Fixing Corporate Culture

Why do Companies Focus on the Lean Tools?…Instead of a Lean Culture?

As a lean consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to walk  the floor of hundreds of companies over the years.  Many of them are either looking to start their lean manufacturing journey, or have already begun.  But in almost all of companies…there is a misunderstanding of the most important aspects of lean manufacturing.  They are typically looking for Lean training, looking to gain some lean tools for their tool box.  The companies are focused on finding the quick fix, the silver bullet that will solve all of their operational issues, and they hope the lean tools are the answer.  But as many of us in the industry already know, the lean tools alone will not solve a companies issues and in most cases will simply fall apart without a greater understanding of the lean management and philosophical side of lean.

So, why are so many out there missing the bigger picture of lean as a culture within the company and focusing only on the tools?  I believe the best analogy to understand this phenomenon is the fitness industry.  Here are some thoughts on the two industries….lets see if it helps us understand our own behaviors and how they affect a sustainable lean journey.  

Lean Culture is not Easy:

Let’s all agree that the implementation of a Lean Culture is not easy.  There is no such thing as a quick fix Lean Tool, or any kind of partial implementation.  When it comes to Lean, you are either all in, or you will fail in the long run.  I see this very similar situation in the fitness industry, everyone is looking for the easy pill or special machine that is going to fix all of my problems and help me lose weight without doing the real hard work.…without really changing the day to day behaviors.  Despite all of the commercials and marketing, there is no such pill.  Yet we keep trying the different pills, and supplements and “get Lean” systems….when the reality is, the only way to change is to start doing the work.  This is the same for Lean Manufacturing, the hard work can not be avoided.  There is not a “quick fix” system, no silver bullet, no belt or certification that will solve all of your problems….just a difficult journey of learning and struggle to fix one problem at a time.

Lean Journey is not Quick:

While many are looking for a very easy way to accomplish their goals…many are also looking for these results quickly.  We all want to lose the weight in “6 weeks”….you know, the weight that it took the last 5 years to gain.  We often have unrealistic expectations that we can and should be able to make drastic changes in a very short time period.  This is typically the approach in business as well.  From the expectations of stockholders, owners, and leadership…very few companies are looking long term with their continuous improvement approach.  The short term decisions and strategies get in the way of making significant cultural changes.  If a company is guided by short term profit making decisions…lean becomes a difficult journey to embrace.

Lean Can’t be Bought:

Just like the fitness industry…there is lots of money to be made in Lean Manufacturing and lots of individuals trying to find the best way to make it.  In the fitness industry, entrepreneurs have taken the process of exercise and healthy eating and packaged them both into various products that you can easily purchase.  At the basic level….exercise is exercise and if you work hard at it, an do it often enough, it will produce results.  It doesn’t matter if you are on a bike, running, or on the latest “late night” infomercial machine….work hard and you will get the results.  This is the same with healthy eating.  Yes, a shake is convenient for a healthy meal and getting healthy meals delivered to your door is convenient, but at the end of the day, these are all things that you could do for yourself.  You are not losing weight or feeling better because you drank a
“shake”…it is because the shake was healthier than what you would normally eat.  The products or tools that you can buy or achieve don’t bring you success on your journey, the change in behavior does.

It’s a Self Fulfilling Prophecy:

So now we have consumers that want an easy and quick fix to their day to day and strategic problems, and we have an industry that is trying to make money by packaging up a product for the consumer.  This has now created a self fulfilling prophecy that continues to fuel short term thinking.  New consumers continue to buy the quick fix and the industry continues to package up new items to sell them exactly what they want, 

…the “silver bullet”

…the new “class”

…the new “tool” 

…So which industry am I referencing…can you tell the difference?

As Leaders…we must change the way the Lean industry is viewed.  Many companies are missing an opportunity to create a culture that improves every aspect of their business, brings more value to their customers, and empowers the employees.  We must be the ones that break the cycle and develop companies with the desire for long term improvement.  We must expect more than just a Lean tool approach.  We must inspire and empower a true lean culture beyond the tools.

And of course, we are always willing to help.  Just check us out at

Jason Burt

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