Every year I am faced with new challenges that push my personal and professional development further into research, training, and application. Over the years, I’ve learned to embrace change and adapt to my current environment--seeking a better way to achieve success. For me, this “self-seeking” mindset originated from my military training using Army terms like “adapt and overcome.” I’m thankful for this mindset because I’ve learned how to translate this philosophy into successes in other areas in life.

However, it was a certification course that introduced me to a more defined philosophy that changed my life, my professional career, and my family. It was the first time I heard the term “Kaizen” which originates from the Japanese word that means "good change." Kaizen is a systematic approach that requires incremental steps toward improvement--questioning how you can improve the process along the way.

This new found philosophy was my ah-ha moment. The notion of growing a small percent each day was the perfect mindset for long-term results. It also reminded me of the military leadership training I received where the instructors forced you to seek daily improvements just to get through each course module. Just like my military training, Kaizen can be utilized as a systematic approach to a process designed to increase your development or performance. It encourages activities that question “why” and it eliminates wasteful action items that hinder you from obtaining your goals. Once this philosophy is adopted as a culture, everyone around you will benefit and ultimately see long-term results!

Creating a culture of Kaizen establishes an environment of self-awareness, realistic goal setting, and a mindset of change. These are healthy attributes for success that will eliminate the overwhelming emotions associated with setting lofty goals, living up to unobtainable expectations, and having the sense of lost hope. That’s why Kaizen is so effective working with at-risk youth, transitioning professionals, and military veterans. Focusing on the small increments of progress within the right process, while keeping the goals SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timed)—improves the individual’s self-development behaviors over time.

Implementing Kaizen as an action plan, it helps teach young adults and adults alike how to think differently about their work, education, and self-development. It pushes them to strategically think about how they can get better, along with understanding “why.” I’ve found success introducing teens and young adults the Kaizen principle as it applies to workforce development, healthy habits, teamwork, communication, focus, and time management. I push them to think outside of the comfort zone and embrace change as a way of life. Over time, each student becomes more comfortable with attacking good and bad results of change while learning critical thinking skills. Most impressively, they begin to know more about themselves.

Implementing a Kaizen Culture with teens and young adults
There are 5 phases of integrating a Kaizen Culture amongst your young adults or teenage group.

1. Engage and promote participation: To ensure active participation, you must engage as often as necessary. Promoting participation and providing positive re-enforcement for small progress is the key to creating the right Kaizen Culture. After the initial buy-in phase, reward them for successfully embarking on a journey toward a better lifestyle of success.
2. Create Healthy Habits: Create small obtainable goals for living a healthy way of life. Meaning, don’t throw them out into the deep end of the pool and drown them in stressful goals that take time. Instead, get them to commit to manageable healthy activities that can be increased over time. A good example is eating a healthy breakfast consistently for five days (or one week). You can build on one good meal by adding a 15-minute exercise week two. Living healthy is an essential part of developing a healthy mindset that can minimize stress and fight fearful emotions that may compromise your discipline.
3. Encourage Self Development and Training: The essence of The Kaizen Approach is learning and expanding your skills. Encouraging continued education to achieve desired SMART Goals and ambitions in life is a great foundation for getting out of the comfort zone. For example, push your group to learn to play an instrument. Maybe, encourage them to learn how to speak another language. In some cases, just taking a free online course on public speaking have proven to be great motivators for continuing education. Teaching teens and young adults more about Lean and Six Sigma always spark interest in learning new philosophies for success.
4. Focus on the Process: The best attribute of introducing a Kaizen Culture is the quality levels of improvement with an emphasis on the small steps within the process. Most people fail to meet their goals in life because they are more focused on the prize and not the process. In the Kaizen Culture, you are taught to see the prize but embrace the complex action steps taken to get to the prize. This illustrates a mindset of loving the daily grind just as much as receiving the award. A good example of this is a professional athlete. Successful professional athletes love to work out just as much as they love to play their sport. They’ve conditioned their minds to enjoy to sweat and the awful feeling their muscle have when they’re sore from over exertion. When it’s time to play the game, that is their reward for all of the hard work. This mindset applies in the Kaizen Culture. If I teach a group to love the action item of learning to get better at mathematics, they will consider the passing grade on the final exam a reward for the work put into studying.
5. Lastly, eliminate wasteful items: A key component of the Kaizen Approach Program comes from the Lean Six Sigma family. It is “Muda” which means waste. I’ve found that incorporating Lean philosophies in my coaching and training programs resulted in higher success ratios with Muda being an anchor phase for teens and young adults. Giving these students the opportunity to map out their personal value stream and identify the Muda (waste) within their lives or professional career proves to be amazingly effective. Since there are various forms of Muda, each student can quickly identify these non-valued items and are more motivated to get beyond them. For example, a student who outlines their SMART Goals with action items in between can easily identify Muda when using the 5Why analysis. The 5Why method serves as a cause and effect system underlying a particular problem within the process. In most cases students find wasteful work, waiting, motion, processes, relationships, and resources.

In today’s society, we are taught that success is instant. When naturally success is a calculated process that builds sustainable, healthy habits along the way. Over the years--I’ve learned that our sociological way of thinking has placed an overwhelming amount of pressure on our teenagers and young adults. Many of them have lost hope or feel as if their current circumstances are so insurmountable that they will never overcome it or be able to achieve their dreams. Focusing on the outcomes or fixating on the dream itself, without a systematic approach to obtaining them, is easy to miss out of developing a great foundation for sustainable development. Setting goals too lofty or unrealistic will typically lead to failed attempts and ultimately building a mindset of low self-esteem.

My mentor would always tell me, “give a man a fish, will feed him for a day—teach a man to fish, you’ll feed him for life.” Teaching someone to strive for small increments of growth every day is feeding them for life, and that is what Kaizen is all about. My quest is to not to feed our young population for a day with motivational speeches that are rarely obtained beyond 24 hours after an event. However, I want to feed them for life by integrating a simple philosophy that fosters change, improves skills, inspires engaging communication, and promotes a healthy sense of self-awareness. Thus, the integration of The Kaizen Approach Program creates an incredible long-term value to the community, individual households, and youth groups by setting up the proper culture for true long-term success.

Author's Bio: 

Scott A. Coulter is a military veteran, entrepreneur, coach, speaker, and trainer living in Charlotte, North Carolina who loves sharing his knowledge by serving others who seek success transformation.

Scott offers over 20 years of experience helping professionals obtain success in their business, careers and regain control over their lives. He’s led start-up companies to multi-million dollar enterprises, coached individuals to sustainable happy lives, developed workforce programs that employed hundreds of transitioning men & women—landing Scott the Business Leader Magazine, Leader of the Year in 2012.

Scott is a passionate leader who draws a “must win” mindset from his military training, successful corporate background, coupled with life lessons that have transformed his own way of life. He is known for going the extra mile to ensure his clients have a clear direction, strategic game plan, and accountability measurements in place for success.

Scott's philosophy:
"I truly believe that your mindset contributes toward your outcomes. Everyone can develop mental toughness, resilience and the will to succeed if shown how to harness the power of your mind. It’s my purpose in life to share those tools with the world. Everyone who believes can achieve and our programs are the tools that can help you find the happiness you’ve been looking for.

What I hoped to accomplish with this book was a process that would help every professional find their breakthroughs no matter what challenges they face. That is the number one reason I continue to develop new programs, facilitate training and speak to organizations throughout the U.S. I believe that if a guy from small town USA can find his purpose in life, so can you. I wish you all an unbelievable life filled with unstoppable success. Dominate the Day!”

-Scott A. Coulter, LSSYB