An examination of kaizen drift in Japanese genba : implications for business in the anglosphere : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Business and Administration at Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand

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In attempting to decode the industrial competitive success of Japan, researchers in the Anglosphere have predominantly identified with the highly visible tools and methods of the quality management philosophy of kaizen. However, due to data collection methodologies and significant cross-cultural limitations kaizen appears to have been largely misinterpreted and misunderstood. This ‘gap’ has resulted in literature riddled with deterministic models of mechanical methodologies promoted to pursue business excellence. Further, there has been a plethora of attempts at transplanting Japan-centric tools and techniques, with little – if any – regard for the country’s individual and indigenous social characteristics. To deepen understanding of kaizen a phenomenological study was conducted in middle-to-large sized industrial companies in Japan to investigate Japanese workers’ perspectives of kaizen. Two parallel and complementary philosophies of the pursuit of business excellence were identified. The Japanese thread explored how Japanese workers acknowledge and exercise kaizen; and, the Anglosphere thread examined how workers in the Anglosphere attempt to adopt and practise kaizen. In the Japanese context, society is identified as being highly bounded with little opportunity for individual creativity. Many Japanese industrial organisations, being active kaizen environments, channel worker creativity and expressions of individuality into bounded environments, or kaizen audiences, providing a counter-point to social and cultural requirements. In addition to Japanese-style management, this has resulted in the production of tangible kaizen tools and methods, as easily identified by Anglosphere researchers and practitioners. The primary contribution to knowledge this research presents is the development of understanding of the utility of the kaizen phenomenon. Kaizen in industrial settings in Japan is found to be both culturally bounded and contextually dependent, and far beyond continuous improvement; differences in the perceptions of older and younger workers are seen to exist as kaizen drifts across generational boundaries; active programmes are maintained to ensure that kaizen remains embedded in both the individual and the organisation; and, the simplistic diffusion of kaizen to Anglosphere organisations is observed to be an unlikely guarantee to sustainable business excellence over the longer term, as it has in Japan. This research reports that the only likely viable means to sustainably diffuse kaizen in Anglosphere domains is for business leaders to return to square one and instil an implicit, comprehensive understanding and appreciation of kaizen; and, acquire and develop recipient-organisation-centric tools and methods. Such a new approach could provide practitioners in the Anglosphere the means to adopt and sustain kaizen thinking and practice, and a gateway to sustainable competitive advantage.
Corporate culture, Total quality management, Japan, English-speaking countries, Business, Administration, Anglosphere, Conformity, Creativity, Culture, Diffusion, Drift, Genba, Intergenerational, Japan, kaizen