How to Create & Sustain a Lean Manufacturing Culture


Of all “Lean manufacturing” topics this is one that eludes most manufacturers. The great thing about “Lean manufacturing” 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 subject. The cultural transformation, however, presents far more difficult challenges. Let’s discuss several aspects of creating a “Lean manufacturing” 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 commonplace. Where a 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 manufacturing as part of your culture

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

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  • Consistency: Manufacturing 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 manufacturing principle of continuously improving.

o   Tools – 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 in manufacturing are more prone to embracing change if they are kept informed, their opinions 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

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 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. Use these as the blueprint that helps you make hiring, firing, and promoting decisions.
  • Create an onboarding 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.
  • Identify 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.

If you are serious about implementing Lean manufacturing and want to get the results that evade most manufacturers, schedule a time to discuss your situation and how we can help.

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