Posted by: knightbird | November 29, 2011

Leading a Cultural Transformation

I love going to the Gemba. I just finished another conversation with an employee who has been involved in our Lean Transformation and gleaned a gem of advice from her. She was talking about an improvement need that she would ordinarily stress over. She has a lot on her plate and her first instinct was to blame and shame, either herself or someone else, for this oversight. But her internal lean conversation took her in another direction, one that I have been teaching for years. She even used words that I use. The past is the past. We have identified the problem, which has existed for some time. Still, it is what it is, and all I can do is improve on it. There is no need to beat ourselves up over a defect. We can only resolve to improve it and then act on that resolve.
As the only executive in Alaska who has lead a lean transformation (that I am aware of), I understand the need to create a new culture. And interestingly enough, Dr. W. Edwards Deming wrote extensively about the path to a new culture. I tried to follow his blueprint. Step one was to eliminate fear from the workplace. The phrases I used constantly revolved around eliminating blame and shame by being fact based and non-judgmental. I had to convince employees that I was serious about this. It was not easy. An executive has to become incredibly knowledgeable about lean and cultural transformation. (S)He has to train second line executives on how to eliminate fear from the workplace, and make it stick. If not, the culture demands removal of that executive. Employees need to see the new culture live in the executive team. As I blogged about some time ago, this led Chugachmiut to eliminate annual performance evaluations about 5 years ago.
As the employee explained it, she was helped by realizing that our culture recognizes the need to improve continuously and fully accepts acknowledgement of defects. That is, as long as we work to improve the defect. Executives, take note. You need to become heavily invested in your transformation.

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