Think Lean: Values build culture

May 13, 2010
by Richard Kunst

Create values based on intregrity, respect for individuals and communication.

Photo: iStockphoto

Lean seeks the perfect process through the elimination of waste. Its success relies on respect for people, but what does that actually mean? We talk about creating relationships where personal values are aligned with the organization’s values, but typically these values are not articulated in a way that can be followed.

I recently attended the Ethical Leadership Summit at the Soderquist Center ( where Don Soderquist spent considerable time discussing the power of having articulated values present and visible within the organization. During his tenure with Wal-Mart the organization marched to the following values:

• A vision that was more than financial
• A culture based on its values
• A genuine dedication to its people
• A commitment to customers
• A partnership with suppliers
• A proactive approach to change
• A passion for excellence
• A continuing strategic focus
• A committed leadership
• Execution

Wal-Mart’s current tag line is “Spend Less, Live Better,” which is an extension of Sam Walton’s original vision to improve the standard of living for people that shopped at his stores. He saw Wal-Mart as the purchasing agent for its customers. As it negotiated better prices, savings were equally shared with 30% benefiting Wal-Mart, 30% the supplier and 30% applied to roll-back prices.

Soderquist mentioned he needed to know the name of the janitor, since this person more than others was tagged to preserve the image of the values of the organization. He was also very proud to note that 70% of current Wal-Mart managers started as hourly managers.

Other leadership secrets he shared include the following:

• Leaders set the course, people do the work.
• Progression planning versus succession planning.
• If the organization is growing by 30% how is your personal growth growing?
• Dream big.
• Faith sometimes can be more important than data.
• As a leader you are always on the clock.
• Life is a mosaic not a puzzle.

Create non-negotiable values based on integrity, respect for individuals and communication, because we are working to create authentic leaders, not karaoke managers.

Richard Kunst is president and CEO of Kunst Solutions Corp., which publishes the “Lean Thoughts” e-newsletter. E-mail