How to Establish a Lean Culture in 4 Steps

An effective lean culture aims to reduce waste and inefficiency while improving the value delivered to customers. The lean organization is a model that’s been historically applied to manufacturing, but many of the principles have something to offer businesses across a wide range of industries.

The lean business model can be attractive to a variety of different businesses, but many fail to consider the important role culture plays in implementation. Teaching the concepts and providing the tools is just one part of the process. In order to fully reap the benefits of lean, employees must adopt a mindset of continuous improvement. Consider using feedback tools like 360 performance evaluations to gauge how employees are adapting to new lean methods. It’s important to keep a pulse on company morale as change is introduced. If there is no change in culture, companies can struggle to fully embrace the lean organizational model.


Create the Lean Culture with Intent

Every organization has its own unique culture. This is true whether the organization establishes the culture intentionally, or if it forms organically with no guidance from leadership.

Company culture encompasses many things. It is the personality of the company, a set of shared beliefs and values, and the ways in which beliefs and values are expressed. It even covers the rules and standards expected of people within the culture.

When culture isn’t created intentionally, people will develop it on their own. Essentially, if the culture is not an established entity, it will be primarily learned by experience. An individual sees how others behave and the values they express, and learns from them over time. When a culture is intentional, people will learn through experience, but also be guided by established company values. As a result, the cultural aspects they experience will be more aligned with lean principles.

Key Takeaway:
When a company decides to follow the lean business model, it can’t expect the culture to automatically follow the change in processes, tools, and concepts. The culture needs to be intentionally guided in order to meet the demands of the model.


Create a Framework for Change

The first step in developing a new company culture is to create a framework for the behaviors that the new culture should cultivate. Leaders need to determine the values that the culture will represent and the behaviors that need to be reinforced in order to sustain it.

Additionally, it’s important to think about the new skills and competency models essential for making a lean culture successful in your business. Consider any training that may be necessary to help people make the transition, as well as any other educational methods that can be used to spread the new culture and help it take root.


Tie It in with Policies

Once this framework in place, policies must be developed that connect the new culture with the lean business model. This can include changes in recruiting, performance evaluation, training, promotions, reward programs, internal communications, and more. Company leadership will need to work closely with the human resources department to form these policies and ensure they are implemented properly.

"If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself."

- Henry Ford


Implement from the Top Down

Building a framework and creating policies are important parts of developing a lean culture, but leadership also needs to set an example. If leaders are not modeling the correct behaviors, values, and processes, the new culture is unlikely to take hold in the rest of the company. Telling people is one way to make them aware of a change, but sustaining a lean culture is primarily learned and reinforced by example and experience.

Developing a new culture takes time. Employees will try to adopt new behaviors and new processes right away, but the culture will only fully integrate if there is a sustained push for change. Leaders need to be understanding if some employees have trouble adapting early on, but they also need to keep promoting the right values and behaviors. With time, it may even be necessary to replace people that either can’t or won’t, adapt to the lean culture.


David 15fiveDavid is Marketing Communications Manager at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and reviews. 


His articles have also appeared on The Next Web & The Economist.

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Written by Leslie Bloom

With a background in design and communications, Leslie is passionate about giving manufacturers the tools they need to boost the productivity and confidence of their frontline workforce.

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