Create a positive culture: Making a difference drives strategic advantage

By Richard Kunst   

Industry Production Manufacturing culture Lean manufacturing production

Eliminate the silos and tap the strengths of your team members.

Manage communications and you manage culture. PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK

Culture is hard to understand, difficult to measure and surrounded by wrong thinking, making it challenging to talk about in any meaningful way.

Culture is created as soon as two people collaborate. It may naturally evolve while in other cases certain elements are added to create a focus. In most cases the focus is on appreciating the strengths in others, understanding weaknesses and aiming at being the best you can be. Many organizations mimic the Toyota Production System by implementing the methodologies and hoping the culture will follow.

As a leader, you can create a positive culture through subtle mannerisms.

Treat relationships as “adult to adult.” This means respecting others to follow traditional norms such as cleaning up after yourself, working in a clean environment and respecting what is given to you.


A uniform is one way to help this along. Everybody looks the same so you can focus on the individual’s attributes.

Everyone brings strength to the organization; from the CEO who provides strategic direction and focus to the person who ensures the premises is the cleanest on the planet.

Toyota started with a key element to define its culture: Jidoka. If something is not correct, you are empowered to stop the process to apply a remedy. This is a powerful attribute. Imagine a long conveyor snaking its way through a plant engaging more than 1,500 people along the way and an individual is empowered to stop the line, thus idling all of those people until the problem is resolved. It’s not an empowerment to be taken lightly.

A big part of culture is communication:

• Is the sharing of information open and free flowing, or is information held close to the vest and used as a weapon in some cases, or protection in others?

• What is the level and style of teamwork and collaboration? Are individuals and departments working together and sharing thoughts, ideas, information and resources?

• Are people eager to work toward common goals, or are they more likely to be engaged in “turf protection” and unproductive competition?

• How are decisions made?

• How do we see problems being addressed and resolved?

• How are goals and objectives being set?

• When different ideas, facts, and opinions are held, how is agreement and consensus managed?

• What is the approach to learning? Or to innovation?

• How does your organization go about motivating and reinforcing high levels of performance, if they do so at all?

Create communities

Many companies complain about a silo mentality in their organizations. If you want to eliminate a silo culture, bulldoze the cubicles and eliminate the fancy offices. People will naturally migrate to create communities that will concentrate on helping the customer. However, just as it is in school and university, you’ll need a “library” where people can go to conduct research, study or just find a little bit of quiet time.

Daily stand-up meetings allow everyone to understand the “centre of truth.” Indeed, communication is constant through individual exchanges or meetings, but bringing everyone together for five minutes to reflect on the past 24 hours and define expectations for the coming 24 hours reduces confusion and – more importantly – rumours.

Culture makes a difference, but does it support or hinder the development and sustenance of a sustained strategic advantage, such as getting new products to market quickly, making operating and customer service decisions quickly, or implementing new technologies quickly and effectively?

You manage culture when you manage communications, problem solving, decision-making and planning, motivating for performance, collaboration and teamwork, teaching and learning, managing agreement and innovating.

Richard Kunst is president and CEO of Cambridge, Ont.-based Kunst Solutions Corp., which helps companies become more agile, develop evolutionary management and implement lean solutions. Visit E-mail

This article was featured in the January-February 2019 issue of PLANT Magazine.



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