Lean Culture, Defining and Understanding

Culture, like any other word in the English language is given a definition by the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. It defines culture as: “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.”

This common sense definition is fine by most standards, but what about lean culture?

Lean methods have been adopted across the planet by every occupational sector we know of. So how does one put an exact definition on such a widely used term?

Leaders make a difference

Your lean culture can be influenced by a variety of contributing factors that include; the professional and educational backgrounds of the members, the geographic location of your operations, customer base, the longevity and experience of employees working together, and last but not least, the attitudes conveyed by the leaders within the organization towards the employees.

For each possible one of these factors, there are elemental subcultures with their own unique traits that can possible affect the culture your organization wishes to be defined by.

All things considered, the most important part of a lean culture is the ability to bring all these diversities together under one unified belief system. So before you can even begin to define your lean culture, your must first take all contributing factors into consideration.

This ultimately begins with leaders that not only believe in the culture they wish to create, but live and breath it through their daily actions and interactions with employees.

When you see a group or an organization working together with a focus and energy that is sustained throughout their work, it is more than likely the result of great leadership. Leadership that has encouraged, challenged, reinforced, rewarded, and found the best out of each one of their employees.

If a culture is the combination of shared beliefs, values, and aspirations, then the most influential people in your organization should be a direct reflection of them.

Resisting the transformation

Lean is complete transformation,  backed by science, with a goal of changing behaviors, and how one operates. The transformation is intended to to advocate a positive change in the organization, but without good leaders and proper coaching, is met with resistance. Thus, leaving your lean culture undefined and unmet.

Overcoming the resistance is a challenge that all leaders struggle with regularly. Especially those that enter into a culture without a common goal or similar behavior traits.

Behavior is arguably the most difficult thing to change in mankind. We learn behavior over time, allowing it to shape our ideas, opinions, and actions to which we live by. It is the foundation of the culture we are accustomed to and are associated with.

Changing behavior through education

To often in our hiring or early stages of employment we hear the term “training.” We have training manuals, training meetings, training videos, etc. Can you really train behavior though?

Simple answer, no.

Instead, the focus should be education. Education will lead to proper procedures and give individuals an understanding of why, rather than just how. The lean methodology is about the people who buy into it. Without educating them on why lean principles are essential to their process, their ability to adapt into your desired culture is far less likely.

To change behavior, you have to also understand previous behaviors. An individual is not going to embrace a new behavior if they feel their current behavior is being devalued. Lean is a process of continuous improvement and standard that when an individual can see the benefits directly, is more likely to accept change.

Something to lean on

When I try and define an organization’s lean culture, I think of it simply as the way things are done around that particular organization. Each organization is unique, having their own ways and reasons, why they do things the way they do. When you hear someone say “this is the way we do things around here,” then you have a foundation to start defining their culture on.

Your definition, will ultimately depend on the continuity of the individual behaviors that make up your culture within your organization. The task is a mastery in itself and has been a challenge for many leaders worldwide. The end result is a sustainable lean system that continues to improve your organization on every level.

Getting there however, is up to you.

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