We’ve ranted a lot lately about GM and their robots, and how that circumvents a couple key aspects of lean: continuous improvement (which by definition requires human-generated ideas) and respect for people. There is an interesting cultural component at work as well.
A year ago Bill wrote a great piece on The Myth of Culture, where he took leaders to task for claiming that great cultures existed in their organizations but not actually living them. As he put it back then,
Bill Ford and Mark Fields simply saying things will feel different at Ford will not make it happen. If it were that easy – just a CEO saying that the company would be innovative and so forth – they all would have said it and it would have happened everywhere. In fact, most companies have said similar things, posting slogans and value statements about the worth of people and the importance of customers and quality. Saying things like that and posting cleverly worded, nice slogans have not made a dent in most company cultures. Culture is not a product of what management says, it is the result of what management does. Layoff notices at 12 Ford plants affecting 30,000 people send a very clear message to every Ford employee about the culture of the company.
For a culture to really be a culture, it has to be lived by management. Otherwise value statements and slogans, however well intentioned, are meaningless. But do something meaningful and the employees will notice.
Purely by coincidence, AME’s Doc Hall has an article on Superfactory this month titled The Culture Thing, where he discusses the importance of culture to lean manufacturing. The article itself stemmed from a recent AME member survey indicating that "working culture" was the number one problem in their organizations. Even with a population of AME members, who are more enlightened about lean than most, I’d hazard a guess that this is due to too many situations where management doesn’t live the culture they claim to promote. But Doc then goes on to describe why a real culture is important.
The intent implicit in the Toyota Production System is to stimulate people to think constantly — a "self-running, self-improving" system. Everyone, not just managers, can see what’s happening, and workers can whip problems at a more detailed level than staff. Ideally, even every bobble from a standard process by either man or machine should prompt why questions.
This is very similar to what our occasional guest blogger Dan Markovitz talked about in a Superfactory article a few months ago titled The Thinking Production System. His piece was mostly on the office and administrative side of lean, but one paragraph also helps distill the Toyota culture:
In fact, Toyota isn’t really dedicated to producing cars. Toyota is dedicated to finding better ways to produce cars. If you manage a business process, you need the same mentality. You need to focus on improving the process by which knowledge workers move value forward. And that involves both the way the value stream is organized, and the way people work within that stream.
Truly transforming and implementing a culture that supports lean is difficult and takes time. As Doc puts it,
Creating this culture has been termed, "nemawashi," thoroughly preparing enough soil for a transplanted tree to grow. Can a working culture be transformed? Yes, but only if we realize that implementing lean is really planting the roots of a new working culture tree. The principles underlying TPS apply to any kind of work. Some learning is individual; some is organizational; and some is process. Process learning is another way to describe process improvement.
Yes, a culture for working excellence can be created, totally changing "how we do things around here." However, leadership to sustain anything that sweeping has to come from "the top." Vacillation by new ownership or new management can confound it. An enterprise half one thing, and half another, isn’t pursuing excellence.
This is also why lean efforts driven by "kaizen-in-a-box" consultants usually fail. Lean is not about the tools; the tools are simply tools that help what lean is really about: people. A culture of excellence must be driven, with actions and not simply slogans and statements, from the top. A culture of excellence requires knowledgeable, experienced, and creative people to continually find better ways to create customer value.
That’s why we have such a big problem with GM branding itself as a company that relies on robots, not humans, to create quality. Whether they are intentionally doing it, or it’s "just a commercial" as one reader has suggested, that is the message being conveyed by management to the employees and customers. And that’s what creates culture.