Over time incremental improvements or small steps can make big changes. Small changes each day lead to dramatic shifts over time. These changes can be especially powerful because they don't cost a lot upfront. There's no major change initiative, no stakeholder alignment, no big announcements or rollouts. And most definitely no overnight transformations. It's really just about making your hotel operate as smoothly and efficiently as possible, with the objective of improving just a little bit each day.
There’s a word for this approach to incremental improvements: Kaizen. And it can be a powerful philosophy for hospitality businesses. Here’s why.
What is Kaizen?
Kaizen is a Japanese word and the definition of kaizen is “change for better” or “process improvement.” After World War II, the term became synonymous with the Toyota Production System philosophy of continuous improvement throughout all levels of the company with the goal of reducing waste (lean manufacturing). The approach focuses on improving the efficient use of labor, supply chain and technology to standardize operations ensuring total quality management.
Kaizen aims to help organizations implement quality controls that help identify the root causes or bottlenecks in an operation. Once these conrtols are in place, managers who implement kaizen can work through problem solving.
The Japanese philosophy of emerged around World War II due to the fact that there was “neither time nor resources” to devote to massive innovations or transformation during wartime:
“Instead of encouraging large, radical changes to achieve desired goals, these methods recommended that organizations introduce small improvements, preferably ones that could be implemented on the same day.”
Even though it was designed for assembly line workers, this transformational management style is perfect for hospitality. It's rarely feasible to implement a wholesale overhaul of an entire system or workforce. And it most certainly is immensely challenging to evolve the physical space of a hotel that remains open to the public all day, every day. A philosophy of continuous improvement reflects the true challenges and opportunities of an industry built on details and moments. For hospitality operators, kaizen promises a more gentle approach to making hotels better.
How to Use Kaizen in the Hospitality Industry
To manage the process of continuous improvement, consider using service optimization technology that wrangles data into a common dashboard for teams. This will help your operations department gain real-time visibility into what needs improvement and even what is currently improving. You'll want to make sure that whichever service optimization (also known as staff task management or hotel operations software) tool you use deeply integrates with your hotel front desk software (PMS).
These solutions focus on leveraging technology to improve operations across departments on a day-to-day basis, ensuring that small-but-steady improvements improve the hotel’s operation.
One such solution is HotSOS (by Amadeus), a comprehensive software suite that makes on property life easier for workers across the hotel. Here are some of the key ways that HotSOS helps hotel managers become kaizen masters to deliver better outcomes for hotels:
Real-time problem management
Solving problems quickly means that your team learns continuous improvement by doing; it becomes embedding in your hotel culture.
The elimination of paper workflows reduces manual errors, saves time, and makes staff happier. See next point.
With service optimization software, it only takes one click to update checklists and standard operating procedures. This ensures that everyone has the latest process and that kaizen-related improvements get out to the team instantly.
Automated room assignments
The system works as your silent kaizen consultant by adjusting your team’s room assignments on the fly. This means that staff can be more efficient, all without having to overthink it.
Without software, managers must rely on instinct, observation, and feedback from others to identify high-performers and laggards. As we all know, this can magnify interpersonal conflicts and gossip. Since kaizen is all about incremental improvements at each point.
With automated prioritization, rooms are kept up to brand standards. As last-minute stay-overs affect room availability, the system re-assigns work as needed.
These features empower individual staff members and entire departments to be more mindful of incremental improvements. Each day becomes a shared puzzle to solve together, in collaboration and with full transparency.
Get the latest hotel tech tips, trends and insights delivered to your inbox
If You Can’t Measure It, You Can’t Improve It
To achieve the true potential of a Kaizen philosophy, it takes a strong measurement mindset. “If you can't measure it, you can't improve it” is an adaptation of the famous quote from management consultant Peter Drucker, who once said “you can't manage what you don’t measure.
There’s no baseline without proper measurement. For hoteliers, measurement is what makes the intangible trackable. Measurement increases visibility and accountability across the organization, empowering frontline staff with clear markers of progress. Pulling these metrics to the forefront also creates transparency and trust, ensuring that each team member is held to the same standard.
Without a doubt, this boosts morale and aligns teams around common goals and shared expectations. Brand standards are easier to match and there’s more pride of work.
What exactly should you be measuring in your hotel? The short answer is: everything. Each departmental head should be focused on 4-5 key metrics that will make the most meaningful long term impact on your hotel’s P&L. You should make those metrics clear to all relevant staff and orient your reporting to celebrate wins and call out areas for improvement.
One case study showing the possible improvements from using kaizen in hospitality
Take housekeeping for instance. In the case study above, kaizen reduced the average turnaround time for rooms by 40%. It also improved linen turnaround time so that housekeeping remains stocked with the items necessary for their work.
The housekeeping department thrives when it’s coordinated and aligned but becomes chaotic with poor communication. A service optimization tool, such as HotSOS (by Amadeus), aligns teammates across the department by putting KPIs at the center of the process; this allows all staff to see status and orient around daily improvements. The technology empowers front-line staff and guides management with relevant data.
With HotSOS Housekeeping, historical data can be used to improve performance over time, while HotSOS relies on real-time assignments to maintain optimal efficiency on a given shift. Management can then track KPIs, such as the average cleaning time and the average inspection scores of each housekeeper. With that information, management can then strive to deliver those incremental improvements that define the kaizen approach.
The Result: Continual Improvement at Your Hotel
Stale processes that haven’t been revisited in years can lead to equally stale guest experiences. If you're not always monitoring and watching for areas to improve, the experience will inevitably slip and guests will notice.
To get to continuous iteration in your hotel, the following steps should be second nature:
Engage employees, as they’ll have the best ideas of focus areas for improvement.
Make a problem list and then prioritize according to those with the greatest impact.
Match problems with potential solutions.
Test the solutions so that you have on-the-ground insights into what’s working.
Analyze the results. If there's improvement, adopt the solution.
Repeat the process and empower staff to do this as part of their own contributions.
It’s fairly simple, and you may already be doing some of these steps but mastery takes incredible discipline. That’s the beauty of kaizen: it’s a natural process for hospitality. With an intentional approach, supported by the right technology, morale grows, mistakes dwindle, and the guest experience improves. It’s a promising vision that can be pursued each day by applying kaizen’s slow-but-steady philosophy to hotel operations.