Lean Culture and Capability Development

Anyone passionate about Lean has first hand experience of its benefits – dramatically improving value creation for customers whilst reducing waste, errors and ultimately cost. Over dinner with a group charged with leading such a revolution in their organization I listened as a familiar story unfolded. The group I was talking to said they understood all this Lean stuff. They had been on training but predictably were struggling to implement and sustain improvements. A host of things got in their way – managements’ choice of metrics pulled them in a different direction. They had too many live projects to coordinate. The amount of reporting (ironically through a mis-use of the A3 methodology) was excessive and so they never quite had enough time.

Those of you also familiar with these kinds of discussions know that sooner or later the topic of company culture is raised. What you probably also know is that the individual who raised managements’ awareness of the concept of “corporate culture” was Professor Edgar Schein of MIT. While Schein teaches that culture is hugely important, he argues that you don’t change the culture by trying to directly change the culture. Schein describes culture as, “The pattern of basic assumptions that a given group has invented, discovered or developed in learning to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration and that have worked well enough to be considered valid, and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.”

Although aware of Schein’s insights, this organization was falling into the trap of a traditional approach to organizational (culture) change – focussing on trying to get everyone to think the right way, so their values and attitudes change and they will naturally start to do the right things. In contrast, remember, “it’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than to think your way into a new way of acting.” It’s by acting that we develop capability – we don’t develop skill by thinking alone, we have to practice. If we change our behaviours and do what is necessary to reinforce them, the culture will change as a result.

At our 2015 UK Lean Summit our theme is “Developing the Capability to Improve the Work.” I am delighted that Dan Markovitz, author of “A Factory of One” will join us. One of Dan’s key insights is that Lean Thinking is equally applicable to all of us as individuals and managers. We might not be able to change a corporate culture on our own, but each of us can change our own behaviour – and with such change boost our own personal performance. We’ve asked Dan Markovitz to conduct a pre-Summit workshop where amongst other topics he will help you develop experiments to improve your time management and personal productivity using Lean Thinking – I guarantee it’s a real eye opener! In addition Dan Markovitz will deliver a plenary at our Summit and a learning session in which he will also share insights from his latest book which will be available later in the year.