The shift in thinking required for organizations to become Lean or continuous improvement focused will probably take longer than you wish. Improvement efforts can lose momentum and sometimes aren’t sustained. The patience and resilience of an organization’s leadership can have a huge influence on the performance results or gap. The gap, real or perceived, that exists between short term gains to real long term ongoing improvement is often attributed to an organization’s culture; the way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in an organization.

Maintain a constancy of purpose

Lean leaders understand the importance of involving their people in developing solutions. It’s critical to developing new and innovative ways of thinking and new or improved products, services, and processes. That involvement is important, but it must be purposeful. How do you know that your people are doing the right things?

Outcomes are a result of Actions

One of the more critical, yet often misunderstood, elements of developing and maintaining a strong process improvement culture is measurement. It is normal for business leaders to measure the organization’s success in big picture terms like profitability, customer satisfaction, and shareholder value. Continuous improvement leaders also focus on the performance results of the business processes and the actions of their people that influence the business processes. Dr. W. Edwards Deming introduced the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle in the 1950’s. The PDCA cycle is about having an idea, trying something, seeing what happens, and adjusting your thinking depending on the outcome of the trial and trying again, if necessary.

Measure the culture

The proper measures will allow your people to understand what’s happening and proactively adjust their actions allowing the business to stay on target. These metrics should also allow your people to hold themselves accountable for the business performance, and challenge themselves to continually improve. When the business performance improves, so does the culture. Everyone loves a winner and it’s very important to take time to celebrate the team’s successes and have some fun. Creating a continuous improvement culture requires that you cultivate a positive attitude about improving business performance.

Highway 101

Similar to monitoring your cars dashboard for speed and fuel consumption while driving down the highway, developing process metrics that monitor the performance of the process in real time (or near real time) will allow the process to be adjusted on the fly, improve quality, and organizational flexibility. Lean leaders create an operational dashboard to measure the key business processes. The dashboard allows them to monitor the pulse of the business on a daily and ongoing basis.

The payoff

The old adage, “what gets measured, gets managed” has proven true. Lean leaders know if you measure the right stuff you can influence the right behaviours. Understanding and sharing the business results will help to build ownership and accountability and start to impact the culture.