Do You Really Have Management Commitment for Your Culture-Changing Initiative? Or is It Just So Much Eye Wash?

March 8, 2011
The answers to five questions will help you evaluate your management, or yourself.

After managing culture-changing events for almost 40 years, I have found there is an almost-perfect predictor of success and failure. It is the presence, or absence, of management commitment. If you have it, you will be successful; if you do not, you will fail. I find it to be the absolute litmus test of both success and failure for culture-changing events. However, this is hardly a revelation of any magnitude. Get a group of 50 seasoned veterans who are skilled at cultural change, and I doubt even one would disagree with that concept.

Yet, today a huge fraction of these culture-changing events are failing, either failing in part or just complete, total busts.

If the predictor for success is to have management commitment, why not just assure you have that? It sounds simple enough, and quite frankly, I have not seen even one culture-changing initiative undertaken where the management did not profess, We are committed. You can count on us. Alas, in the fullness of time the initiative fails, and the postmortem all too often is, We just did not have adequate management commitment.

How does this happen? We know what is needed; why dont we just do it?

As I investigate failed effort after failed effort I find a repetitive answer: While the management loudly professes to be committed, they do not really understand the depth and breadth of what it takes to be committed. While they are going through the motions they believe demonstrate commitment, they are completely missing the boat in supplying what the facility and its people actually need. Often they confuse commitment with wanting it real badly. More frequently, they confuse commitment with involvement.

Commitment is Activity-Based Engagement

Commitment is not just wanting, and it is not just being involved. Commitment is a deeper intellectual, emotional and activity-based engagement that is not only what they do, but it is also a statement of who they are and exactly how they do things.

It is easy for even a sincere manager to mistake wanting it real badly with commitment. Unfortunately, wanting is a mental state; commitment is all about action. Management commitment in any culture-changing event:

  • starts with intellectual curiosity, intellectual openness and intellectual honesty;
  • proceeds to a total commitment of both time and energy; and
  • finishes with a willingness to change both the facility and oneself. More importantly, it is a willingness to lead the necessary changes to make the facility a better money-making machine and a more secure work place for all. In the end it is all about leadership for change -- manifest in actions.

Committed people back up what they say with what they do. Commitment is a behavioral trait and can be measured by specific actions.

There is a metaphor that describes the difference between commitment and involvement. Do you ever have ham and eggs for breakfast? Think about the chicken and the pig. I propose that the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed. The chicken dropped the egg and moved on; the pig, however, literally gave his _ _ _ for your breakfast.

How does your management act? Do they come by, drop an egg or two, give you a few bawk, bawk, bawks and then move on with little interest and engagement? Or do they figurately give their _ _ _, twenty-four/seven, to make an initiative successful? Do they give their heart, mind and body to catalyze a successful culture-changing initiative?

Here is my challenge for you. Can you actually define and quantitatively measure management commitment? Or is it some obtuse, feel-good aspect you viscerally evaluate? If you cant measure it objectively, I suspect you have not thought about it enough. And if you have not thought about it enough, you are vulnerable to believing that you actually have the level of commitment you need when in reality no such thing exists. And the reality of a lack of management commitment is -- you guessed it -- certain failure.

So let me help you a bit in rising to the challenge I posted. In my book, How To Implement Lean Manufacturing (McGraw-Hill, 2009) there is a specific, objective, five-part test to measure management commitment. It is shown below:

The Five Tests of Management Commitment to Lean Manufacturing

1. Are you actively studying about and working at making your facility leaner and hence more flexible, more responsive and more competitive? (All must continue to learn and must be actively engaged; no spectators allowed!)

2. Are you willing to listen to critiques of your facility and then understand and change the areas in your facility that are not lean? (We must be intellectually open.)

3. Do you honestly and accurately assess your responsiveness and competitiveness on a global basis? (We must be intellectually honest.)

4. Are you totally engaged in the lean transition with your:

  • time
  • your presence
  • management attention
  • support, including manpower, capital and emotional support. (We must be doing it; we must be on the floor, observing talking to people and imagining how to do it better; Lean implementation is not a spectator sport)

5. Are you willing to ask, answer to and act on, How can I make this facility more flexible, more responsive and more competitive? (We must be inquisitive, willing to listen to all, including customers, suppliers, peers, superiors and subordinates alike, and then be willing and able to make the needed changes.)

