Posted by: Knightbird | January 21, 2011

Transparency in a Lean Culture

A Lean Leader needs to understand the concept of transparency, then build it into the culture of their organization. A tools based leader has virtually no chance of doing this. The use of Lean tools ask employees to open their work world (value streams) to what would be seen in their life experience as a criticism based, demeaning examination of what is a huge part of their life—their work. Lean comes in with a presumption of improvement. This means we are already looking for problems (or defects). Transparency means that the defect will be put out for everyone to see. Oh oh. I see where this is going. I am going to be criticized, therefore I need to work harder to hide this defect. Instead of facilitating hiding behaviors, we want the defect to be put out there (transparent) so we can all seek solutions and pursue a future state of perfection (unachievable but an outstanding goal unless we judge our current status in the context of perfection).

I have written time and again about the basic requirements for transparency, but not in the context of creating a transparent organization. The foundation for transparent thinking is the elimination of a blaming and shaming culture. We have to get rid of criticizing behaviors (and I mean all behaviors, including body language, gossip and direct confrontation). We have to teach people that we all make mistakes. Joseph Hallinan writes about “How we look without seeing, forget things in seconds, and are all pretty sure we are way above average” in his book titled “Why We Make Mistakes.” Malcolm Gladwell gives fascinating examples of human failure by the most accomplished individuals in their field in his book titled “Blink.” We all make mistakes—constantly—so why not acknowledge and recognize that. We need to teach our employees about becoming fact based and non judgmental. I repeated these phrases time and again, but most of all, I lived them. I don’t blame or shame employees. I try to be fact based and non-judgmental (really hard for a recovering lawyer). And I acknowledge mistakes and create a future state that works hard to eliminate the mistake in that future state.

Our employee’s are becoming good at identifying defects (which is what we call what other people refer to as mistakes—sounds too blaming for us). By addressing the defect in an A-3, and posting the A-3 on their process control board, we pursue transparency. If there are a lot of A-3’s posted on the PCB’s, then I have a good clue that we are continuously improving our processes. If I know that a value stream map has been created, with data, then I know that my employee’s understand their work and through using A-3’s, are continuously improving that work.

A Lean Leader needs to live the concept of transparency, and the cultural constructs that allow transparency to flourish. You can’t hire a Lean-Six Sigma Expert as your Quality Control expert and get true improvement.


  1. I agree that transparency is crucial to fostering a healthy lean culture. It is so unfortunate that many organizations fail to recognize how open and honest communication further this cause.

    The underlying elements to support this culture are Trust and Respect. Without this, transparency will always be a challenge.

    Thanks for sharing,

  2. I agree wholeheartedly that eliminating the “blame and shame” culture is critical. It’s so fundamentally part of the core of most organization’s culture that most leaders don’t even recognize it is there, it seems.

    One correction, the excellent “Why We Make Mistakes Book” is by Joe Hallinan.

  3. Hey Mark. Thanks for the comment. I looked at the attribution for the author of Why we make mistakes and although inartfully written, I believe it’s correct. Fascinating material by the way. Stuff most lawyers should know.

    • You’re right. So much for my reading comprehension skills!

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