Of all Lean topics this is one that eludes most companies. The great thing about Lean is that grasping the concepts is not that hard. The concepts, though counter to our most ingrained “bad” habits, do not require advanced proficiency on any particular subject. The cultural transformation, however, presents far more difficult challenges. Let’s discuss several aspects of creating a Lean culture:

What is Culture?

According to Edgar Schein organizational culture is defined as:

“A pattern of shared basic assumptions that a group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid, and therefore to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems.”

How are cultures formed?

As individuals develop from childhood, their surroundings and the people around them influence them in a way that enables them to form certain values as to what is right and what is wrong. In today’s society having people from different backgrounds is common place. Where the majority of these values overlap is where cultures are formed:


The strength or weakness of your culture will be a measure of how receptive or resistant to change your employees will be.

Lean as part of your culture

Only your leaders (formal and/or informal) can influence the culture of your organization. Here are some behaviors that should be present if you are seeking to create a Lean Culture and some tools that will help in the process:

Please download the Infographic – Traditional Leader vs Lean Leader which highlights the differences between leaders encouraging an environment of continuous improvement, collaboration and trust, and leaders that don’t.

  • Consistency: Leaders should exhibit consistent behaviors that become the norm in the eyes of employees. These behaviors should become expected rituals that employees embrace over time.

o   Tools – Production Control Boards or Hr x Hr / SQDC Board Reviews / Standard Work

  • Discipline: Having the habit of establishing meaningful metrics that measure performance; and the ability to identify countermeasures, implement them, and see thru the elimination of the abnormality. Also, staying committed to the Lean principle of continuously improving.

o   Tool – A3 Problem Solving / Follow Up

  • Engagement: Displaying leadership principles that create an environment of trust and respect.

o   Tool – A firm commitment to teaching, and coaching employees, and challenging the status quo. Among the leadership principles I recommend are these.

  • Clarity: Employees are more prone to embracing change if they are kept informed, considered and understand what the objective is. Especially if you answer the question “what’s in it for me?”

o   Tool – All hands-on meetings / Strategic Planning

Please download the e-book The Lean Leader Manual to learn how Lean leaders manage in a Lean environment.

 Staying proactive

Once you achieve the desired culture there are several things to consider in order to maintain your culture:

  • Make your company values mean something – in most organizations, values are posters on a wall that don’t reflect the culture. Make an effort to use these as the blueprint that helps you make hiring, firing, and promoting decisions.
  • Creating an on-boarding process that offers good first impressions to outside candidates seeking to join your organization.
  • Deal swiftly and professionally with those employees that significantly affect your culture in a negative way.
  • Identifying the core of employees that help shape your culture. This is not determined by rank, even though most of your leaders should be on this list. Among these could be some of the informal leaders in the trenches. These are the people that behave and influence others to behave the way you expect when no one is looking. These employees should be nurtured, groomed, and appreciated as they are the ones creating your company’s culture.


Please share some of your challenges to creating your own Lean culture in the comments section.

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