Kaizen: Change Your Business for the Better

Interview with author, speaker, and process improvement expert, Hilary Corna

Hilary Corna teaches leaders and teams how to solve problems more effectively. As former Senior Executive Officer for Toyota, she helped improve dealership operations for Toyota and ran all of their Kaizen projects for the Asia-Pac region, based out of its Singapore HQ. She is currently consulting for Leverage to implement Kaizen throughout the company and reshape its internal processes.

She’s also bestselling author of One White Face, and a prominent writer and speaker featured on Forbes, TedX, the Muse, and more.


Kai = change 
Zen = for the better

Therefore Kaizen translates to continuously improving a company — or more specifically its processes — for the better.

The philosophy of Kaizen is deeply rooted in Toyota and the Japanese way of conducting business. It infiltrates all parts of the Toyota brand, and has quickly caught on in the US…sometimes taking on the form of popular buzzwords like Six Sigma or “Lean” business.

Kaizen is important because it is proactive rather than reactive. While most companies hum along through day-to-day operations until something goes wrong and then scramble to implement changes, Kaizen advocates for ongoing assessment and incremental changes.

By constantly implementing small improvements, businesses can stay ahead of the curve and ahead of the competition.


During her time with Toyota, Hilary and her team acted as internal consultants and used a “pika pika” — or a test site — to work within six month projects, analyze all the processes and find ways to improve them.

At Toyota, once a process is improved and it is successful, it is made a standard and implemented throughout the other dealers.

There are two main issues with how a majority of companies try to tackle problems:

  1. They jump to a solution before truly understanding the problem
  2. They act based on an instinct rather than quantifying the problem

#1 can lead to implementing a solution that isn’t dealing with the root of the problem, while #2 focuses on “putting out fires.” Often if an issue is at hand it may feel urgent and give the illusion that a lot of clients are having the same issue, however, a business must consider if this actually a recurring problem, i.e. how often it happens and to how many clients/customers.

“A lot of businesses are good at implementing solutions…but not the right solutions.”
-Hilary Corna


The images in this section are from Go Lean Six Sigma, an online kaizen training program. The first image shows how deeply you can get into a Kaizen project, or how to uncover the problems to put the right solution in place.

For instance, the blue and pink columns show the level of Kaizen work for startups and young companies where the issues or problems are typically unknown.

The last three columns, orange, green and brown, are typically used for proven or longstanding companies that need redesigned or completely new infrastructure.

The main difference between a Six Sigma and Lean strategies is the way it qualifies improvement. Six Sigma strives to reduce variation in an experience or a process. A good example is a restaurant. If a restaurant sometimes has hour long waits, sometimes accepts walk-ins, sometimes allows people to wait at the bar first, etc., those are all variations in the user/customer experience. Six Sigma would aim to reduce the restaurant variation.

The term “Lean” aims to reduce waste by streamlining the process. Both have the same aim but have different core beliefs as to how you get there.

The 8 wastes — “muda” in Japanese — are compiled in the image below. The 8 wastes are easily translated to fit all industries.

Eg: Motion could be measuring how often is a person moving to complete their job. In one of her studies, Hilary found that a team member had to walk a total of 2.5 miles (over a span of days) to complete one contract. This is an example of a waste problem a business doesn’t even know it has unless it begins to study and measure it.


Implementing Kaizen or Lean Six Sigma can be done in ANY type of business and its processes. Client success, hiring/firing, sales, marketing — you name it, there is a process for it. And when there is a process, there is inevitably waste and room for improvement.

As we’ve said before we are big advocates of Process Street and using it to document every process whether it is three steps or 100 steps, in order to safeguard your business, and also to analyze and find holes in the processes to continuously improve them (Kaizen).

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