Lean Culture Change

Lean Culture Change – It starts with you Mr. CEO!

The Lean Culture Change “Question”

A common question that is asked of me during my consulting adventures is “How do we create a Lean culture change?”. This is one of the most difficult issues to address within any business. I will often start working with an organization well after their pursuit of change and a new culture vision has failed and typically cost many dollars and hours of effort to provide very little results. The simple question is why? Why did all the efforts of leadership meetings, crafting the vision, employee discussions, and communication plans fail and end with frustration and the same culture that has been representative in the company for years? It is because you didn’t change. You, the CEO, President, Owner, Founder, Chief I’m-in-charge person, or whatever you call yourself did not change the way you lead. You did not change YOUR behavior….so why would the culture change?

What typically happens…

I see this all the time; the role out of the new vision is eagerly met with anticipation and excitement by some early adopters in the organization.   These are the individuals within your organization that want and are waiting for positive change. The leadership team is talking about the new vision, pointing in the new direction for a brighter company future, yet still behaving and operating under the same guidance of the old culture. After some period of time trying to operate under the premise of the new vision, lacking support and similar behavior from the leadership team, they eventually retreat back to the comfort and displayed culture that continues to surround them.

What to do…

If Leadership wants to create a new business model and the culture that is needed to support it, they must model the desired behavior. Leaders need to simply lead through their behavior, and this will create the ability for the organization to follow and the culture change to take root. I still believe in having a very clear plan as to how we want an organizational culture to look, what behaviors we are looking for, and the end result needed in a business context, but none of it will be sustainable if the leadership team does not lead.

One of the areas of failure with accomplishing this alignment of leadership behavior and the desired culture is lack of process. As with any desired business result, a defined process to accomplish it is the best way to succeed. So creating a Lean Management System that supports, guides, and provides a context to the desired behavior is a necessity. For example, if a company wants to use problem solving as a basis for improvement within their company….they better have a clear process to highlight problems, prioritize problems, and a process for solving them. In addition, they must be celebrating finding problems as opportunities instead of seeing problems as a negative and continuing a culture of “problems are bad”. In this situation, a process can be developed to model and support the behavior and lean culture change desired. A process can align the entire organization around the common vision that will create a platform for sustainable culture change.

Often organizations focus on process in terms of operations and miss the opportunity to apply rigorous processes in terms of how we manage. What is the standard work when it comes to being a leader? What is the proper way to coach an employee through a problem? What are the areas of the organization that I should be looking at on a daily basis, weekly basis, monthly…etc. These are all very important aspect to make sure we are focusing on the things important to the business and behaving in a way the supports the vision of the company. This is a place that many organizations need significant help and don’t even realize the gap exist in most cases.

So, if you are having difficulty with a lean culture change in your organization, look at your own behaviors first, and then look at your Management System (Process) second. If you haven’t changed your behavior and you don’t have a clear process, then you better get to work.


Jason Burt

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