In Compliance and Continuous Improvement”, John Nocero discussed the concept of Kaizen or continuous improvement in compliance. He explained, “Loosely translated, Kaizen means change for the better. It has been utilized successfully by a variety of organizations in healthcare, psychotherapy, government and other industries to help develop long-term competitive strategies, improve operational practices and stay viable. When you think about it further, this principle has even more direct application to the compliance practitioner. In today’s environment in which we work, being a compliance practitioner is like setting yourself on fire at the beginning of the day and trying to put it out by day’s end. We fight fires. We want to be able to control the fire that is burning within ourselves – by learning how to handle the difficult conversation before it occurs, or anticipating how we will act when someone challenges our knowledge or authority.”

The company Graphic Products explains on their website, “Kaizen works by reducing waste (muda) and eliminating work processes that are overly difficult (muri). As a lean business practice, Kaizen succeeds when all employees look for areas to improve and provide suggestions based on their observations and experience. Generally, these suggestions are for small changes that incrementally change the business for the better.” They suggest a four-step approach, which they call “Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA).”

Under the Plan prong, you “define the problem and develop potential solutions.” Under the Do prong, you next move to “implementing the best solution.” During the Check prong you should “evaluate results to see if the solution worked.” Under the Act prong, you have one of two options: (A) If the solution you implemented succeeded, you work to standardize it and then implement it across the organization. (B) However if the solution did not work, you should return to the planning stage and start again. The site notes that using “PDCA to implement changes ensures that there is a continuous cycle in place to monitor changes and to continue to improve upon them.”

Copenhagen Compliance suggest another approach in their e-newsletter entitled Using the Kaizen Approach to Risk Management by the Audit Committee”. They say, “Understanding the current nature of a risk is a precondition for a determining your risk appetite and providing a risk response.” It is therefore incumbent that you take the necessary “time, resources and expertise to have a closer look at individual risks and understand what a risk management means to the various department heads and divisions.”

Using the small workshop format to determine and consider the different levels of risk, they propose you should start with the following questions:

  1. List the different causes and the circumstances that decrease or increase the likelihood of risks;
  2. List the different causes and the circumstances to understand a risk at an individual level;
  3. List the different causes and effect that can make risks occur;
  4. Describe the effects which take place immediately after a risk occurs; and
  5. Describe the effects of a risk that happen because of the primary effects or because time elapses.

The answers you deliver to these queries should provide you with a detailed analysis and more insight into both the order and magnitude of the compliance risks your company faces going forward. However Copenhagen Compliance then suggests a second step where you review the risks from a difference perspective. You should begin by using the results of the first exercise to take a look at a couple of different areas. First you should consider “the different causes and the circumstances that focus on the processes or events that precede a risk occurrence.” From there you should “list the different causes and the circumstances that focus on the processes or events that precede a cause of the risk.” The data you develop in this second phase “will provide valuable insights to determine the risk appetite, effective responses to optimize the management of risks with focus on Risk identification” which are embedded in the way you are doing business.

Marty Ellen, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at Dr. Pepper, discussed these theoretical underpinnings in a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, entitled “How Dr Pepper Cuts Cost. And Then Cuts Costs Some More”, by Mike Esterl. At Dr. Pepper, Kaizen events are known as “Rapid Continuous Improvement” or RCI. Ellen said, “RCI is about taking the existing baseline and improving it by finding the waste. It starts with walking the entire process. We call it “going to gemba,” which is Japanese for going to see how the work is done. The goal is always to shorten cycle times. You would be surprised. You put a bunch of people in a room to describe how a process works, and they don’t all agree with each other – and they all work on the same process.”

For the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner, the most interesting take-away from the article was that Ellen has successfully used the process not only in manufacturing processes but also in internal controls and financial processes such as accounts payable. Moreover, using RCI is not about cutting jobs but making the internal processes more efficient. So if you can reduce costs in compliance by being more efficient in the process it sounds like a win for all concerned.

Three Key Takeaways

  1. Kaizen works by reducing waste and eliminating work processes that are overly difficult.
  2. Use a four-step approach, “Plan-Do-Check-Act”.
  3. Kaizen works in for internal compliance controls and compliance processes.


 This month’s podcast series is sponsored by Oversight Systems, Inc. Oversight’s automated transaction monitoring solution, Insights on Demand for FCPA, operationalizes your compliance program. For more information, go to