Hoshin Kanri: Engage employees early to improve strategic planning

Fourth quarter is the time of year when companies kick it into high gear to finish off their goals and begin planning for next year. Before you begin setting the direction, without the people who will have to implement it, consider a Japanese practice called, “Hoshin Kanri.”

Hoshin Kanri is a management method devised to capture and cement strategic goals as well as flashes of insight about the future so these ideas can be developed into the daily reality of important tasks and initiatives that can be measured.
Hoshin means “compass needle” and Kanri means “management or control.” The name suggests how Hoshin planning aligns an organization toward accomplishing a single goal by engaging the key employees in creating, contributing and constantly communicating about their progress toward the goals. The measurable tasks and timelines hold people accountable to the daily progress and cut down meetings for updates.
The management concept of Hoshin Kanri was made popular in Japan in the late 1950s by Professor Yoji Akao, who believed “Each person is the expert in his or her own job. The collective thinking power of all employees makes the organization the best in its field.” Professor Kaoru Ishikawa also wrote in his book “What Is Total Quality Control?” his thoughts on Hoshin Kanri: “Top managers and middle managers must be bold enough to delegate as much authority as possible. That is the way to establish respect for humanity as your management philosophy. It is a management system in which all employees participate, from the top down and from the bottom up, and humanity is fully respected.”
Hoshin planning is a seven-step process that includes key employees and leaders in the following ways:

  • Identify the key business issues facing the organization. What are our strengths, weaknesses and opportunities as a business? What is the marketplace telling us it wants and needs?
  • Define the overall vision and develop breakthrough objectives. Why do we exist? How will we reach our vision?
  • Share and develop breakthrough strategies to reach the goals. What will we do to reach our goals?
  • Determine the tactics, strategies and plan of action that facilitate each strategy. Who will do what by when, to ensure we meet our goals and accomplish key initiatives?
  • Prioritize resources. Do we have what we need to get it done? What is most important? Where can we outsource? Where can we find the expertise we need?
  • Implement performance measures for every strategy and goal. How will we know we are on target and making progress in an efficient and timely way?
  • Communicate and recognize progress often. How will we track the milestones? How will we celebrate the milestones?

While the above list may look like straightforward strategic planning, Hoshin ensures employee engagement and honors the intelligence each person brings to the discussion to help them find the breakthrough goals and ideas needed for growth.
While all of these steps seem so logical, many senior leaders still give reasons for not doing this more elaborate type of strategic planning. Among the most common reasons are:

  • We already do this (at a senior management level).
  • We don’t have enough time to engage employees.
  • It doesn’t pay to plan that far in the future. Things change.
  • The way we do it today is just fine.
  • Maintaining the process takes too much time and effort.

As a business and strategic consultant for 25 years, my gut sense is that the real reason many companies still struggle with engaging employees in this process early on is twofold: control and ease of manageability. For years the “C-suite” owned the strategic plan and the pertinent information to support many of the decisions, including the financials. In order for the Hoshin Kanri method to be adopted in American companies, owners would have to be willing to open up their minds and books to allow employees to know the facts so they can contribute their expertise from the point of view of their jobs. In addition, while the tables traditionally used to measure progress in the Hoshin Kanri method are helpful for tracking progress, they can be rather unexciting and cumbersome to work with, especially if you are not someone who thinks in linear terms.
Our Employee Engagement Hub engages employees in the creation and communication of the plan on a daily basis in a fun and interactive way. Small-to-mid-size companies, as well as a Fortune 300 company, use it to create synchronicity to their plans.
Challenge: Are you ready to share in the creation and responsibility of the plan?
Susan K. Wehrley has been a strategic planning consultant and business coach for 25 years as owner of Susan K. Wehrley & Associates Inc. (www.solutionsbysusan.com). She developed a division called BIZremedies in 2009 (www.BIZremedies.com), which offers an Employee Engagement Hub tool and a community for like-minded business professionals to share best practices. She can be reached at 414-581-0449 or susan@solutionsbysusan.com

Susan K. Wehrley is an executive coach and business consultant that aligns executives and businesses to their vision, values and goals. She is also a regular contributor to Forbes. You can email Susan at Susan@BIZremedies.com, (262) 696-6856 or visit her website www.BIZremedies.com for more details.

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