Sunday, December 13, 2009

Creating a Lean Culture

Culture can be defined as the day-to-day experience of the ordinary worker.  Many think culture creates successful results but the contrary is true.  Performance drives culture.  If there is success, people tend to exhibit enthusiasm for change, great support, great teamwork, and great management.

Although Lean often involves revolutionary change, culture change is evolutionary, day by day.  A "Lean" culture is characterized by two learning elements: Humility and Respect.

Learning begins with humility.  The more you strive for Lean, the more you realize how little you know, and how much there is yet to learn.  A sure sign of impending failure is a manager who claims to "know it all" or says "we have tried that…"

Respect is to make every effort to understand others, accept responsibility, and build mutual trust.  Respect for people is the second pillar of the House of Toyota and means recognizing the value of your people through developing them. 

Leaders need to be mindful of their role in creating culture change.  Here are seven ways to initiate this evolution and learn respect and humility, day by day:

  1. Really Listen.  Look at people when they talk.  Give them your undivided attention. Ask follow-on questions during the conversation.

  2. Don't waste time.  If you keep employees or customers waiting you are saying to them "your time is not as important as mine"

  3. Go to the Gemba.  Go see for yourself at the place the work is done.  If you allow a worker to use a machine that produces defects, you are in effect telling the worker their work does not matter.

  4. Develop people.  Encourage learning, teamwork and continuous improvement.  Build knowledge in problem solving thinking and countermeasures.

  5. Acknowledge the accomplishments of others. If things go well, give away the credit. If things go poorly, take the fall. This humble approach will ensure your team rallies behind you.

  6. Temper authority. Don't use authority just because you have it. Encourage your people to make decisions, set their own goals, and take responsibility as often as possible.

  7. Promote others often. Grooming talent is good for your organization and for you as a leader. Promote people around you, giving them opportunities to match or even surpass your success.

Achieving a Lean culture with humility and respect requires constant demonstration over a long period of time.  Remember the shop floor is a reflection of management.  You can't listen and learn if you don't go to the Gemba.

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