A yes to all five questions means you have passed the commitment tests. Any no means there is an opportunity for management improvement.

Now with this test as a guide, do an evaluation of your management or yourself, if you are management.

For Test No. 1, presuming your culture-changing initiative is a lean implementation, ask simple questions such as: How well-read are they on our lean implementation? Have they read the suggested readings from the lean implementation team? Have they encouraged their subordinates to do the same? Have they made it obvious to others that they have done the studying? Can they ask penetrating questions to see if others understand? Do they? Are they lean-competent? When they begin to implement kanban or hoshin kanri planning, for example, can you count on them doing some research on the topic?

For Test No. 2, ask questions like: Have they hired someone to do a lean evaluation? Has the management team visited other facilities to see what is possible? How many non-lean paradigms are hindering progress? What are they doing about those needed cultural shifts?

For Test No. 3, ask questions like: Just how responsive and competitive are we? Do they compare our facilities to our competition? To what the customer really needs? Or is it just some internal comparison that avoids looking outside our boundaries? Can they quantify this? Compared to whom? What data do they have to support this? How widely have they distributed that data? Do they have action-based plans to mitigate our weaknesses and fortify our strengths?

For Test No. 4, ask questions like: Is the management team modeling the behavior that is needed, or do they expect everyone else to do the changing? When we teach 5S, do they 5S their facilities? Do they do kaizens when they expect the facility to do them? Are they on the floor, interacting with the people and observing the culture change firsthand? Do they really practice going to the gamba or is it just eye-wash? Can they ask penetrating questions about the cultural change? Do they ask for evidence? Do they ask questions and then go see?

For Test No. 5, ask questions like: Do they go to the floor, ask good questions, listen to the ideas and then take them to heart? When there is an unhealthy cultural paradigm that is obvious to the rest of the world but they do not see, are they willing to step back and think about it? Do they ask questions or simply deny that these cultural shifts are really needed? How brave are they when it comes time to take on the other managers? Are they more interested in peace in the family than in making the needed cultural changes to satisfy stockholders, customers and employees? Do they consistently exhibit the courage and character to make the needed changes when needed? Do they exhibit the courage and character to stay the course when that is appropriate? Do they have the needed vision to distinguish these two actions?

Crisis Response is the Real Litmus Test

And the real question is: Just how does your management respond in a crisis? That is the litmus test of involvement versus true commitment. Do they retreat back to the not-so-good old days, or do they stay the course and courageously take on the problems? Life with no challenges, with no problems, with no crises, is just a cocktail party. Anyone can lead under those circumstances.

So I ask you, now that you can quantify and measure management commitment: Are they intellectually engaged? Are they giving of their time and energy to show they are engaged in the things that really matter? Finally, are they willing to change and make the changes necessary so all can be successful?

Are the actions of your managers more like the chicken or the pig? Is it typical for your management to occasionally drop by, deposit an egg or two, give you a few bawk, bawk, bawks and then with a bit of self-satisfaction simply move on? Or are they like the pig, giving everything they have to make your culture-changing event a success?

Lonnie Wilson has been teaching and implementing lean and other culture-changing techniques for more than 40 years. His book, How To Implement Lean Manufacturing was released in August 2009. His new book on How to Lead and Manage a Lean Facility is under construction and will go to print in the third quarter of 2011. Wilson is a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars. In addition to IndustryWeek, he has published articles in Quality Digest and is a frequent contributor to iSixSigma magazine. His manufacturing experience spans 20 years with Chevron, where he held a number of management positions. In 1990 he founded Quality Consultants,, which teaches and applies lean and other culture-changing techniques to small entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 firms, principally in the United States, Mexico and Canada. In particular, he specializes in lean revitalizations, assisting firms that have failed or failing lean implementations and want to do it right. In his not-so-spare time, Wilson is the mens varsity soccer coach at Cathedral High School in El Paso, Texas. You can e-mail Lonnie Wilson at [email protected].

See also:

How to Design a Lean Implementation So Failure is Guaranteed

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