The Toyota Production System or lean management has been described in many ways. It is the systematic elimination of waste. It is continuous improvement. It is striving for interruption-free processes. It is a passionate focus on serving customers. It is many things. But one aspect of lean that has not been given enough attention, in my opinion, is how lean is an organization wide system of motivation that creates a high-performance culture.

Too many lean implementations suffer from a focus on problem-solving skills, but a failure to attend to the system or culture of motivation. Too many rely on the "they oughtta wanna" assumption, which usually results in disappointment.

Competency x Motivation = Performance

Ultimately all organization performance comes down to human behavior, and there are always two aspects to achieving high performance: One is competence and the other is motivation. There must be competence in technical skills, and there must be competence in social skills such as teamwork and problem solving, for example. But, skills are useless unless individuals are motivated to use them. From my experience at Toyota and Honda and other high-performing organizations, there is a high degree of motivation for not only personal success, but the collective success of the group -- the team and the company. Many of those implementing lean would do well to focus more on creating a systematic approach to motivating all members of the organization.

In this article I will discuss some ways you can build this motivational culture.

There are dozens of theories and hundreds of books on motivation. Without entering into a debate about different theories, it is best to recognize that people are motivated by different things, at different times, and in different circumstances.

Some are motivated by a higher calling and some are motivated by money. In behavioral psychology there is the idea of "multiple schedules of reinforcement." This simply means that at the same time we may be motivated by long-term career goals, a desire to serve our family, money, and social recognition by team members. Multiple things are reinforcing (or punishing) our behavior at the same time, and our behavior is a result of the net effects of these different stimuli.

Focusing on only one source motivation (or schedule of reinforcement) is a mistake. It is better to optimize all of the forms of motivation and thereby impact the most number of people who each have their own personal desires.

The job of management is to optimize all of the available sources of motivation to increase those behaviors that contribute to the success of the organization.

It is useful to think of three types or sources of motivation: purpose or meaning; social relationships, and situational rewards and punishment. You can think of these as a hierarchy from the spiritual to the material. I suggest not judging that one is better than another. If you are starving, getting a meal is very important. At different times in our life each form of motivation may be more or less important. However, I would make the value judgment that being focused only on the material or the self is a weakness. There is a great deal of research that demonstrates that we are happier human beings when we are focused on serving others, working in groups, and when we feel that our lives are achieving an ennobling purpose.

Let's look at each of these and see how they may be optimized in your organization.