When you gather a room full of Lean Six Sigma practitioners discussing projects, the one word that always creeps into the conversation is culture. If you discuss the reasons why projects succeed or fail, culture seems to be the point that makes a difference. Without much debate, it can be agreed that an organization’s culture has a major impact on Lean Six Sigma projects and is crucial to quality. The problem comes to mind that we cannot really accurate measure or even define what exactly culture is. Without being able to put our hands on it or scientifically define it, it becomes an elusive factor, which has significant impact.
Corporate culture is defined as the pervasive values, beliefs and attitudes that characterize a company and guide its practices. To some extent, a company’s internal culture may be articulated in its mission statement or vision statement. Whether we align our strategy with our existing culture or seek to change our culture to fit our agreed strategic plans will depend on what view we take of culture. Trying to measure culture, we can look at it from two different perspectives:
- External – The culture is derived from a variety of roots and is largely unchangeable. It is influenced by factors brought into the workplace, such as religious beliefs, family beliefs and company lore embedded in the values.
- Internal – Based on the behavior of the people in the organization, who can be led and changed as often as possible to achieve the desired results when there is a need for major change.
Understanding people’s behavior is a necessary prerequisite therefore whichever view we take of culture.
For a Lean Six Sigma practitioner, understanding the culture of a corporation and what influences it is crucial to success. Our practice is based upon facts and scientific outcomes, but understanding the intangible is just as important. There will continue to be lengthy debates about the impact of culture in our practice, but it can be agreed that culture impacts outcomes greater than any other factor we face.