[Toyota] executives created the doctrine of kaizen, or continuous improvement. "They find a hole, and they plug it," says auto-industry consultant Maryann Keller. "They methodically study problems, and they solve them."
While kaizening works well as an engineering process, it's less clear that it makes an effective human resources tool, at least in the US. I wrote about kaizening, TQM, and other types of employee involvement in in my article Privately Ordered Participatory Management: An Organizational Failures Analysis, in which I quoted a worker at NUMMI (the Toyota-GM joint venture), who said:“Kaizening is supposed to be creative, but I mean how many times can you sit there and Kaizen a job after you’ve done it for four and one-half years? ... [J]ust keep me in a job and I’ll do it the way you want me to do it.” This worker seemingly would prefer a more structured environment.