There’s no Checklist for Culture Change

My colleague, Jeff Liker, is an expert in the implementation of lean manufacturing, a process which originated at Toyota.  Jeff told me that only 2 percent of the companies that have implemented lean manufacturing have achieved anticipated results.  The failures represent billions of dollars in lost value.  The problem is not with the technology.

There is something that few Western managers understand.  Successful implementation involves joining with others in the co-creation of the emerging future.  In other words, the organization has to become a system of learning.  The culture has to become more positive, open and responsive.

Western companies operate with a checklist mentality. An expert comes up with the “correct” way to do something, builds a plan, trains the people, and audits the change progress.  This is called change management.  The great thing about change management is that it is fast and efficient. The bad thing is that is seldom works. Worse, most people fail to see why change management does not work.

Thirty years ago I was with a leader who had led the successful transformation of an auto plant.  At the time he was trying to explain his success to other plant managers and the teaching effort was not going well.  He later explained that the plant managers wanted “a checklist” so they could engage in a linear and controlled process of implementation.  They did not want to hear about such things as participation, risk-taking, continual experiments, authentic communication, mutual learning, the transformation of assumptions, and the joint implementation of new ideas.

When it comes to culture change the average manager in the United States tends to fail for the same reasons the average manager failed three decades ago. The implementation process involves collective learning.  It is messy, risky and requires more mental and emotional work than you can do with a simple checklist.  The challenge is to understand positive leadership and how to co-create the emerging future.

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