Continuous improvement, often known as Kaizen, is essentially a small step improvement strategy. It is based on a belief that continual improvement can be brought about by a continuing series of small changes. Even if there is a culture of big innovative changes it is argued that these will still need to be supplemented by continuing small step changes.
Although the term kaizen originated in Japan, it is used throughout the world to enable organisations to continually improve processes without the need to engage in large scale change that can, and does, often paralyse organisations. Indeed the whole idea of continuous improvement is that it can eliminate the need for any large scale quantum shifts. It is evolution, not revolution.
In a culture of continuous improvement there should be an opportunity for everyone to be involved, often with cross functional teams all working with a common interest.
If used correctly it does not cause any large scale internal organisational upheaval. It can become part of an organisation's culture where all employees can feel they are making a contribution to any improvements. It is inclusive in its operation. Change then becomes a way of organisational life.
Its downside is that it does not provide for innovative leaps that may otherwise be possible. However if used correctly both continuous improvement and innovative leaps could be seen to complement each other. If innovative leaps are to have a long lasting effect they need to be followed up by continuous improvement activity.