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Yokoten is a Japanese term that loosely translates into “horizontal deployment.” Essentially, it is the spreading of information across the organization. A key point to this is that it is not just the result that is shared, but also the process that led to the result.

Most organizations have numerous pockets of excellence. Unfortunately, though, in many cases that information is not shared. The company has to re-learn the same lessons over and over and over in each of its departments. Sometimes they even have to discover the same information twice within the same department. Instead of having this disjointed approach to knowledge, yokoten promotes sharing information in a systematic way.

Despite its Japanese name, though, the concept of yokoten  is not completely foreign in the US. After action reviews, kaizen report outs, benchmarking tours, best practice sharing, corporate newsletters, knowledge databases, and a host of other methods do exist that make information available to others.

What makes yokoten unique, though, is that it prescribes a more active approach. It is the responsibility of the person making improvement to identify others who could possibly benefit from similar changes. Contrast this with passive knowledge sharing. The problem with that approach is that the potential recipient may not know that the information exists. And, of course, if they don’t know the information is available, they are unlikely to look for it.

The potential recipients are not absolved of learning responsibility, though. They should not simply dismiss ideas that do not seem at first pass to be relevant. They should make an effort to go and see the idea in practice firsthand. This will give them an opportunity to make a more enlightened decision.

Yokoten should be formalized as part of your problem-solving method. For example, make sure it is done as part of the “A” section of PDCA and in the follow-up action items section of A3 reports. Senior leaders should also make attending kaizen report outs mandatory for people on the invite list.

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