Monday, November 10, 2014

Shaping Lean Culture - 7 Practical Actions to Get You Started


To be able to shape organizational culture we need to understand the difference between culture and climate. We can compare this difference by using an everyday analogy with a person’s personality and mood.  Someone’s personality is enduring and difficult to change, whilst their mood may change many times during a day. Based on this analogy, culture is the equivalent of personality, whilst climate is the equivalent of mood.

Fundamentally, a change of culture occurs when people start behaving differently as a result of a change in the climate of the organization. There are many different models of how an organizational culture is shaped by the prevailing climate and how it can be assessed.

There are seven practical actions that you should consider undertaking if you want to shape your organizational culture so that is supports Lean.

Become aware of your current culture
You should start to notice your existing culture. Listen to how people express themselves and the stories they tell about successes and failures. Pay attention to shared values and watch how teams behave. You will gain a lot of information about your current culture by going to the gemba.

Assess your cultural “current state”
There is a need to identify the cultural aspects you want to retain from your current culture.  For example, you may want to keep motivated teams, a commitment to achieving excellent performance, flexible working practices, and a desire to deliver exceptional customer service. You will also need to identify the things that need to go. Lastly, you will need to identify the things that are missing.

Create a cultural “future state”
Imagine your ideal culture. How do you want people to behave and to react when things go wrong? Fine tune it until you have a clear picture of what you want from your organizational culture in the future.

Share the vision
Communicate openly, frequently, and consistently. Describer your cultural vision in letters, e-mails, briefings, and put it on notice boards, in newsletters, and everywhere else you can. Don’t be afraid to overcommunicate your vision because you can’t.

Align your leaders
There is a need for leaders to do more than just agree about the future state. Alignment is about leader at all levels living the cultural future state for the organization. You and your fellow leaders should constantly be working together to learn and reflect on how things are going.

Treat culture as a strategic issue
Culture may be perceived as fluffy stuff but it has real impact on organizational performance. Changing a culture can change the fortunes of the entire organization and is therefore a senior management team issue and should be discussed regularly.

Keep it fresh and up to date
Culture can take a long time to change. Celebrating every success along the way has the effect of keeping things fresh during this extended period of time, as well as reinforcing the behaviors you want in the future. You will also need to keep your cultural future state up to date, based on any changes in your organization’s market or operating environment.


The culture of an organization is learnt over time. It can be taught to new employees through formal training programs but is more generally absorbed through stories, myths, rituals, and shared behaviors within teams. Organizational culture will impact positively or negatively on everything you try to do whether you want it to or not.

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