Lean on me: Achieving Lean Sustainment through Culture Change

Lean on me: Achieving Lean Sustainment through Culture Change

Ever since the 2008 global financial crisis, companies have suddenly realized the importance of malleability, and to be able to respond and adapt quickly to the rapidly changing environment. Once the epiphany occurred, the companies began catching on to the power/importance that Lean beholds in achieving this goal of flexibility. But although executives do realize the importance of the tool known as Lean, they still fail to squeeze all the possible benefits out of it during their company’s transformation. Somewhere in the implementation process of Lean within the organization, companies come up short in grasping the combination of maximum efficiency and pure quality/value. The main reason for this dilemma-organizations fail to comprehend the significance that culture change plays, and how crucial that role is in the implementation of Lean practices. When any organization tries to implement something new, such as Lean practices, the attitude of the organization as a whole has to coincide as well.  The change will never stick, and the full benefits that Lean can produce will never be achieved, if the employees on the front lines don’t believe in it as well.

It is important to make sure that the employees feel like a part of the process during the implementation of Lean initiatives. This helps curve attitude in a positive direction, and employees will suddenly be in the state of mind that all the change occurring is just business as usual. Having multiple phases of maturity when implementing Lean is usually the norm for organizations. The implementation process typically begins with the redesigning of processes (keeping efficiency and quality in high regards) within the organization, which is all coordinated by a centralized team of Lean specialists, which in the end drives up value. But in order for value to be sustained, employees within the organization must become more invested in the processes which in turn expands the needed skill base across the entire company. In order to heighten the proficiency curve and keep the transformation process from falling apart, the company must purify its cultural aspects. For example organizations need to put an emphasis on collaboration, and teach their managers how to be better leaders.

Lean Culture Evolution

To help achieve this culture evolution, the following 3 steps must be taken:

1) Encouragement and accreditation of extrinsic thinking/decision making: With today’s market in a constant state of change, it is important to have employees who can think on their feet, think outside of the box, and when they do a good job, be sure to let them know so they continue to keep up the good work.

2) Hold acceptance of experimentation in high regards: The old saying “learn from your mistakes” still holds true, even in the business world. It is one of the forces that helps drive Lean, along with continual improvement, and rapid redundancy. It can be scary to try something new, but even if it fails, you learn something new, which is why this step takes real behavioral/culture change.

3) Emphasize the combination of integrity and responsibility: Nobody wants to be the guy that screws up, and it is very easy to be the person who points the figure and blames everyone but themselves. But with experimentation there are bound to be mistakes. One of the philosophies behind a Lean culture is that everyone/anyone who touches a part of the process, has just as much responsibility designing it, and fixing it as everybody else when a problem occurs. Do get the employees in this ideal state of mind it need to start with management. It is important for employees to feel comfortable enough to take risks and not be fearful of punishment. This actually creates a double benefit for the company as a whole because when your employees are stress free and happy, it makes for a better customer experience.

Bottlenecks are a big problem for companies and it is usually the middle managers, those on the front lines of day to day operations, who play the most crucial role in the success of the Lean initiative. Communication from the middle managers is key to the success of the Lean program. Studies have shown that most of the time it is the lack of engagement from the middle-management that is the biggest reason for failed Lean implementation and process transformation. Next behind that is inadequate planning and communication. Excess governance, which creates barriers between departments and hinders communication, is a common problem within organizations. But most of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the middle-managers, which in the end hurts the entire organization since they soon become fearful of taking the necessary risks in the deployment of innovative initiatives, causing the original problems to continue occurring. The answer to this dilemma is a total transformation of behaviors from the organizations upper leadership.

There is a time and a place for everything, such as behavioral-change objectives. These objectives should be discussed during the planning stages of the Lean initiatives. The planning stage is one of, if not the most important part of the Lean implementation process, since it involves the development of the platform on which the whole transformation is built upon. Teams should be laying out strategic objectives that determine the needed behavioral changes and range of processes that need to be put into place. Once the plan is set and agreed upon by the Lean teams, it is then time to implement the combined strategies. But no matter how the teams decide to execute the implementation, behavioral change from upper leadership down, must be a part of the plan and entrenched into the execution. It is easy to forget the connection between the successful implementation of Lean initiatives and the establishment of an aligned culture. But in order to get the full potential of value from the lean initiatives, you must have a change in behaviors/culture starting from upper leadership, going all the way down. It is the culture alignment which enables the Lean implementations to be continuous, instead of just a one-time quick fix where the same problems would be bound to occur again. In the end, the organizations who have gained the competitive edge and dominate their industry are the same ones who have realized the importance of an aligned culture in regards to the implementation of Lean objectives. Culture change is an absolute necessity to the success of the Lean transformation process.

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