Mar 12, 2014

Senior management is an alien culture

“They just don’t get it.” That’s the most common complaint you hear from lean champions. “It has to start from the top” -- If senior management does not support and lead a lean change, just forget about any real achievement. Another apparent reason for giving up: “The corporate culture is bad and will never accept change.”

Here’s the news: there is no single monolithic corporate culture. Any culture has subcultures and management’s subculture is different from a plant or a functional manager’s. Because lean champions often come from the operational parts of the organization, its cultural norms surround them. They see improvement in terms of productivity, inventory reduction, plant size, downtime reduction, and cost.

What they may not recognize is that in the senior management subculture, those benefits don’t resonate. The management subculture evolved with different beliefs and values. Its goals come from owners and stockholders, and usually have dollar signs on them: profitability, growth, and share price. When lean champions speak in the language of operations rather than finance, management won’t hear them.

This divide in a corporate culture between management and operational subcultures causes conflict and interferes with communication. I think that the failure to understand this principle of social organization causes lean initiatives to fail. We must take the time to learn the languages, beliefs, status symbols, problems, and psychology of the culture we wish to influence or we doom ourselves to failure. And cultures and their subcultures in vary from organization to another. Examine yours before you try to persuade leaders of the benefits of lean.

Next time: Want change? Applying the seven principles to understanding your management’s culture.

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