Lean Culture ShockDeveloping a Lean Culture is something that is on many Organizations Agenda these days, however why lean?

  • Programs are set up to install and sustain lean & continuous improvement initiatives
  • Daily huddles are incorporated into the working day
  • KPIs are set up to measure and improve processes and systems
  • Kaizen Blitz’s are executed on a regular basis
  • Creates an environment that nurtures team work and performance

However the lean culture still fails to create that sustainable momentum.

While all the initiatives described above are great, and consistent work will lead to improved performance, are you really going to the Gemba in respect to the people? Where is the People Gemba in the organization?

So what’s missing?

Michael Hoseus, co-author of the bestseller, Toyota Culture, The Heart and Soul of the Toyota Way, makes this case by saying:

“Most companies miss seeing the blood flow of TPS – the human resource philosophies and strategies that make it work at Toyota. Toyota has always understood the importance of hiring and developing employees with the capacity to succeed.”

Enter HR

In the Business world of today, Human Resources play a huge role in the performance of hired staff and satisfaction during their time with a company. One of the first points to understand when looking for an individual’s performance is typically related to how satisfied they are in their current role. And if we take a step back, how can this be assessed during the hiring process and are you attracting the right type of people?

A number of years back, I worked with a medical device company that spent 2 years, reviewing and assessing over 3000 people for 60 positions in highly skilled roles.

So the current state map looked something like this

Hiring Process Map

So what you can see is a very intense and costly Hiring Process and one that was ongoing. And very much ongoing in this particular case, as their competition was very smart and after a year in service, they poached staff by offering better packages. In essence, saving a small fortune on the hiring process and allowing these guys to put the hard grueling work in to get the team to the high skilled levels required. Maybe not a nice or fair tactic, however very effective, it’s business after all.

So what was the lesson learnt?

Well there was a number


  • Were very poor and didn’t offer the ‘WIIFM’ for their new staff
  • There was nothing in relation to ‘Lean’ deliverables / responsibilities as part of their weekly routines


  •  Training was only related to highly skilled processes
  • Again no Lean training
  • No team work training
  • No opportunity to learn new things


  • There was no coaching programs in place
  • No relationship building at Managerial and Team Level
  • No relationship building at Director and Team Level

And the list could go on,

However, in short, people came in, did their job, cleaned up and went home. There was no emotional connection between the business and the team and so when the competitor came in and poached these highly skilled workers, there was no hesitation in handing in their notice and saying goodbye!

So without this emotional connection, all the Kaizen’s projects, KPI improvement, Daily Huddle interaction will only take you so far. People need a reason, the ‘WHY’ and ‘WIIFM’ in order to create a connection that is harder to break. You only have to look at Toyota to see this working in harmony. Their team are loyal and not only loyal, they are PROUD to work for Toyota.

So make your Team PROUD!

By putting your HR Team at the heart of Lean, offers your business a great opportunity to create an exceptional, loyal and proud workforce.

By working with their extended teams to ensure they are maximally satisfied to offer maximum contribution will be directly related to improved performance, for both short and long term.

A company that truly wants to develop a Lean Culture will start with the hiring process by

  • Defining the Profile of what kind of person to attract for your business and what behavioral competencies they should have, (i.e. teamwork, attention to quality, work pace, work ethic, continuous improvement, problem solving ability, job fit motivation, communication, integrity)
  • Hiring ONLY people who have these competencies and as Simon Sinek says in his great TED Speech, ‘Hire people who believe what you believe’
  • Providing lean systems and training for all employees from the second they commence their employment
  • Encourage high performance by communicating the value of it and developing performance systems that lay the foundation for continuous improvement
  • Coach and, if necessary, remove those individuals who refuse to embrace your high performance culture.
  • Creating communication strategies that allow communication and conversation at all levels of the business, not just the standard ‘Line of Sight’

Over time you will replace those who cannot or do not want to work in a lean environment with people who thrive and embrace continuous improvement and high performance. At the same time you will send a healthy message that lean is important and in fact that Lean is the essence of success. By breeding this message to your team, day in day out, your team will believe it and want it as part of their daily routine.

So the absolute starting point of a Lean Culture, along with Lean Leadership, is the point at which you are developing a profile for the new hires you want, start with that message and grow it as they become a permanent fixture within the business. Give them a reason to stay, a reason that is more than financial rewards, a reason that will want them to be part of something bigger, something that will grow the business from the bottom as well as the top down.

Happy Hiring and Culture Development!