Lean Thinking- Cultivating the Right Culture

It is true that most of us feel the technical aspect of implementing lean is easier, or at least more straightforward, than the human or cultural aspects of making these changes.

We often hear the comments, “Everyone resists change, Everyone buys in as long as it doesn’t impact them personally, Why do we have to change? and We’ve always done it that way.” Change in how we do things is difficult enough to accept and learn, but changing our attitudes and behaviours is even more challenging.

Virtually every organization working on its lean journey stubs its toe on the human element at one point or another. Most of us have never been faced with the unenviable task of trying to change a culture in a company. But when you begin to use lean to transform your company, it quickly becomes obvious that in order to sustain the lean changes, you are going to need the culture to be supportive. Lean requires technical change to your processes and the “right” attitudes and behaviours to reinforce the continuation of those new processes.

Typically, to transform the processes you use a tool called Value Stream Mapping. From this exercise you develop a “current state” and a “future state.” The implementation plan is then detailed so that you know what tool to use, where and when to apply the tool in order to properly remove the “waste.”   

Once you start the implementation, you will find that the culture is not always supportive of your efforts to remove waste in the system. In fact, the culture can impede your progress to the point of total frustration. The answer to this frustration is to use a tool called Cultural Value Stream Mapping (CVSM). You map the current cultural state and identify the elements of waste, the lead-time and the customer demand similar to the technical mapping process. Once you have completed this current cultural value stream map, you will be able to work with your group to develop a realistic cultural future state plan, which looks ahead six months and has all the responsibilities and activities required to accomplish the cultural future state.   

“In our experience over the last decade, clients are only successful when they tackle the culture as well as the technical aspects of process transformation within their organizations,” says Larry Cote, CEO Lean Advisors Inc. “It is the only way to sustain and maximize the positive impact of implementing Lean.”
Using Cultural Value Stream Mapping, everyone starts to focus their energies outside of the silo and on the customer and removal of culturally stimulated waste in the system.
The tools used to make the cultural change are, of necessity, different than the tools used to implement the technical side of lean. We are dealing with human “kaizens” and events that are needed to eliminate wastes.

Every organization has its own unique culture and its own particular set of wastes. Part of the process in working with a lean consulting firm is to identify which tools should be used for each type of waste. Just as the wastes reflect the culture that created them, so too must the tools and methods match the future state culture being implemented.

As with lean in the operational environment, lean in an organization’s cultural world is an ongoing commitment and a never-ending process of waste elimination. For organizations making this commitment, improvements are faster and more sustainable when both operational and cultural work is done in tandem.