Changing a culture is not as easy as instituting a training or communication program. Culture evolve slowly, and changing them is even slower.
Without the constant vigilance and dedication of managers and workers alike, without leadership, backsliding is common and rapid. Backsliding is a analogous to the months of discipline, dieting, and self-denial required for a person to lose 10kg, only to gain it all back again in cocktails and desserts during holiday binge.
Like most people who go on diets, most companies that go lean fool themselves into thinking that the change effort is a time-bounded exercise. The company just needs to eat less and exercise more for now. It doesn't understand that if it is to stay lean, a company, like a person, has to live lean.. forever. It is literally about resetting the corporate metabolism, even restructuring its DNA.
That cannot be done just by shifting a process, implementing a methodology, or running a change program. Real systemic change has to happen at a company's core, with its people. Most critical it needs to be embodied in the company's leaders.
Leaders, and the leadership model that the company cultivates, are the root drivers of a companies successful engagement of team members throughout the company, not the cause.
Great leaders strive for continuous improvements in every aspect of the business, and achieving that improvement requires everyone, from top executives to the heads of small work groups on the floor, to work together, in every division, and at every managerial position up and down the ladder. In other words, this is the type of leadership that can never be provided by a few stars with extraordinary ability or stunning charisma.
Perhaps the biggest single barrier to building a viable culture of continuous improvement is the ROI mentality. When short term cost reduction becomes the single focus, trumping any investment in the future that does not have an immediate and calculable ROI - Such as training, creating a robust learning system, developing exceptional leaders, and funding long term R&D. Focusing on the ROI for each individual step is like the person who lives for immediate gratification and will not make any investment in his future.
If your worldview involves seeing organizations as machines, then you are likely to view people in terms of the functions that they perform. In practice, this translates into hierarchical structure, in which educated specialists decide how the company should operate and how each process should be designed; managers make sure that those designs are followed to the letter, guided by targets and metrics; and workers do the work, with no room to make suggestions for improvement. Within such world, workers are viewed as mindless automatons and managers bureaucrats who enforce the rules without variation. The specialists, and the specialists only, are encouraged to think.
It has today become so completely the norm within business environments that people dont even see it.
To be successful we need to change our thought process and look at organizations as living organisms. We need to challenge the the traditional assumptions such as the only way for managers to motivate people is to externally control them. Using metrics, along with reward systems based on those metrics, allows you to control workers. Another assumption is that success is based on a set of replicable actions that are transferable one-to-one to another environment. These two assumptions are looking at people as cogs in the organization and not part of the organism.
We need to avoid tying specific rewards to specific metrics. The problem with this is people will narrow their focus on what is measurable and ignore other parts of the job such as quality and/or customer service. A company should be as concerned about the thinking behind the groups plans for achieving the objective as it is about whether the result is achieved. Metrics-based incentives drive individualistic behavior rather than a team orientation.
In many companies their is a fundamental disconnect between labor and managers. The root cause of this disconnect is that management is trying to maximize workers output by using imposed rules and control systems. Unless labor-management relations are built on trust and cooperation towards common goals, attempts to change are fruitless.
The person who works everyday interacting with the customer adds a huge amount of value to the customers, the manager does not, except indirectly. The leaders mission is to put the right team with the right skills in place to win, that is, to add customer value. The leader does not interact with the customer but coaches and supports the team members. The leader keeps the team focused on the goals and objectives at hand. Only a exceptional leader can channel the combined efforts of the team members and the work groups effectively to achieve larger goals.
If their was a formula for success, it is a deep, time-consuming investment in developing everyone in the organization, and truly believing that your employees are the most precious resource. The role of the leader in this context is to be open to the kind of self-development needed to cultivate her own leadership skills, develop subordinates so that they grow and improve, remove obstacles and set challenges and goals so that teams at all levels of the organization can contribute to the companies continuous improvement and attainment of its long-term goals.