There have been many studies and examples over the years that prove the link between business culture and business performance. Good leaders understand this connection, and studies show that CEOs engaged in the practice of Lean consider culture an essential element of success.
However, if the results of these employee engagement and satisfaction studies are to be believed, it is clear that not everyone is aware of how leadership influences company culture and how to bring about meaningful change.
When developing a plan to strengthen and spread Lean culture, it helps to think about the impact of leadership.
People who teach communications often advise students to mimic the pattern and mannerisms of the person they are speaking to. If the other person speaks softly and slowly, speak softly and slowly, for example. This is an effective method of relaxing the other person and getting them to open up.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, employees tend to mirror leadership. If leaders display energy and enthusiasm, so does the staff.
For this reason, it is very difficult to create a culture that is disconnected from the temperament of the C-suite. “It all starts at the top,” isn’t just a throw away statement when it comes to Lean culture.
Employees look squarely at leaders when determining if a company’s values are more than just nice words on a slide.
If, for example, a company says that it values quality, yet leaders insist on delivery time-frames or resource limitations that undermine quality, employees will reason that the value statement is meaningless and ignore it.
If leaders want employees to make decisions based on the principles of Lean, they must do the same.
Appetite for Innovation
Fear of failure is the number one killer of innovation; innovative ideas are new and risky by definition. Leaders who demonstrate intolerance for failure kill innovation at its source and create a culture that values stability over improvement.
In well-established companies with commoditized products, this might be enough to survive, but most modern businesses must innovate to compete.
The idea that people will do more of what they are recognized and rewarded for is simple, yet often overlooked.
For a Lean culture to thrive, leaders must actively seek out employees who are demonstrating it and broadcast their success to the organization. Leading by example is critical, but so is shining a light on others who are contributing to the culture you want to create.
Company culture is a deeply ingrained set of behaviors and attitudes. It is not an HR program. Assessing how leadership influences Lean culture is a good place to start if your organization wants to change or strengthen yours.
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