Culture Drives Lean Success

Tom Innis
Tom Innis

Do employees at your companies talk about the organization’s culture?  If so, how do they describe it?

After participating in the excellent Lean Manufacturing workshop at the ARM Annual Meeting in Cleveland, I believe the facilitators (Rich Maguire of Remcon Plastics and Kent Pottebaum of Solar Plastics) would agree that the answers to the above questions are directly linked to your success in implementing Lean in your organizations.

By one definition, “Lean“, is a production philosophy that considers the expenditure of any resources beyond the creation of value (i.e. something the customer is willing to pay for) as wasteful, and thus a target for elimination. Elimination of waste facilitates faster lead times, reduces mistakes, improves quality, and ultimately enhances both perceived value and bottom-line performance.

To varying degrees of success, just about everyone has implemented Lean initiatives in their organizations. So why is it that some have built and sustained Lean success, while others have not?

Back to the workshop… Both Rich and Kent agree that an organization’s culture is a critical factor in sustainable Lean success. Based on their comments, as well as my experiences, the specific qualities of a Lean culture include:

Lean starts at the top: Without absolute buy-in, support and participation from senior management, Lean will not succeed. Leadership establishes the objectives, policies and behavioral expectations that provide organizational guidance.  Leaders oversee the transition from verbalization to embodiment of Lean principles, and nurture an environment where shared success can be realized.

Lean requires clear articulation of vision: All employees must have a clear sense of what the organization aspires to be, the key performance indicators in achieving the vision, and what role each plays in achievement of the vision. Targets, measurements, and expectations for achievement of results must be crystal clear.

Lean is focused on the customer:  Employees are unencumbered by bureaucracy to make decisions that deliver value to customers. Customer relationships are managed by teams; not guarded solely by salespeople. Internal customers matter as well: the level of respect they receive internally is indicative of how customers are treated externally.

Lean is committed to making things better: Standardization of process and procedures is the platform on which continuous improvement is built. All employees are stakeholders in continuous improvement initiatives, and should feel confident in making recommendations and taking risks. The customer’s voice (both internal and external) is crucial in determining which continuous improvement initiatives to pursue.

An organization’s culture has a direct impact on how successful it will be in implementing Lean. If you aspire to operate a sustainable Lean business, ask your employees how they describe the culture, and check to see if your culture aligns with the above qualities.

Thanks to Rich Maguire and Kent Pottebaum for a productive, interactive and thought-provoking workshop.

Tom Innis is Commercial Director for Polimeros USA, a Cleveland, Ohio-based provider of plastic materials for the rotational molding industry.  A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and La Universidad Ibero-Americana in Mexico City, Tom is a fluent speaker of Spanish and Portuguese, and has given technical and market-focused presentations at numerous international conferences.  Throughout his career, Tom has directed new business development initiatives, led successful brand-building campaigns, built self-directed, high-performing teams, and developed global manufacturing alliances. A native of Madison, Wisconsin, Tom currently resides with his family in the Northeast Ohio community of Chagrin Falls.

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One response to “Culture Drives Lean Success”

  1. Amen … It is often difficult to accept when common sense does not drive decision making

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