“Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” – Giga Information Group
“Culture is how you treat each other” – Multiple sources
“Corporate culture is unique to every corporation because every corporation serves a different customer” – Patty McCord, former VP HR Netflix, author Powerful
Companies trying to implement lean often focus on tangible measures: quality, cost, time. These things are easy to measure, but emphasizing only these items creates only a fraction of the possible result. Intangible and hard-to-measure aspects of a company are actually what determine the outcome of an effort, and company culture is a big part of that.
The Toyota System, the origin of lean, succeeded because of the culture in the company. That doesn’t mean that the culture was immediately accepting of the new ideas and everyone jumped for joy to embrace difficult change. Far from it. It does mean that there was executive support, management buy in and effort to create results, and a team approach that sustained initial successes.
Defining your company’s culture
Culture is something that every organization has, even if it has never been discussed, described, or diagrammed. Culture is dynamic; culture within a company will vary across teams, locations, and divisions.
How do you find out what your company’s culture is? Culture is much more about what actually happens than what the company hopes will happen. Start with how people act and how they interact. It’s easy to write a mission statement about changing the world; it’s tough to hide managers yelling in meetings. Find out how people feel about coming in to work and how they’re treated. Discuss how problems and opportunities are uncovered and addressed.
Just as every company and customer is different, every culture is different. “Move fast and break things” is a great motto for a software startup, but if you saw that on a banner at a hospital you’d call the cops. There are a few absolutes that determine if a culture is positive or negative, and there are a lot more elements that depend on the situation.
Three absolute elements for a positive culture are alignment, respect for people, and continuous improvement. Alignment connects the company’s mission, purpose, and actions as a system. Respect for people applies both to how people interact and with how everyone is able to work towards their potential. Continuous improvement is the knowledge that change is constant, and improvement ideas come from everyone.
A positive company culture, one that values employees and improvement, will support change at all levels. Management acts on improvement ideas, goals are supported with time and funding, and communication is open.
A negative company culture may espouse beliefs such as “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and hold on to inefficient methods because “this is the way we’ve always done it.” Excessive emphasis is placed on “meeting the target” or “making quota” without the relevant support and communication about why that’s important. Personnel are told to “just do your job” and improvement suggestions are dismissed unless they come from a favored group.
How can company culture be improved?
Culture is hard to change. It deals with people, history, and feelings. Ten good steps can be offset by one bad one. There is no secret key to making change successful, but all efforts need to combine consistency and communication with the three key aspects of alignment, respect for people, and continuous improvement. The good thing is that we as people are optimistic by nature, and positive culture is viral – it will grow from a spark, to a flame, to a fire.
Our work has convinced us there are three elements every successful culture change has in common:
First, buy-in from top management. Culture improvements can start anywhere, but change won’t last unless management is guiding the effort. Management has to participate in the change, allocate people and company resources, and communicate the plan.
Second, change needs to create results. Nothing is more frustrating that hearing about change without seeing anything happen. People need to see change improving their work and management needs to see change improving how they manage the operation and create results.
Third, change has to be company wide. Restricting lean or any change effort to just the service team, or just production personnel, or one location means that it will fail as soon as leadership changes or the wind shifts. Consistency and commitment are required to see the full scope of change through to start seeing all of the positive change that is possible.
Whether you have a great culture that’s set to pull you onto the next step or need help fixing your culture to build what’s possible, Geolean has the expertise to support you.
Complete our checklist ‘Is your factory a good fit for lean integration?‘ to find out if your company and culture are ready for the next lean implementation step or if we need to discuss steps to improve your culture first.