Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pathway to creating a "Lean Culture"

As I travel around to various clients they are always asking me, "How do you implement or create a culture like Toyota has"? I tell them that's a very loaded question :). There are so many aspects of creating that culture it's hard to give a short answer or even "wave a magic wand" to say... "Here is what you should do!!". I wish I was that good .

How I see it, you really need to differentiate the People side of Lean versus the Tool side. The People side will always be the most difficult aspect of the disclipline needed to create this thing called Culture. The tools are just what they are, mostly countermeasures to change some discrepancy in our process. For the tools to be successful, People must understand their involvement or the purpose behind the tools. As I have stated in previous blog posts you must explain from the company perspective the WHAT, HOW and the WHY of any change or expectation within a persons work.

When I teach my Problem Solving sessions I usually spend 3 hours on the cultural side before I ever teach the 8 steps of problem solving. I describe the process or path a person/leader must go through in order to help create the people side of the culture I call this the "Culture Chain", it goes like this.


Now let's summarize.

Every company must start with Values or Principles. These are the guiding beacons that we can relate specific tangible actions in our daily activities that brings to life the values. For example Toyota has a set of Values called the Toyota Way. They are:

  • Go and See
  • Teamwork
  • Challenge
  • Continuous Improvement
  • Respect for People
These are tangible actions I can relate to in my daily work.
The next aspect is Beliefs. Do the people believe in what the company is trying to accomplish through their Values/Principles? Do people respect their leaders? Do people believe that the company has their best interest at heart? Do people come to work with the best interest of the company at heart? (Mutual Trust and Respect). These are all aspects of the Belief system within a culture. For example, while I was at Toyota I could honestly say that I believed in what the company was trying to accomplish each day through our rigid standard work. It meant something, I had a bond with the product I was creating. Our leaders tried very hard to "live the values" through their work each day. In the beginning we had sensei's (Japanese Trainers) helping us along the way. The belief in what you are doing is essential in creating a Lean culture. The person as to bond with the product and the company, and leaders must be servants for their people in order for them to succeed in their daily work. If the culture breaks down at the Belief part of the chain; "lean" will only be seen as a "program, or flavor of the month". In order for a belief to take hold for the individual or leader it must become part of their daily Thoughts when they walk in the door each day.
If that belief becomes an intrinsic thought then its more likely to become an Action(s) that they are doing everything they can to live the company values (Go See, Teamwork .....etc). Leadership's responsibility is to develop their people and be that servant leader we discussed. The leader therefore has to study harder. This is a difficult task in most traditional mindsets, which in turn contributes to an unsuccessful implementation of a Lean Culture. All eyes are on the leaders and they can make or break the lean culture very easily. This is why when I train at various companies I ask for their leadership to be trained first if possible.
Once I have the:
Values>>Beliefs>>Thoughts>>Actions accomplished (as stated above).... then it starts to become a Habit for me. This is where I was at when I worked for Toyota. It wasn't a choice, or a convenience thing for me, as a leader at Toyota the disclipline really became a Habit for us. Take working out for instance, in the beginning its a chore, you make yourself do it, in some ways you dislike it but you know the reward/belief is a healthy self. Once it becomes a habit for you then its part of your routine, the disclipline is more intrinsic--it's part of your day. At Toyota we never used the word lean or culture really, it was just how we did business; in essence it was the Character of our workforce. The key to all this is following the steps above and holding people accountable for that disclipline; that again is very difficult in a traditional mindset. Most company's never see Lean past the "tool phase", partly because their people do not believe in the system and leaders are "telling" not "developing".
Once your workforce has built that character then its the destiny of the company to be #1 in their market, basically Im saying by default the process will get the results. Most company's rely on the manage by the number or results only, forgetting the people along the way. As it says in the Toyota Way values book --"People are the most important asset of the company and the determinant of the rise of fall of the company"- Eiji Toyoda. So please focus on the people side and ask yourself the question--Where am I in this "culture-chain" of thinking?
Until next time,
Tracey Richardson


  1. Tracey,

    I hope you don't mind if I share this with my co-workers. Providing I give you full credit, of course.

    Roger Fisher

  2. Sure Roger, please do. This is a brief summarization of a 2-3 hour session I due within my problem solving sessions. Im glad you see the value to share with others. It is really essential in changing a Culture. Thanks for your comments. Tracey

  3. Tracey, even this summarized version of your presentation conveys the essence and sense of the culture on which Toyota thrives.

    As the past General Manager of several award winning parts suppliers to Toyota, I have learned to appreciate and understand that the culture is the foundation on which all else flourishes.

    Although difficult to explain, there is a certain synergy that cannot be taught but only experienced.

    Thank you for sharing your valuable insights and experience.


  4. Thanks Redge for your comment... you are correct about experiencing it versus teaching it... I do my best to translate it to my clients or class participants... The people side of the culture is the key to success. Tools mean nothing otherwise :).

  5. Fantastic Tracey ...

    I have been reading lots of literature on how to go about "creating a Lean culture" - actually happy to hear there is not magic wand and that I wasn't missing something - your explanation is simple and conceivable.

    Thank You


  6. Thank You, Colin... that is my my classes I say "It's simple, it's not easy" ! :)