Why organisational culture matters when you are embarking on Lean

Why organisational culture matters when you are embarking on Lean

Organisational Culture is an elusive concept and it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what the culture is in your business. There are many definitions of organisational culture however Edgar Schein from MIT’s Sloan School of Management explanation is really helpful and practical. Schein says that organisational culture is ‘a pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problem’.  

Using this definition means that culture is not a concrete object. But its effects are observable, so your culture is knowable. Schien tells us that culture can be observed in three ways in your business.  These are the basic assumptions that are being made by you and your people, your values and the artefacts that symbolise your culture.  

If you want to change your organisation culture to become a Lean culture the first thing that you need to do is understand your existing culture.  

First off have a look at the artefacts your business is choosing to reveal. These symbols can be physical objects. This could be the style of your office, the style of business clothing that your people wear, your physical interface with your customers, so your shop front,  your website and stationary. 

But the symbols are also intangible things like attitudes and behaviours, belief systems, stories and even myths that exist in your business. So the words that you use to communicate to your people, and how people communicate within your business are important clues. Particularly the language you have chosen in your mission and vision statements.  As does the language that is used in communicating with your partners and suppliers.  

Second thing is to look at your business values. These are the values that the leadership wants for the businesses. A word of warning just because they are desired values does not mean that they are the lived values. This is because in organisational culture there are underlying basic assumptions that are being made by your people.  

If you look at your business like this it is possible to see what your culture is like. But can you change it to become a Lean culture?.  To answer that question we suggest that you refer to Geert Hofstede definition of culture. Hofstede says that “Culture is the collective programming of the human mind that distinguishes the members of one human group from those of another. Culture in this sense is a system of collectively held values.”.  

So yes it’s possible to change your organisational culture but its not easy because it involves changing the collective held values. Which are observable through basic assumptions, your values and the artefacts that symbolise your culture. This is why getting your people on board and having a shared understanding of what your lean business will be like is vital.