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Lifting the lid on lean 2 – a contextual approach


 How many times has it been used as the reason for the failure of Lean and six sigma to deliver lasting, sustainable results?  It amounts to saying it would have worked....

'...if we were more aware...if we were working in a different situation...if we can make this organisation like the ones where we know it works....if we knew what we were doing.'

And blaming the senior leadership doesn't cut the mustard either. 'They didn't own it.' 'They should have been more involved.' 'They should have shown more leadership.'

Leaders generally try to do their best. They don't know what they don't know and the lack of rigour in the way the problem is defined by those supporting them is in large part the problem itself.  It doesn't help to say the culture or leadership needs changing.

When time and resources are short you need to focus very specifically on the things that can be changed and that need to be changed.

The question needs to be more accurately defined then:

1. What kind of culture is required to make Lean work and

2. What, specifically, do senior leaders need to do with their limited time to create it.

Culture is lasting, enduring and largely intangible. Passed on non-verbally and generally osmised into those that join and organsiation. Research and experience shows generally that within 6-9 months people become culturally normalised. Culture is about what the organisation values. It is very difficult, if at all possible to change.

Workplace climate, on the other hand is what people experience. The sum of the systems, leadership and processes that impact how people work. It is much more malleable and open to change. It can be readily diagnosed and adjusted. Leaders can identify and work on specific dimensions to deliberatly create the a climate that suits their context and image of what 'good' looks like. Because it is scalable teams, divisions and businesses can have distinct climates. 

Effective, reliable and valid analysis of the workplace climate gives clues into specifically what needs to be done, at what level and by whom those changes need to be undertaken. It makes the soft stuff tangible, focussed and open to rigour. Workplace climate then is what you need to focus on to create a context for sustainable, successful Lean.

Deliberate climate creation, at the right level in the business, becomes the key strategic leadership act if you want to make Lean stick. It gives sharp focus and understanding and avoids the mumbo jumbo of 'not having the right culture (so its not our fault if it doesn't work)'.

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