Kaizen is the Japanese word for continuous improvement. Continuous improvement is key to the success of a business, as well as to the success of the people in the business. This past week, I had the opportunity to shadow one of the other store managers on their turf. The goal was to observe another management style and discuss ways the store could be improved, as well as what I could improve on in my store. This week, the manager whose store I visited will be visiting my store and observing me.

One of the reasons I love being a part of the tea industry is how open people are to helping you improve. I rarely meet someone who isn’t open to discussing trends, sources, future plans, and experiences over a cup of tea. It’s even taken a step further when you’re able to sit down with someone who is selling the same product, working with the same margins, merchandising a similar layout, and looking for the same qualities when hiring staff. You’re bound to run into similar issues that can easily be tackled when you’re discussing solutions you’ve tried and their results.

Adagio has always been a company focused on helping everyone better themselves, a workplace designed to help people reach their fullest potential. In the area of tea, we do focused tastings weekly to improve palates, spark curiosity, and learn a little more about an old beverage. But there are ways to help employees improve other than learning how to talk about a product better, suggest a certain add-on, or have the average tea consumer consider you a tea expert.

Three key elements that I believe promote continuous improvement are:

  1. Delegate Tasks and Responsibility – There’s nothing more rewarding than accomplishing and knocking out a task. By letting your employees own a project, you not only empower them, but show you trust them.
  2. Respect and Thank – Any job can become tedious and results can become frustrating, especially in tea. Making sure your employees know they’re valued creates a more open culture and gives you the opportunity to invest more in your staff.
  3. Create Vision – No one wants to feel like what they’re doing has no purpose. In tea retail, often half your staff is working part time pursuing other dreams, while the other half seriously wants to further their career. Either way, everyone is curious where the company might be in six months, two years, and five years, and wants to know how they play a part.

At the end of the day, we all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and know that we played a part in something great. Personally, I always want to learn how I can better myself, the company, and my co-workers. What are some ways you’ve encouraged kaizen in your tea business?

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This post was first published on T Ching 21 May 2012