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The Joy of Lean: Transforming, Leading, and Sustaining a Culture of Engaged Team Performance

Dodd Starbird, Managing Partner, Implementation Partners LLC, Alpharetta, GA, USA

Keywords: Engagement, Lean, Joy    

Industry: All

Level: Intermediate


Has your organization tried Lean already? If so, you surely see and feel the “Joy of Lean” in your workplace now, right? Don’t worry. If you’re not quite to joy yet, you’re not alone. As it attracts more and more attention as a successful business philosophy that can improve results in any type of organization, Lean has still sometimes been misunderstood as a method for just cutting expenses. The useful ideas of eliminating waste and driving greater efficiency can pick up a negative spin, with perceptions of job cuts, employees doing more with less, and managers squeezing more productivity from each person. None of that sounds very joyful. But it doesn’t have to be that way. This presentation will show you how to cultivate a positive Lean Culture of excellence that creates value for customers, profitable growth for businesses, sustainable cost reduction, and fulfilling jobs for employees. In 2007, Industry Week conducted a market survey of Lean and claimed that only 2% of responding companies believed that their Lean program was achieving its intended results. The article, entitled “Everybody's Jumping on the Lean Bandwagon, But Many Are Being Taken for a Ride”, exposed a lack of progress that seemed to be mostly cultural. The Lean process hadn’t failed, but the companies had never achieved a Lean Culture. Confirming the Industry Week research in "Why Lean Programs Fail," Jeffrey Liker and Mike Rother cited research from the Shingo Prize committee, a leading source for evaluating the success of Lean programs, who recently did a survey of past winners of their elite award and found that many had failed to sustain the processes that had enabled them to win. The survey resulted in some substantial changes to their award criteria to focus on longer-term results. Of course, most purveyors of Lean recognize the cultural components and have attempted to integrate activities that help the culture grow. Often those look like training: simulation-based events for executives, "yellow belt" training in Lean Six Sigma for project participants, "green belt" certification requirements for leaders, and web-based modules to orient all employees in the process improvement tools. While these training components are key communication and development tools that create knowledge and capability in the team, culture transformation is much more than communication. Sheep dip training doesn’t change culture! As we’ll see as we proceed, culture change comes from purposefully changing everything together – processes, customer focus, collaborative norms, measures, organization, goals, technology, skills, capabilities, and most of all, leadership. Training is a part of that effort, but it’s only an enabler of a greater strategy. A Lean Culture of Engaged Team Performance aligns processes, measures, goals, norms, standards, and organization with customer needs. In order to attain and sustain that alignment, you have to be willing to purposefully change all of those things in concert. We’ll cover many of the Lean concepts as we go through the steps to transform an organization toward a Lean Culture. But we demonstrate something quickly on-screen as we begin: we will run a quick Internet search on Lean. We’ll find many websites and articles about “elimination of waste” (starting with a really good one from the Lean Enterprise Institute that Jim Womack founded), as well as other information about the ways that the Lean tools and principles have evolved from their roots in operational tactics to focus more on non-manufacturing “transactional and service” processes today. But not one of them starts with a truly holistic description of a Lean Culture of Engaged Team Performance! Wikipedia ( somewhat unwittingly summarizes the problem for us pretty clearly: For many, Lean is the set of "tools" that assist in the identification and steady elimination of waste. Elimination of waste is the core theme of Lean and the source of its name, of course, and the eight wastes we’re seeking to remove are a fairly well-known and comprehensive list of opportunities that came from manufacturing but now have been applied to every kind of organization: - Transportation – Moving people, products, or information from one location to another - Inventory – Storing products or documentation; backlog of work in process - Motion – Movement within a work cell; movement of a mouse inside a computer - Waiting – Waiting for parts, information, instructions, tools, tasks, or work to arrive - Over-production – Making more than is required by the customer - Over-processing – Doing more work or effort than the customer requires - Defects – Errors, rework, scrap, or incorrect documentation - Skills – Under-utilized human capabilities Nevertheless, while the statement that Lean tools help organizations eliminate waste is quite true, those tools don’t on their own share a vision, create a culture of teamwork and collaboration, or even sustain their own gains. Of course, the consulting companies promoting process improvement know about Toyota’s strong employee engagement and the other benefits of their corporate culture of excellence, but the approach to Lean that’s been spread across the world has emphasized process improvement instead of striking the right balance between process streamlining and team performance improvement. As a ninth waste, we’d nominate: Failure to sustain elimination of the other eight wastes by ingraining Lean into a Culture of Engaged Team Performance! The Joy of Lean will highlight the differences between good Lean Process and great Lean Culture, illustrating how Lean done right can lead to a powerful competitive advantage, because as Peter Drucker famously said, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."

Participating Organizations at the Lean & Six Sigma  World Conference

Government Agencies

  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Defense
  • Department of Energy
  • Department of Health & Human Svcs.
  • Department of Homeland Security

  • Department of Justice
  • Department of State
  • Department of the Treasury
  • Department of Transportation
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • NASA
  • Naval Surface Warfare Center
  • Pentagon
  • U.S. Air Force

  • U.S. Army
  • U.S. Marine Corps
  • U.S. Navy
  • U.S. Veterans Affairs
  • United States Army Corps of Engineers


  • AIG
  • Alcoa
  • AT&T
  • Bank of America Corp
  • BASF Corporation
  • Bayer Corporation
  • BMW
  • The Boeing Company
  • Bose Corporation
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb
  • Campbell Soup Company
  • Cardinal Health
  • Caterpillar
  • Chrysler Corporation
  • Chevron
  • Cisco Systems
  • Coca-Cola
  • Comcast
  • Daimler Chrysler
  • Disney
  • Dow Chemical

  • Dr Pepper 
  • Duracell
  • Dupont
  • Eastman Kodak
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • Exxon Mobil
  • Fedex
  • Ford Motor
  • General Electric 
  • General Motors
  • Gillette
  • Goodyear Tire
  • Hewlett Packard
  • Honeywell
  • Humana
  • IBM
  • Kohler
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Macy’s
  • M&M/Mars
  • ManpowerGroup
  • Maytag Appliances
  • Mercedes
  • Merck
  • Mitsubishi
  • Mobil Chemical
  • Motorola
  • NASA
  • Nestle 
  • Northrop Grumman
  • PepsiCo
  • Philip Morris International
  • PNC Financial Services Group
  • Pfizer
  • Pratt & Whitney
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Prudential
  • Raytheon
  • Rolls Royce Allison
  • Target
  • Johnson & Johnson 
  • Schindler Elevator Corporation
  • Schneider Electric
  • Shell
  • Siemens
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Staples
  • Tesla
  • Tiffany & Co.
  • Qualcomm
  • Underwriter Laboratories
  • UnitedHealth Group
  • United Technologies
  • Union Pacific
  • UPS
  • USAA
  • Verizon
  • Walmart
  • Wells Fargo
  • Westinghouse
  • Whirlpool
  • Xerox


Lean & Six Sigma World Conference




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