Sparks fly in the body weld shop as machines and technicians use laser welding and sealer bonds to piece together the shell of an automobile. Completed shells pass out of the shop, where technicians use ultrasound imaging to test the quality of the weld. As the car is built and the chassis, engine, internal computers and interior components are assembled, technicians monitor for abnormalities. And if an aberration is found, the entire production line comes to a halt until an improvement can be made.
The resolution process, known as “kaizen” (meaning “change for the better”), helped make the Toyota Production System famous in the 20th century.
Kaizen is now a suite of widely used methodologies for continuous improvement. It is industry agnostic, and at flexible staffing platform Instawork, the sales team swears by it.
In National Partnership Manager Brandon Smith’s early days on Instawork’s sales team, kaizen meetings were held three times a week. Rather than looking for damaged parts or incorrect assembly, Smith and his colleagues were finding opportunities to improve their practices and grow their portfolios.
“We focused on whatever was relevant to our team at the time,” he said. “Whether closing deals, setting meetings or even the specific language we were using on calls, the meetings took a wide holistic approach to the sales process.”
For Smith, the excellence fostered in the kaizen meetings helped fuel his growth from a sales development representative to his current role. “There are endless sales tactics that we can go on and on about, but the kaizen process is the one that has had the most impact in my ability to close deals,” he said.
While the kaizen meetings may no longer anchor Smith’s week, Instawork’s core values of “always be learning” and “act like an owner” set by CEO and Co-Founder Sumir Meghani continue to foster an environment that prioritizes continuous improvement — whether that be in personal growth, product innovation or business expansion.
“Within our sales organization, there is a huge emphasis on learning and getting better every single day,” Smith said. “We have extensive training programs and a culture that encourages people to work hard and excel at what they do. That is modeled from the top down.”
WHAT IS KAIZEN?
The kanji characters for kaizen combine 改 (“kai”) or “change” and (“zen”) or 善 “good,” with a literal meaning of “change for the better” or “improvement” in English. Over time, the word came to represent a business tool focused on continuous improvement due to the mindset made famous by the Toyota Production System. Today, a variety of kaizen methodologies have become popular, including the traditional “5S” process (sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain) and the five principles of the Kaizen Institute (know your customer, let it flow, go to gemba, empower people and be transparent).
Pushing for Excellence
The drive for excellence is consistent across Instawork’s sales organization.
Sales Development Representative Katie Atwater began her time at Instawork as the “G.O.A.T. SDR” — at least according to Smith.
Now Atwater is the SDR manager and uses her expertise to help her team grow. One crucial tool for pushing her crew to the next level is their daily 90-minute “power hour.”
From 3:30 to 5 p.m., the SDR team hops on a Zoom call, puts their mics on mute and starts calling their prospects. Despite the distributed structure, Atwater finds the shared call helps build the camaraderie of calling together in the office.
“We can comment to each other in the chat to celebrate wins like getting a demo set up or commiserate on a hang up,” she said.
Power hours and daily morning check-ins aren’t the only things keeping the SDR team connected in a remote environment — one music-loving SDR also sends a daily Spotify track to keep the vibes flowing and feet tapping. One recent recommendation was DŸLN’s “Flavours #1,” a high-energy 2017 dance track that powered hours of prospecting for the team. The SDR team also enjoys regular competitions and games that build fun into meeting quota and create opportunities to learn from their peers’ best practices, complete with rewards like prizes and half-days off.
Advancing at Instawork
Alongside a culture of continuous improvement, Instawork also prioritizes opportunities for advancement for employees displaying achievement, as Atwater and Smith’s trajectories demonstrate.
When Account Management Manager Rachel Smoller joined Instawork’s operations team, she was thrilled to find a role where she could see the fruits of her work on a daily basis. “My first impression was that everything I did on a daily basis had a direct impact on how the company performs,” she said. “And that’s still true now.”
But what Smoller didn’t anticipate was that she would soon have the opportunity to develop an entirely new team and see that potential for influence to grow even further.
“I pivoted to the founding account management team,” she said. “Every call we make, every relationship we have with a Partner directly impacts their experience with the company and how they will grow with us, which made the shift to account management really notable for me.”
And that move gave Smoller room to expand as well, ultimately leading to her current role as a manager on the account management team.
Instawork’s continued growth led to changes for account management, as well. While AMs previously worked across the entire business, expansion now means that the team is divided into focusing on specific sectors.
“That change meant a lot of responsibility for me and required me to think outside of the box. An ability to make good decisions on the fly, be flexible and cope when things went wrong really prepared me to be a better manager,” she said.
For Atwater, the autonomy granted by the “act like an owner” core value helped her learn to be a leader who can make the right decisions for the business. “As long as we are doing right by the business and by each other, we have the flexibility to follow our judgment,” she said.
And those lessons were ones she learned from her earliest days at Instawork.
“When I joined the company, I knew I would grow as a leader in any role because of our culture, so when I moved into my manager role, it was a seamless transition because of everything I had learned,” she said. “Our leadership is consistently supportive and shows us how we can contribute because they want to see us thrive and develop within the company.”
“Our leadership is consistently supportive and shows us how we can contribute because they want to see us thrive and develop within the company.”
Smith agreed that Instawork’s commitment to learning and development prepared him to flourish — and supported him on that journey.
“The trajectory is outlined very clearly regarding how to get to the next level, and they actively encourage you to grow,” he said. “Katie and I are great examples of how if you’re doing the right things on our sales team — showing success and being a team player — you can progress and be promoted.”
- Rachel Smoller: “Our product works — it’s an innovative, seamless way to obtain staff. I love that we are helping individual workers put money into their pockets in the current economic times.”
- Brandon Smith: “We're creating economic opportunity for those who need it most. I love seeing the positive disruption in the labor market for both businesses and individuals. People can work when they want and make a good wage, and businesses can tap into a qualified labor pool at the touch of a button.”
- Katie Atwater: “Instawork creates a new way of looking at the labor force. People are able to earn extra money or create a flexible career in a way that doesn’t force them to define how they want to work. It’s something completely new, but people love it. And I love it.”