Four Elements of a Lean Culture

I’m sure preparing for 2021 is on the minds of many organizations this time of year.  Given the strange year it has been, I’m sure we all want to move on from 2020.  I have seen companies “decide” they want to implement Lean in the next year when they do their annual planning.  What I rarely hear is we need to develop a culture that supports Lean efforts.  To get you thinking along those lines, here are some elements of a lean culture.

It starts at the top

Any successful business or cultural transformation starts at the top.  The same is true when trying to develop a Lean culture.  One of the first things the leadership team needs to establish is the True North for the company.  If it already exists, great.  Then move on to the next step, which is to establish a Lean management system.

A lean management system supports the True North of the company and becomes the “rules of engagement.”  The Lean management system provides the elements the organization views as important to their success.  I often present the Lean management system as a house.  Regardless, it is an extremely important part of a Lean transformation.


Having a servant leadership mindset are other elements of a Lean culture.  “Inverting the triangle” refers leaders supporting those below them in the organization instead of a more command a control style of leadership.

Focus on the Customer

As you develop your Lean Management System, it is important to focus on the customer.  Successful Lean cultures are obsessive in supporting the needs of their customers.  This is a cultural element that separates them from their competition.

Ensure you remain or become even more focused on the needs of the customer and communicate that throughout the organization- every day!  Think of a company relentless about servicing the customer- Zappos.  The founder passed away this weekend- but he took a business from $100,000 in sales and grew it where Amazon bought it for 1.2 Billion dollars.  He built a culture focused on servicing the customer.

Mutual respect

Companies with a Lean culture operate and communicate with mutual respect for everyone in the company.  Many elements of a Lean transformation require people to get together in a room and problem solve or kaizen.

The problem-solving or kaizen activity requires employees to have frank and open discussions to make the company better.  This is much easier to accomplish if everyone’s ideas are treated with mutual respect.

Focus on eliminating waste

The core of a Lean culture is a focus on identifying and eliminating waste in processes.  Great companies spend the time and money necessary to train everyone in the company on how to identify waste and the tools used to eliminate it.

If your culture follows a True North and has established a Lean management system, then training everyone is a great next step.  Training everyone in the company on Lean methodologies will help you develop the elements of a Lean culture.

As always, it is an honor to serve you, and I hope that you and your company are getting better every day!

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