You’ll Know It When You See It

Just finished reading a WSJ article online titled “How to Change Your Organization’s Culture”.  In addition to overcoming a variety of hurdles (cognitive, limited resources, motivation & institutional politics), “you must win the hearts and minds of the people you work with, and that takes both cunning and persuasion.”   Sorry, but I’m having a hard time with calculated coercion as a viable or sustainable means of changing organizational culture.

My perspective on culture is quite simple: culture = what most people do, most of the time.  If this holds some logic for you, then you just might agree that if you wanted to change the culture, you would want to focus on changing your behaviors.  Yes, easier said than done, but at least now you know where to focus your time and attention with regard to creating cultural shifts.

The old adage of “you’ll know it when you see it” is my smart aleck response to the question “how do we know if we have the culture that we need for lean transformation?”  You just have to stand in one spot and watch all the behaviors.  What do you see?  Problems being solved in conference rooms?  Team huddles in front of active visual systems?  Discovery of a problem being welcomed or buried?   Constant fire fighting or structured time for gemba?

Many of you have heard me asking this question lately: if you agree that culture is the composite of the behaviors of leaders, then wouldn’t leaders behaving differently in a consistent manner create a different culture?

I welcome your thoughts…


4 thoughts on “You’ll Know It When You See It

  1. Karl,

    Great post – because regardless of the theory or the how people go about changing the culture, it all comes down to what people see and feel when they are in the environment by people around them. The true test is spending a day where the work is done, frequently, because if that test doesn’t pass, it doesn’t matter which way you went about creating the ideal environment,


    1. Ted, Thank you for the additional perspective regarding “go see” to truly understand, engage, ask, learn. Leaders doing Gemba well (if I may refer to it as a verb) is critical. – Karl

  2. Which is the cause, and which is the effect? Are the behaviors what create the culture, or are they a result of the culture?

    I have always felt like there are a few key tenets to a culture, usually associated with the history of the organization at its creation, or how it came through a particularly difficult time and the mythology that is often built up around those events and the people who participated in them. Changes that are misaligned with those key tenets are rejected. Therefore, the change leaders job is to identify and understand those cornerstones, and to align the change with them.

    Andy Friere, faculty at Stanford, provides five basic cultural archetypes into which organizations fall: 1) Achievement, 2) Innovation, 3) One-team, 4) People-first or 5) Customer-focused. Whatever the cultural archetype of the organization, the lean champion must focus their efforts on connecting benefits, methods and mindset of lean to the dominant culture of the organization. The lean management system supports all of these, so the difficulty isn’t with the alignment, but with the choosing.

    1. James, Thanks much for sharing your thinking on this one. My energy is certainly focused on the behaviors of the executives (cause) which create the culture throughout (effect) which then generates/supports similar behaviors throughout the organization (spread & sustain & improve). My take away from your comments are that there are a few critical elements to identify: 1) the key tenets that the organization is aligned with and 2) the basic cultural archetype of the organization. With improved understanding of these, a lean champion may be much better positioned to teach and coach.

      I am off to look up Andy Friere’s work! Thanks much.

Comments are closed.