Associations and Kaizen – BusinessMirror

In this 300th column (thank you, BusinessMirror, for this milestone!), I’ll touch on a topic close to my heart as this has been part of my work and advocacy on association management.

term Kaizen It’s a combination of two Japanese words that translate to “good change” or “change for the better.” Eventually, kaizen evolved to mean “continuous improvement,” becoming a Japanese business philosophy that entails people participation and productivity in a gradual, systematic process.

I personally tested Kaizen Several years ago when I attended the “Executive Corporate Management Program” in Tokyo, Japan, organized by the Association for Overseas Technical Scholarships, now the Association for Overseas Technical Cooperation and Sustainable Partnerships (AOTS).

Kaizen It was known to have been first adopted by Japanese companies after World War II, influenced in part by American business and quality management practitioners, mostly by the “Toyota Way,” a set of guiding principles grounded in respect for people and continuous improvement. Kaizen Since then it has spread all over the world and has been applied to environments other than business and productivity.

So what can associations learn from Kaizen? Here are some ideas built 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. This means creating value for customers by identifying their interests to improve their experience. Associations adopt this principle to attract, interact with and retain their members. Modifying this could be KYM or “Know Your Member”, emphasizing having a “We are here to serve you” culture.

2. Let it flow. This refers to aiming for zero waste by having everyone in the organization aim to create value and eliminate waste. Although “letting it flow” in the context of an association is not quite a literal sense, it can mean putting its resources to good use by implementing programs and activities that are relevant and that create value for members.

3. Go to Gemba. This is about following the procedure and going where things actually happen since the real value is created there. (Gemba It means “physical place” in Japanese.) In the case of an association, this could be “being where your members are,” for example, being on social media channels if they are there, or organizing events that promote peer learning and provide networking opportunities.

4. Empowering people. This deals with organizing teams by setting the same goals for them and providing them with a system and set of tools to use. One of the salient features of thriving associations is having a team culture and a data-driven strategy to go along with it.

5. Be transparent. This is about showing real data as performance and making tangible and visible improvements. In the context of an association, this may relate to full disclosure to stakeholders—the board of directors, staff, members, and volunteers—of the state of the organization, including programming and financial reporting. Transparency is one of the hallmarks of good governance.

Implement these five Kaizen The principles in the organization are fundamentally important to having a successful continuous improvement culture and to identify a turning point in the progress of quality, productivity, and worker-management relations.

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

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