Simple Steps to Find Your Nonprofit “Zen”



No, I won’t waste your time offering yoga advice to relieve your non-profit challenges.

In fact, I’m not even talking about that Zen(禅 – meditation)!

Rather, I’ll share the secrets of what KaiZen can do for your non-profit.

But before I begin, let me ask you a question:

Do you think that the following would work at your non-profit?

  1. Discard conventional fixed ideas.
  2. Think of how to do it, not why it cannot be done.
  3. Do not make excuses. Start by questioning current practices.
  4. Do not seek perfection. Do it right away even if it will only achieve 50% the target.
  5. If you make a mistake, correct it right away.
  6. Throw wisdom at a problem, not money.
  7. Ask “WHY?” five times and seek root causes.
  8. Seek the wisdom of ten people rather than the knowledge of one.

What do you think? Can you subscribe at least to some of these points?

These are the guidelines of “kaizen”, (改善), the Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement that greatly influenced Japanese business and became a cornerstone for the success of industry leaders, like Toyota, Sony, and many others.

According to Masaaki Imai, the founder of Kaizen strategy and Kaizen Institute, kaizen is based on ancient Japanese tradition and philosophy that achieves harmony through gradual and continuous improvement.

Remarkably, kaizen demonstrates that big results are achieved through many small changes. At the same time, kaizen offers all employees the authority to make improvements, not just upper management. It leads to better efficiency and effectiveness in an organization.

It also challenges the traditional Western approach – “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – suggesting that there’s always room for improvement. Kaizen calls for appreciation of everyone’s input in the life of an organization, and suggests active participation from all staff members.

Another significant differentiator of kaizen is that it values holistic process-oriented management, productivity and quality control improvement involving the whole organization. Quite simply, kaizen aims at improving the organizational culture through a stimulating and supportive environment.

Does it bring innovation? You bet. But a different kind – the one that flows like a river, which never stops. Masaaki Imai said it better:

“Kaizen is like a hotbed that nurtures small and ongoing changes, while innovation is like magma that appears in abrupt eruptions from time to time.”

In summary, kaizen is more of a mindset than anything else. And you can start putting it into practice straight away.

For example, next week you can start your day by doing these three simple things:

1) Ask yourself one question today and every day – right now what can I do to make my non-profit better?

2) See the problem – fix it

3) Repeat the process

Yes, these steps seem incredibly simple. Yet making them a habit is much more difficult than you think, especially if your organization has a long history.
Nonetheless, you can begin small by making simple changes and inspiring others to follow suit. Of course, if you want maximum results, you will need to convince your peers to invest their time and energy in learning the best ways to implement kaizen principles at your non-profit.

Or as Masaaki Imai put it, “You can’t do kaizen just once or twice and expect immediate results. You have to be in it for the long haul.”

Are you?



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