Define Lean by Behaviors, Part 4: Clearly articulate the lean behaviors that matter to you.

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 04-26-17

Part 3 examined where are behaviors come from, and in this 4th and final part, we explore applying PDSA to culture change.

Most cultures are accidental. They are created through the somewhat random walk of experiences that we encounter. Those who grew up during the Great Depression developed a sense of PDSA Flinchbaughthriftiness and conservation. Those who had a jerk of a boss either become one themselves or try to make up for their failures. One leader who is always is late for meetings sends a message that being late for meetings is not only acceptable but considered a positive trait.

To create a culture through experiences, you must first articulate the culture that you desire. Don’t end up with an accidental culture. You must articulate the culture you want. Clearly define the behaviors you desire. They should not be generic, motherhood-and-apple-pie behaviors, such as respect and integrity. They should also not be outcomes, such as excellence or winning. They should be articulate, observable behaviors.

In general, it is easier to enact a positive behavior than it is to suppress a negative one. For example, it is likely more effective to focus on systematic problem solving than on avoiding reactive firefight. You might end up with the same outcome, but you have a more probable path to success. Ensure they connect to where you want to go as an organization, not next year, but over the next 3 years or 10 years. You must define the culture you desire. Do not let your culture happen by accident.

Deliberate culture change requires an approach to that change. It requires the same discipline of PDSA, or Plan Do Study Adjust, that we use to make improvements of any other sort. Part of Plan is the articulation of the desired behaviors. I need to know my target condition. The other part of the plan is what changes and actions I plan to take to achieve those desired behaviors. Then the Do phase, which is execution of the plan. What most skip, mostly because it is difficult, is the Study phase. Study is more than simply understanding whether or not we’ve achieved the desired culture. It is pursuing the understanding as to why you are getting the result you want. This can be done primarily through either observation or measurement, or a combination of both. Both require a framework, both require going deeper than a simple yes or no. When we understand why we’re getting the current results, we can then move on to Adjust our Plans accordingly. The point is, treat improvement of your culture with the same learning-orientation and rigor that you should be treating your process improvement.