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One Form of Regenerative Energy: The Kaizen Feedback

Posted on Sunday, Dec 9th 2018

By Guest Author Marylene Delbourg-Delphis

We all know about the natural tendency of systems toward their degradation. It’s called entropy. In her new book, Everybody Wants to Love Their Job: Rebuilding Trust and Culture, Marylene Delbourg-Delphis discusses the various ways organizations can fight that entropy, and instead, generate the negative entropy that Nobel laureate Erwin Schrodinger ended up naming “negentropy.” Thwarting entropy ultimately means breeding creative energy within the company non-stop by nurturing an environment that doesn’t inhibit imagination from the get-go and paying attention to all the sources of regenerative energy. What Delbourg-Delphis calls “kaizen feedback” is one of them.

You need conversation to spread and feedback to encourage more feedback. Employees must be able to talk to anybody they choose: to a direct supervisor, of course, but if an employee wants to talk to somebody else, above her supervisor, she should have the means to do so. Feedback is a fundamental pillar of smart organizations and has two aspects, operational feedback, and kaizen feedback.

  • Operational feedback is the reaction that an employee receives or a manager delivers relative to an action or a performance. Operational feedback from supervisors and coworkers—and getting it frequently—is a critical component of employee confidence. It allows them to improve, especially when the manager delivering the feedback understands that management skills are first and foremost coaching skills. This helps employees build up their self-worth. In many cases, part of employee disengagement is due to the inability of ordinary managers to address, or sometimes even identify, areas where an employee needs guidance, reassurance, or both.


  • Kaizen” feedback, from the Japanese word for “change for better,” refers to any type of feedback for improvement—techniques, practices, or ideas—and is less transactional. It’s the ability for an employee to give feedback (and not simply receive it), discussing not only the tasks at hand, but also the way they are performed and even, sometimes, their relevance. This can trigger work redesign. Kaizen feedback also suggests the possibility for employees to express what they need to work better and to offer suggestions to do things differently. That’s why smart companies operate much better than ordinary organizations.

Originally spearheaded by Toyota, the goal of the kaizen approach isn’t abstractly to improve productivity or eliminate waste in business processes. It’s just as much about leveraging the intelligence of human beings and inciting them to participate in the enhancement of the entire workplace, which includes how they work, how they feel at work, and what they produce. It’s the foundation of the “Toyota Creative Ideas and Suggestions System” (TCISS), which encourages employees to suggest ameliorations. Eiji Toyoda took the idea from a Ford Motor Company plant that he had visited in July 1950.

Suggestion boxes can take several forms, ranging from fully organized systems administered by management or committees of employees to more informal, online conversations. In addition, over the past few years, dozens of employee feedback applications have shown up on the market. Most of them are extremely easy to use.

Employees usually have tons of ideas on virtually any topic. But, of course, it’s not enough to “gather” ideas and feedback. The commitment of your employees isn’t predicated merely upon your ability to listen, but also upon your determination to respond. As Andy Grove put it: “If your employees don’t have an opportunity to test your thinking in live sessions or electronically, your message will seem like so much hot air.”

If you don’t accept being tested, the continuous transformation required to remain a smart place to work will simply end. Functional stupidity will resume. Your employees’ suggestions will disappear in the company’s labyrinths or will be flat-out discarded by zealous managers who don’t care.

Employees are the actors of the regenerative circuit that maintains the smartness of your workplace. Sustaining that circuit is what managing the employee experience is all about. The very qualities you can expect to see in your employees’ feedback are precisely what you need in order to be ready in the new era of work and remain competitive: their desire to like their workplace, their ability to ask insightful questions, their eagerness to learn new skills, and their having the entrepreneurial spirit that spurs innovation.

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