Thursday, February 25, 2016

Business Culture or Lean Culture?

Business Culture or Lean Culture?Lean is based on a long-term philosophy containing a set of methods and tools and with the aim to conduct work on a more clever way, to improve productivity, to better organize processes, retention management, knowledge management, to build a better company culture, etc. Lean was first introduced in the automotive sector as the Toyota Way by Toyota Motor Corporation many years ago but today it found its way into several other sectors with success.

While following discussions about lean I hear regularly the following: “I have told them to introduce the lean culture but they were not enthusiast about it.” or “I suggested to introduce some lean techniques in order to start the lean culture in our company”, etc.
What is wrong with these sentences? In order to fully understand this let us first see what culture really means.

My definition of ‘culture’ is as follows. We can speak about Business Culture, Coaching Culture, Lean Culture, etc. if a company is in a state where some well defined actions become a habit. This state can be reached by systematically applying (in a formal or informal way) some pre-defined rules throughout a process for a ‘long time’. The result may be a good culture or a bad culture depending on the process leading to this state or culture. I believe that the highest probability for success is when a well defined formal process is implemented till the ‘good culture state is reached.

The expressions ‘business culture’, ‘coaching culture’ or ‘lean culture’ thus demonstrate that it is about something structural and strategic and not something that is ‘just’ being started instantly.

My answer to the title question “Business Culture or Lean Culture?” is that I rather prefer to talk about Business Culture than about ‘Lean Culture’ because for me lean is not the aim itself. The aim is the whole Business with all of its facets also including its strategy. And lean or any other business process improvement methodology is a part of the strategy and culture of the whole Business.


If some pre-defined actions become a culture (or habit) then they are obvious but till then they must be enforced by the stakeholders of the company. Because a business culture (or lean culture as a part of a larger business culture) may become bad and jeopardize the integrity of the company, it is very important that there is a clear strategy behind the whole process and that it is enforced.

Standardized process

Because it is important that we develop a good business culture and not a bad one, there must be some well-defined best-practices being defined in this field. Best practices about e.g. how to implement lean practices in an organization.
It is possible that each company develops her own lean implementation program but this should happen according to some best-practices (Standardized Lean Implementation Plan or SLIP). See more about this subject in my book “Strategic Business Improvement Based on LEAN and ISO 9001 in Office/Service/Business Administration”.

Merging lean to the existing  business culture

Each company which wants to introduce lean, or any other business process improvement methodology, has already a business culture in place (good or bad). The task is to merge the lean culture to that of the existing one in order to improve the business. The strategy to do this depends on the existing business culture of the company. Each company should define an implementation which fits to the existing business culture! If you choose a wrong implementation path the whole transformation may fail. An implementation strategy which works for one company may not work at all for an other company!

How to assess that a culture is good or bad?

In order to be able to say that we have a good or bad business culture we need to be able to assess this in a company. This could be done e.g. by the combination of a specially designed questionnaire and KPI’s (key performance indicators). Such an assessment could also be standardized in order to be able to apply it in different companies. One way to do this is by auditing business processes and the business hosting these processes, what is the subject of an other blog article. 

Read more about these and other subjects in my books and in my blog!

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