Developing a culture for change

In this article, I would like to take a little time to look at an aspect of cultural change that many people in business either do not understand or simply shy away from because it is too difficult.  Leaders Standard Work.

So, let’s set the background.

Today the term, Leader Standard Work is relatively common and has been for around for over 20 years. But Toyota started developing and using this practice as they developed Lean thinking in the 1940’s. They understood that for all the principles of Lean to work, the system needed a ‘Glue’.

Interestingly, as western organisations started to look at Toyota and its perceived ‘magic bullet’ to transform an organisation, they focused on simply the ‘tools’ of Lean and missed many of the systems that actually drive the change.

What they overlooked and failed to see was the way the leaders at all levels went about their day-to-day activities. Interestingly, Toyota does not call their management practices Leader Standard Work. There is no name for what their managers do. It’s just the Toyota Way.

Many of us at LMAC had the privilege of working at Toyota for many years, and experienced how this method of working has a simple, but dramatic effect on how the whole organisation does business. How the culture has a singular approach to driving change and improvement.

What is also interesting is how Toyota was happy to let thousands of people tour the Toyota facilities, many eager to discover the magic and the trade secrets of implementing Lean.

Certainly, in our experience bore out the point above, many of these visitors were focused primarily on tools and how they were implemented. They were keen to ask about the low-level tools such as 5S, Kanban, set up reduction, visual performance boards and heijunka. Almost all did not look beyond the physical.

Toyota knew this, that’s why they let them tour, and still do. Toyota know that these tools are not what makes a Toyota Production system and certainly isn’t what makes a high-performance workplace.

From our experience it was clear that what visitors missed were the systems that were in place. The way that the management practices shape and mould the workplace. The way that Toyota Leaders work to embed a culture that not only drives change, but looks to its most valuable assets, its people and actively encourages everyone to work in high performance self-directing teams.

Today as consultants, visiting many organisations and working with our clients, we still find that many leaders are focused on the tools and not developing a culture for change through the right Leadership practices.

Interestingly, today many of the organisations that we are asked to visit have tried to deploy continuous improvement at one time or another and have either had limited success of failed completely,

We see evidence of failed attempts to drive change through tools. Out dated performance charts, empty 5S boards, squares painted on the floor, the list goes on. But when we look beyond that and look at the leadership style and what a Standard day looks line for a Leader, we see little evidence that this was considered or anything was ever put in place.

If we ask simple questions of section managers.  like ‘how much time do you spend on your section’ ? We get responses as low as 10%. If we ask how much time managers spend at meetings, we get responses as high as 60%. The same goes for general Admin (email being the worst offender) Answers typically vary from 20 to 50%.

With these types of pressures on time, how can an organisations Leaders actually Lead?

Leaders must demonstrate the behaviours and attitudes that are expected of everyone else. They set the tone. Think about it. Employees watch their Leaders for consistency between words and actions to see if they should believe in what the organisations is about and clarity of direction.

If Leaders do not act and work in a standard way, how can they expect their teams to work in a standard way?

Leaders should be the coaches and mentors of the organisations, not the administrators.

At Toyota, this is the case. Leadership Standard work, the Toyota way, call it what you will, is the driving force behind the culture. This is how Toyota has managed to stay at the top of the pack for over 50 years.

The Culture is what drives an organisation to become a High-Performance workplace, not a set of tools.