Culture is What Happens When No One is Looking…

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Jeff Cole

Paper or plastic? How many times have we all heard that at the market? When it comes to implementing methods like Lean or Six Sigma, we might ask a somewhat similar question: "Stapled or Woven?"
The road to great success is never smooth – it is full of bumps, pot-holes, and guys on the side of the road throwing things at you. If you simply staple efforts like Lean Six Sigma onto the back of a company, the first time you hit a bump - it goes fluttering into wind. If you weave it solidly into the fabric that is the culture of your organization - it lasts. Pick up the company and shake it as hard as you want – it sticks because it is part of the company’s DNA.
If you’ve been in business any length of time, you’ll have to agree that the highway today’s businesses travel is littered with the burned out husks of failed process improvement efforts. The well-intentioned architects of said efforts are staring in amazement out the back window, stapler in hand, waving goodbye to their hard work.
Why is this so prevalent? Simple – YDKWYDK. That is "You don’t know what you don’t know". People get so focused on the training and technical elements of these efforts they end up simply assuming they will weave themselves into the culture and last. Not so. We must focus at least as much attention to the behavioral change aspects.
Sales plans are oriented toward driving purchase behavior. Successful Lean Six Sigma (LSS) plans are oriented toward driving usage behavior and new thinking patterns. Culture is what happens when nobody is looking. You know you have succeeded when people are thinking and engaging by using LSS tools and methods when you are not around to oversee it.
Here are three success hacks for weaving your LSS efforts into the culture:
  • Plug It In - Much like an old-fashioned operator switchboard, plugging LSS into an organization has multiple "touch-points". Integrate your efforts into the strategies, role descriptions, personal objectives, compensation structure, meeting agendas, communication plans, Gemba walks, new hire orientations, other training programs, reward, recognition and award programs, etc
  • Turn It On - People will tend to do what their boss asks them to do. Make heroic efforts to ensure any LSS efforts are positioned as Management’s "Thing" – not Steve-the-quality-guy-down –the-hall’s thing, or the Six Sigma Department’s thing. Engaging in LSS involves thinking and acting differently. That is a code-word for change. Employees should first hear about any change they need to make from their direct supervisor or manager. (and that manager should have first heard it from their manager and so on…)
  • Crank It Up - Losing momentum in an LSS effort is a common dilemma. A major risk point in that momentum is the "One and Done" or worse the "None and Done" effect. Anybody receiving LSS training should have an environment set up back at their workplace to immediately apply what they have learned (even better if they can start applying during class). This means you have to think in advance and work with management to have that environment idling and ready to go once the student returns. Also ask, what do we do once they have done a project? If you are happy to hand out a certificate and they never use those skills again, then fine. Check off that you trained them and they did a project. On the other hand, if you want real sustained results, have the touch points plugged in and the momentum-engine at full throttle so the thinking and usage never has a chance to die down – even during re-orgs or difficult times.
Here’s the question for today: How do your employees behave when nobody is looking?
Happy weaving!