Before we dive into the five key elements, it’s essential to understand that culture is a learned process. Good or bad, folks in any organization will notice the rules and standards that exist around them, and they will perform accordingly. Of course, changing a negative culture to one that is more positive is possible, but it’s not a switch that can be easily turned on or off. Creating a shared set of rules or standards to produce the behaviors you desire at your company is only the first step in the process. The rest will take significant time.
Defining a Unique Lean Culture
Before implementing policies or practices, it’s important to identify what Lean will mean for your company. Lean culture is not a cookie-cutter that can be used to imitate what others are doing. It is something that should be individualized to the needs of the company.
Know who you serve and why you’ve decided to serve them. It’s not enough, however, for company leadership alone to understand these answers. Each person who works for the company should have a firm grasp of these concepts as well. If it’s not consistent across the company, then it’s time to put serious resources behind creating consistency in these answers.
Once they are consistent across the company, then leadership can ask what a Lean culture would mean for their company. What will improve? How will this benefit the customer? Employees? Some people find it helpful to create a list of cultural elements (such as customer focus or process orientation) to further define the landscape for Lean at the company.
Match Vision & Values with Culture
Once you’ve established what Lean will do for your company, it becomes easier to identify a vision for the future direction of the company. What values do you want your company to embody? How will you ensure that the new values will align with the culture you are aiming to create? This vision should communicate this new direction as well as how each employee will contribute.
This stage is a critical time for eliminating any messaging that may run counter to the new vision or values. What hesitations might people have about the new direction? How will these hesitations be addressed? Leadership’s communication around the original vision and values will be paramount to the successful creation of a Lean culture.
Only after defining the new Lean culture and vision for your company can you then begin planning for complete cultural implementation. Deciding to build a lean culture is not as easy as selecting a few Lean tools from a list on the internet. It takes careful planning and intentional design to be successful.
A definite first step is to establish a cultural framework your company will follow. This framework includes establishing principles and expectations, connecting HR policies to new company values, and identifying a streamlined way to roll out all new information.
During this time of transition, it’s crucial to pull key members of the leadership team into the planning process. This will ensure that all company leaders embody the values and expectations set forth by company leadership. A company will only achieve the Lean level its leaders demonstrate.
Similar to the innovation adoption lifecycle, having early adopters of the new company principles and practices will keep momentum and morale high while change is taking place. These cultural enablers are folks who are skilled at building strong teams and meaningful relationships. They help the rest of the company see the importance of new Lean concepts and embrace the new Lean way. The cohesive teamwork created by these folks will ensure that everyone identifies and removes waste, questions everything, and acts on facts, not emotions collectively.
Focus on the How/Continuous Improvement
The last and most important element in Lean culture creation is the mindset of continuous improvement and the creation of a learning organization. The focus should not be on what the company does, but how the company does it. A company can only achieve continuous improvement and a learning environment by establishing a company-wide belief that each person can always do better. Whether by providing online learning, professional development, or internal knowledge sharing, employees need to have access to these opportunities for continuous improvement.