change for the better”. Eventually, Kaizen has evolved to mean “continuous improvement” and has become a Japanese business philosophy that involves people involvement and productivity in a gradual and methodical process.

I first experienced the Kaizen way years ago when I attended the Executive Corporate Management Program in Tokyo, Japan, organized by the Association of Overseas Technical Scholarship, now Association for Overseas Technical Cooperation and Sustainable Partnerships (AOTS). became.

Kaizen was known to have first been introduced into Japanese companies after World War II, influenced in part by American business and quality management practitioners and primarily by “The Toyota Way”, a set of guiding principles rooted in respect for people and continuous improvement. Kaizen has since spread around the world and has been applied to environments other than business and productivity.

So what can associations learn from Kaizen? Here are some ideas based on each of the Kaizen principles developed by the Kaizen Institute founded by Masaaki Imai known as the father of continuous improvement.

1. Know your customer. That means creating value for customers by identifying their interests in order to improve their experience. Associations have adopted this principle to attract, connect with and retain their members. A twist on this could be KYM or “know your member” which focuses on a “we are here to serve you” culture.

2. Let it flow. This refers to the goal of striving for zero waste by engaging everyone in the organization to create value and eliminate waste. Although not quite so literal, in the context of an association, “let it flow” could mean that it uses its resources wisely by conducting programs and activities that are relevant and create value for members.

3. Go to Gemba. This refers to following the action and going where things actually happen as that is where true value is created. (Gemba means “the actual place” in Japanese.) In the case of an association, this could be “where your members are,” z offers networking opportunities.

4. Empower people. This deals with organizing teams by setting them the same goals and providing them with a system and set of tools. One of the outstanding characteristics of successful associations is a team culture and an accompanying data-driven strategy.

5. Be transparent. The aim is to present the real data as a service and to make improvements tangible and visible. In the context of an association, this could refer to full disclosure of the state of the organization to its stakeholders – board, staff, members and volunteers – including programming and financial reports. Transparency is one of the hallmarks of good governance.

Implementing these five Kaizen principles in an organization is fundamental to having a successful culture of continuous improvement and marking a turning point in the development of quality, productivity and worker-manager relations.

Octavio Peralta is currently Executive Director of the Global Compact Network Philippines and Founder and Honorary CEO of the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives (PCAAE), the “Confederation of Associations”. The PCAAE will host its Associations Summit 10 (AS10) on November 23-24, 2022. Email:

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