Expert Manufacturing Advice tailored for step-by-step implementation in the workplace. Small Manufacturers, Machine Shops and CAD Engineers improve and thrive with our hands-on help. Embedding Lean Culture: Getting the Best out of your People

Embedding Lean Culture:
Getting the Best out of your People


Lean tools and techniques, although extremely effective, will not be enough to deliver a lean culture that lasts in your organisation. The fact is people require convincing, particular when being asked to change to something new. Your aim should be to deeply embed and sustain lean thinking so it lasts for the long term and delivers tangible benefits. For this to happen employees require leadership. They need lean culture and behaviours to be demonstrated, before they can be led. They need to be shown what it’s all about, what the benefits are both for the organisation and for them personally, before they are likely to be convinced and commit.

In short you and your organisation require a combination of both lean tools and effective lean leadership to make the leap and reap the benefits.

Well we’ve seen the tools, but what does lean leadership look like? Well an effective lean leader does a number of things. These include:

  • Help train and instruct other employees so they have the knowledge, skills and tools to solve problems and continually improve.

  • Facilitate and organise informal and formal training to support the above point where necessary.

  • Encourage a culture where managers and staff work together to resolve issues and make improvements.

  • Lead by example through support and encouragement by what you say, how you facilitate lean activities and how you act. ‘Think’ lean and demonstrate it through your behaviour. Blend this with your normal management style to appear natural.

  • Ensure your lean knowledge and training remains up to date and is periodically refreshed.



  • When selecting employees to assist implementation, use the traits of your staff to your advantage! Get proactive, vocal, self-starters – perhaps with shorter attention spans, to kick things off. Just as importantly, to sustain lean gains, employ your consistent, methodical, conscientious types to ensure good ideas bed-in.

Behaviours and cultural change are notoriously difficult to sustain. Fortunately practical examples exist to guide you and your organisation.

Lean Culture


Real People, Real Teamwork, Real Lean Application in the Workplace 


Toyota Lean Leadership Considerations

Toyota have long been innovators in the development of lean concepts, as well as pioneering the philosophy’s practical application. The auto manufacturer emphasises the importance of everyone learning and continuously improving. Here are some of their lean leadership considerations:

  • When lean problem solving, strive for the best results rather than settling for ‘that will do’.

  • Lean managers should lead by example. They should learn and use the tools, use the language and constantly look to eliminate waste and add value for the customer.

  • Problem solving should be rapid. Attempt to solve what you can yourself or with the team. Quickly escalate issues you can’t resolve.

  • Try to stay as positive as possible. This encourages others to do likewise, as well as increasing commitment. The opposite is also true so discourage negativity.

  • Listen to others. Elicit their opinions; they are a rich source of what is actually going on. Use Gemba walks to facilitate this. Hold open, yet courteous conversations to gain a greater understanding of the issues. Practice giving and receiving feedback as a means of building trust.

  • Understand committing time, effort and energy is a long term investment. Benefits will materialise over time. Do not worry about things being perfect before starting. Instead introduce ideas swiftly, and use the continual improvement nature of the lean tools to make enhancements in the medium and longer term.

  • Empower employees. Give them opportunities to lead improvement initiatives and problem solving activities. Support and encourage them. Provide the tools and training they need. Give them ownership and watch them thrive, as well as see their commitment saw.

  • As a leader, serve others and facilitate by giving employees the skills and empowerment to make lean culture spread.


Jim Womack Lean Leadership Considerations

Jim Womack is also one of the founding fathers of the application of many lean concepts now widely used in industry. As part of the drive to embed lean culture and encourage lean leadership, he emphasises ‘a lean state of mind’. One of the often quoted, but not always practiced start points, is strong senior management support. This is crucial to embed lean thinking. In addition, Womack states the lean manager should also consider the following:

  • They should proactively serve as the problem solver. They should seek out problems with the aim of identifying the root cause. A questioning attitude and good communication skills, coupled with tenacity are all traits to be encouraged. The lean manager should help the team to identify solutions and resolve issues.

  • In the first instance when discovered, problems should be solved by those at that level of the business. So no manager should be delving down and micromanaging. Instead encourage delegated authority and empowerment to those where the problem resides. This provides an opportunity for those at the Gemba to learn and apply the tools.

  • Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) should be used to resolve problems. The Deming Cycle provides an opportunity to solve problems in a structured way, through     experimentation, as well as encouraging learning and continual improvement.



  • The lean manager should be proactive, constantly looking for the next challenge and application of the tools, in the spirit of continual improvement. No problem is solved forever.

Womack Modern Vs Lean Management from Chet Marchwinski

Next... Lean Considerations - Sustaining the Gains: What Lean Leaders do


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