Constant Self-Improvement: Adopting The Kaizen Approach


Started in Japan at the end of World War II, the Kaizen approach was a philosophy adopted by Japanese manufacturers to improve their business practices and efficiency.

The word ‘Kaizen’ is the compound of two Japanese words that, together, loosely translate to ‘good change’ or ‘improvement’. In modern-day business circles, this approach is synonymous with continuous improvement.

The logic here is simple but profound. Through this lens, business owners view every area of their business as a moving part that can be constantly and incrementally improved and iterated on over time.

By consistently working to improve business practices over time, Japanese companies started to notice steady improvements in staff output, a reduction in manufacturing wastage and an increase in the quality of goods produced. All of which resulted in greater profits and a higher quality product for the consumer.

The Kaizen philosophy can be used to improve just about any area of our lives. Building relationships, improving skills, learning new techniques and even our effectiveness as personal trainers are all areas in which we can benefit greatly from continuous, incremental improvement.

Personally, I take every day that I work with my clients as another opportunity to both deepen my relationship with them and to provide a greater level of service. I also follow the same mindset with my writing. When I sit down to write out another blog post, it’s not only another opportunity to present an idea that will help you develop your skills and career — but another opportunity to further improve my craft as a writer.

Make mistakes, and make them often

There are three pillars to the Kaizen philosophy. The first is the idea that it’s okay to make mistakes. Making mistakes is inevitable, and often presents the most useful learning opportunities.

Author Robert Glazer sums it up brilliantly, on how to use use mistakes to drive continual development:

“When something goes wrong, team members are asked to write a debrief about what was learned, how improvements can be made and even how to prevent the same issue going forward. The goal is not to avoid mistakes; the goal is to avoid repeated mistakes”

Making Mistakes

They say that to learn a new language, it takes daily practice. This makes sense because daily practice gives you the opportunity to make daily mistakes, which gives you the chance to fix those mistakes, leading to iteration and improvement.

The same can be said for your work as a personal trainer. Every day is another opportunity for you to work on your craft. Here are just a few possibilities:

  • Experimenting with different coaching cues to see what works best.

Find problems — and come up with solutions

The second aspect of the Kaizen philosophy is identifying and solving problems. To improve the quality of your training and service, you must constantly seek feedback from your clients.

When was the last time you asked your clients how they feel about their training sessions? You might be surprised to hear what they say.

Additionally, always be on the lookout for implicit signals. Sometimes it’s not necessarily what someone says, but rather their behaviour that’s most indicative of how they might feel about your service.

What’s the average lifespan of your client base? If your clients are discontinuing their training relatively quickly after starting, you may need to consider whether your training sessions are in line with your clients’ goals.

Are you noticing that your clients aren’t following the programs that you design for them? Perhaps you could drive compliance by redesigning your programs to be simpler and have less jargon.

Do you often find that you create great rapport with prospects, only for them to decide not to pursue training with you? Maybe there’s a part of your sales routine that needs some work.

Your service is only as strong as its weakest link, so be constantly on the lookout for problems — and come up with solutions.

Remain innovative and reject the status quo

The last, and most important, aspect of Kaizen is the philosophy of constant innovation.

Most personal trainers view continuing development as a destination, rather than a process. Development only ever takes place at the next seminar, when you complete the next course or after reading the next book or listening to the next podcast.

While these are great ways to develop your knowledge and skills (and absolutely should be a part of your continuing education) what if there’s a different way?

As productivity and career blogger Jennifer Taylor Chan explains here, instead of falling into the trap of making wholesale changes to the way you operate, it’s important to be constantly making small, consistent modifications to your existing processes.

In short, you’ve already got a lot of the knowledge you need. You just need to do a better job of applying it.

Following the Kaizen approach, you don’t need to always be in pursuit of new hacks or ways of thinking. You already have enough knowledge; you’re simply refining what you already know.

Final Thoughts

When boiled down, following the Kaizen philosophy means adopting a beginner’s mindset; the mindset of seeking constant progress, not perfection.

It’s simple: progress, feedback, iteration. Progress, feedback, iteration.

All you need to do is rinse and repeat.

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James McDonald

James is the founder of PT Blogger. He helps personal trainers grow their client-bases, earn more money and thrive in the industry.
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