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Jeff Liker

Jeff Liker: Act Your Way To A New Culture

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: samedi, juin 19, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

I always feel a little uncomfortable when a question begins with:  “How do you build a culture that does ____?”  As far as I know there is no lego set for building culture.  In the last chapter of our book Toyota Culture we quote Edgar Schein as saying: “Never start with the idea of changing your culture.  Always start with the issue the organization faces.”

Why would a leading cultural guru suggest we avoid changing culture?  I do not think he is saying culture does not matter or even that culture cannot change.  He is saying that culture is extremely difficult to change purposefully.  And 99 percent of the time if we try directly we will fail.  I think it is safer to think of culture as an outcome…  of leadership behavior, of what people experience daily, off who the organization selects into employment positions, and of the work environment.  It is an outcome not in a simply cause and effect way, but in a complex way of interacting patterns shaped mysteriously over time.  It is more like the butterfly flapping its wings and causing a tornado in a complex system than flipping a light switch and watching the light come on.

When we look at the purpose behind the tools of lean what we see repeatedly is that problems get surfaced quickly.  The reason we insist on clear standards is so that we can have an explicit agreement on what should be happening right now.  If it is not happening it should be clear to all.  At least that takes some of the debate over whether there is really a problem or not.  If we are out of standard there is a problem.  Toyota goes even farther than that and puts people’s names beside specific actions to say they are responsible.

When I visited the Georgetown, Kentucky plant last December they were implementing another level of quality called “built-in quality with ownership.”  A group leader was going through his metrics board and showing me that when a defect is found attributed to their area they map when it happened and the person doing the job at that time.  There were a cluster of red dots around a certain person doing a certain job.  He had accounted for most of the quality problems that week when he was doing that job.  Interestingly he did not have quality problems when he was doing other jobs (they rotate every 2 hours).  They studied him relative to the standardized work, retrained him, and the next week he had zero defects doing that job.  It was now green and said Good Job!

Making the problem so visible for anyone walking by to see is unimaginable in most of the companies I work with, but what that does is creates an opportunity for influencing the culture.  How the group leader, team leader, and peers react when that person has a big red dot by his name and is preventing the group from reaching their quality goals will have a big influence on what happens next.  If the group leader behaves punitively and does not take those defects as simply a fact, then people will naturally try to cover up problems.  In this case if the manager spends enough time in the gemba she will discover the group leader’s behavior quickly and has an opportunity to coach the group leader.  I have seen Toyota go as far as to hire professional personal coaches for individual managers who act inappropriately.  Over time through repeated experiences with problems, how people deal with them, and the feedback they get based on how their dealing with the other people, culture will be influenced.

I always liked John Shook’s concept of acting your way to a new culture instead of hoping you can change culture to change attitudes to affect behavior.  Acting your way to a new culture takes time, patience, discipline, and will never be as simple as turning on a light switch.

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