Posted by: Knightbird | July 13, 2011

Feeding the Culture of a Lean Organization

One job a CEO has is the care and feeding of a lean culture. As your organization improves its performance and customers begin to respond, complacency can settle in. Major improvements have been made and the gains in productivity become much smaller. There are fewer large week long Kaizen to train new employee’s about the process. Sustaining the gains becomes difficult without feeding the culture. A few weeks ago I blogged about the decline of service at a Disney Resort, at least from levels I had been led to believe their resort services were like. New CEO’s and managers who are not immersed in a lean culture can very quickly reverse a very productive organization. They just need to revert to command and control financial bottom-line management.

So what can a CEO do to sustain the culture? Well, Chugachmiut’s original Sensei, Tom Jackson, advocated for the creation of a Kaizen Promotion Office (KPO). Former Virginia Mason President Mike Rona implemented such an office. Employee’s whose jobs have been eliminated are often assigned to such an office where they learn the art and science of Lean by assisting their organization with improvement events. After a 2-year term with the KPO, the employee is reassigned to a regular position. The knowledge they gain in the KPO goes with them.

Transparent performance data is another sustaining practice. Strategically placed white boards with information about improvement events and performance gains inform employees about lean and the gains being made. A-3’s with work plans dotted with green, yellow and red markers show the progress on improvement projects. Orientation and training for new employee’s incorporates teaching how to use the tools and monitor the progress of projects.

The CEO and executive level managers must also continue going to the Gemba. Mentoring and training must be on going and continuous. Story telling is another important part of sustaining a lean culture. Reciting the tales of trouble and woe during implementation can inform newer employees about the hard won gains. I have many stories and tell them frequently: “the infamous Quonset hut;” “PTSD during a Kaizen;” “3 truckloads of waste paper in the grant writing office;” “the Snoopy Dance;” and many others. Told correctly, the stories build pride and teach employees about the hard work necessary to develop a high performing organization.

And most of all, realize that your people are important. So when their job is eliminated, they have a place to go, the KPO. Provide immediate feedback about performance in a fact based, non-judgmental way. And engage your staff in the history and culture of you organization by sharing stories with them.

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