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The secret behind truly embedding Lean within an organisational culture

March 2, 2015 – by Otie Hauser &samhoud consultancy

Every Lean improvement process is far-reaching and confrontational, and involves the development of new behaviour and a new way of working. We know that an organisational culture can be stubborn and inflexible whenever a change is implemented. The American Peter Drucker – author, professor and management consultant – famously said: “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. What he meant was that you can make wonderful plans and have ambitions, but you will get nowhere if you do not take the organisational culture into account. The &samhoud Lean survey asked participants to indicate why a relapse occurred during a Lean implementation. The organisational culture appears to play a prominent role in this. Around 21% of respondents stated that a relapse during and after implementation is due to a lack of sustainability. In such a case, they were unable to achieve a cultural breakthrough. This often stems from a lack of connection with the vision and strategy. As a result, there is no acknowledgement of the need and importance of a culture in which continuous improvement is the focal point. Due to the absence of effective management and inspiring and disciplinary leadership, improvements are implemented on a purely technical basis, but are then not observed or are followed inadequately.

How then does Lean enter the DNA of an organisation?
This requires the realisation of breakthroughs, both within an organisational culture and among the people involved. The moment this is structurally successful, Lean is embedded within the organisation’s DNA and its employees. Every organisation has its own culture; a common collection of standards, values and expressions of behaviour shared mutually and implicitly. An organisational culture determines how people perceive and execute their work, and how they treat one another. An organisational culture occurs in different forms. It is often the result of experiences, positive and negative, accumulated over many years. ‘Our culture is simply like that’, is something you often hear people say, as if this cannot be countered and that you merely have to accept it.

ABCD culture model

To realise a breakthrough, you first need to know what typifies the existing culture. What are its strengths and weaknesses? Only once you know these can you start heading towards the desired culture. &samhoud has developed the ABCD Culture Model for this purpose. This model is based on the ideas of Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn, the authors of Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture. The ABCD Culture Model comprises two axes: a vertical axis indicating whether the organisational culture is exploratory or controlling, and a horizontal axis indicating whether a culture has an internal or an external focus. We make a distinction between four cultural focuses, each with their respective strengths and weaknesses. Every organisation comprises a mix of these four focuses, but one is almost always dominant. All four, by the way, are just as important, powerful add necessary.


Realising cultural breakthroughs requires interventions that do not naturally correspond to the existing cultural focus, but which are in fact the complete opposite. You can bolster the weaknesses of your own culture by drawing on the strengths of an opposing cultural focus. Breakthroughs are only achieved outside your zone of comfort. Are you wondering how an organisational culture and the implementation of Lean are related? Very closely, believe me! An organisational culture plays a decisive role in the design, approach and therefore also in the sustainable embedding of Lean within an organisation. My book ‘Lean tenminste houdbaar tot’ provides concrete examples from real life and practical guidelines. It also demonstrates how this ABCD Culture Model functions, and helps you achieve breakthroughs within an organisational culture and thus embed Lean in a sustainable manner.

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