Competing January 2006

Changing and Building Culture

Perhaps your company’s “Continuous Improvement” process is disappointing. Culture is in the way rather than moving forward.

Why? Maybe your inability to effectively drive “lean initiative” down throughout the organization is a reason or, company leadership is inconsistently supporting the Continuous Improvement process. We could all add many additional points, but lets look at some possibilities to effectively change and build culture.

Chances are, most of your employees are used to being told what to do when at work. As intelligent people, they quickly learn that often “applying their thinking gets them in trouble”. This is typical of most pre-lean companies. “Check your brain at the door, then pick it up on the way out” is the unspoken rule. To believe that your team will immediately feel it’s safe to think and act accordingly is not realistic. Maybe some of these concepts could help you build culture:

  1. Adopt an improvement time policy, specifically written to name and authorize a certain number of improvement hours per person, per targeted area, per week. Following the “what gets measured gets done philosophy” (thank you Al Weber) be certain to support activity by tracking progress and sharing the simplified chart with all employees.
  2. Use the “Toast Kaizen” video to explain kaizen and how, as a company, you intend to implement it’s effective use. The Toast Kaizen video is available from the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership 617-287-7648 and is one of the simpliest, most effective tools to train continuous improvement
  3. Create a scoreboard to show controllable performance. How are we doing? Did we have a good or bad day? These questions are answered by posting timely, meaningful feedback to our teams. Information such as how many should we complete today vs. our actual completion quantity. Hourly updates can be very useful in creating pace, even in a make-to-order environment. The value (in $, hours or whatever unit of measure that makes sense to you and your team) of what was completed, or shipped is very useful.
  4. Single-Point Lessons: Rapid Transfer of Best Practices to the Shop Floor
Single Point Lesson

Simple, visual instructions, such as this example, are very effective.  Working with your teams to create them supports the engagement of all team members.

Building a new culture is not easy and will not happen over night.  YOU MUST PAY CONSTANT ATTENTION TO YOUR TEAMS AND THE PROCESS.  Ask yourselves, “Are we paying enough attention to our teams and the process?”  If culture change is not working, you probably are not.

Don’t forget: You are a lean enterprise, every minute of every day from now on.


  1. Larry Barber

    Good job larry. Maybe you could talk about twin companies and what separates them.

  2. Tony Byrne

    Good information, we are currently having issues with keeping up with current demand (good problem to have) at which time we fall back to old habits. In addition we have had an influx of new staff (they are use to not be allowed to “think”) that probably are not being shown “toast kaizen” in their orientation.

  3. Marty Pigg

    I recently worked in an SemiConductor Environment that tried for 3 years to implement TPM to mirror Japan successes. From my experience… The culture change has to be at the managment level and thus will trickle down throughout any organization. In the 3 years I participated in the efforts, management could not get out of their own way. Actions speak louder than words and they treated TPM / Lean Initiatives as action items that get closed, rather than grasping the concepts and letting the change begin with them. Managers that are trying to drive lean initiative need to be consistent in their directives and the way they judge success.

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