Ignoring Corporate Culture Can Kill a Transformation

by JoeWhite 26. March 2010 03:59

If I could only pick one thing to represent the largest mistake a change agent can make when implementing Lean or any other significant organizational change, it would probably be failing to manage the cultural change.

All too often, we fail to consider the impact that a change that will have on the culture of an organization prior to launch.  Culture is essentially the sum of all core beliefs, convictions, principles, habits, history and social norms that drive organizational behavior; and every organization has a unique one.  If we carefully consider the culture and how a change will be received within the context of it, we can implement countermeasures to address any foreseen issues and tailor our launch plan based on our assessment and observations.

For instance, if an organizational and cultural assessment identifies a strong resistance to ideas that come from outside the organization or from non tenured employees, we may need to include employees with more seniority in each improvement activity and may even need to limit the number of employees with less experience in the initial events/projects.  Additionally, if our plan called for the use of outside consultants, we may need to lengthen our implementation timeline to allow internal champions and leaders be indentified and more extensively trained.  This approach would allow us to reduce our dependence on outside consultants and resulting pushback.

Alternately, if the assessment reveals a culture that thrives on highly energetic leadership, these same employees may be the wrong individuals to include in our initial events because they may be less likely to try new things. 

For another scenario, consider a cultural assessment that reveals a failed change within the past 5 years (such as a false start at a lean implementation).  Employees of this organization will likely have a difficult time accepting that the proposed change will be reinforced by management (flavor of the month syndrome).  After all, if the last change was allowed to die, what reason do we have to believe that this effort will be any different?  In this case, the pre launch communication plan will need to address the history directly and honestly and small wins early on will be needed to gain employee support.  Significant effort should be devoted to sustaining early changes as well to prove commitment.  Advertising these small wins will also be helpful.

Whatever the history and cultural of an organization holds, the change agent must be careful to study it and develop a culture plan that helps employees understand and embrace the change. 


No, you are not special!

by JoeWhite 22. March 2010 15:30
No, your business isn’t different!  Yes, Lean does work in your industry!

There seems to be a consistent theme that resonates with most organizations when they are first exposed to Lean philosophies and tools. Most people seem to think that their organization is different, unique or special in some way that will prevent the Lean concepts from working or limit their impact. 

A study of the various change models and philosophies, has led me to accept the fact that Lean practitioners (and change agents of all types) bear a significant burden of convincing others that change is needed and that it will be worth the effort. Deep down, it frustrates me a little, but I accept it as part of the change agent role and realize that without the need for paradigm shifts, my chosen profession would be equally unneeded. 

I suppose that the burden of proof is what frustrates me. After all of the literature, conferences, articles and success stories that should have long ago removed any doubt that the Lean tools reduce waste, streamline processes and improve the competitive edge, shouldn’t it be up to the individual in doubt to disprove them? Countless capital requests have been rejected because the decision makers lack the vision and understanding to relate the impact of improved flow, velocity and responsiveness to the bottom line. Shouldn’t we require the submission of a capital request to continue functioning with the current level of waste instead of seeking approval to eliminate it? Shouldn’t doubters be required to prove Lean won’t work rather than change agents being required to prove that it will?

I can’t think of a single industry that the Lean tools cannot transform (if you can, please post a rebuttal in the comments and we will have some good - and friendly - debate over the question). Continuous process improvement leading to less waste and frustration is a core belief of the Lean practitioner. How can one argue with this basic principle? Didn’t it lead to the invention of the wheel? I suppose it is not so much the Lean principles that are hard for people to accept, but the application of these principles that doesn’t always seem obvious.

Don’t get me wrong, every Lean implementation is indeed different and special, but what must be tailored is the technique of applying the principles, not the principles or tools themselves. With that said, I will wake up Monday morning, get on a plane and go back to the constant process of introducing “new” concepts, convincing, convincing, sales, convincing and implementing change. This is the joy of being a Lean practitioner, and even though it can be frustrating at times, I am passionate about the journey and can’t imagine doing anything else.   

So, if someone in your organization comes to you and suggests an improvement idea or that the organization is in the process of launching a Lean transformation process, please research before you respond with a list of reasons why it won’t work. Remember that there are probably already a dozen or so examples of how it works in your industry and if there aren’t, you may just create a competitive advantage for your organization. If you approach it with an open mind, everyone will learn something along the way. You may even prove that your company is special and different…In the creative ways you find to implement Lean.


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Categories: Continuous Improvement | Deployment | Lean | Lean Office




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