Behavioral Lean: The “Best of Both Worlds” Approach to Cultures of Continuous Improvement

Creating a culture of continuous improvement is an aspiration for many organizations. Continuous improvement cultures bring to mind industries such as commercial space flight. Only 55 years ago Neil Armstrong took his historical first steps on the moon. The tremendous growth of the industry—nearly 200 launches just last year—has been attributed to a dedicated and operationalized philosophy of continuous improvement. Hallmarks of Lean organizations are customer-centricity (internal and external), cross-functional collaboration, waste reduction, and a dedication to ensuring business activities are value-added. The benefits of a Lean foundation make investing in, developing, and sustaining Lean an easy decision for leaders. 

With many documented benefits, why is cultivating a Lean culture only an aspiration for many organizations? A common challenge is evident in the work environment itself. For example, in today’s ever-evolving and complex work environment, many processes are cross-functional and have a multitude of “tentacles,” or supporting, adjacent subprocesses. Without extensive discovery, downstream processes and unanticipated impacts on supporting processes are not considered when implementing an improvement initiative or redesigning a process. A process might be “fixed” in one area, while subsequently “breaking” another process in a different department. It is key to identify all potential downstream impacts/inputs/outputs, especially in matrixed organizations where processes overlap. Identifying contributing factors to failures can make leaders feel like they are caught in a loop. The high failure rate for Lean implementation results in significant direct and indirect costs to organizations. Resourcing initiatives is costly. Decreased employee engagement and other indirect costs undoubtedly detract from organizational culture. There is good news: incorporating a science-based approach to driving results using Lean methodologies is a proven strategy to achieve and sustain those results. This approach is Behavioral Lean.

The common denominator and primary differentiating factor between sustainable success and rework is people—continuous improvement is behavior. Continuous improvement involves behavior change, and once behavior change is jump-started, sustaining behavior change requires planning and deliberate action. However, a common oversight in change management is the people side of change, which requires building in positive reinforcement for the behaviors that drive business results. Behavioral Lean gives organizations the tools to address the often-overlooked change element of sustainment/maintenance.

A Behavioral Lean approach is a powerful, effective combination utilizing the scientific principles of behavior as an integral part of Lean practice. Understanding the science of behavior equips leaders to strategically incorporate positive management strategies to ensure lasting change. A culture of continuous improvement fueled by a Behavioral Lean approach increases engagement by unlocking discretionary effort (the “above and beyond” performance levels), which leads to sustainable results.

Think back to the commercial space industry—from historic first steps to hundreds of launches each year in only 55 years. The tremendous growth of the industry is the outcome of a dedicated and operationalized philosophy of continuous improvement. Where could your organization be if your continuous improvement strategies were supercharged by Behavioral Lean? The sky is no longer the limit. 

Want to learn more about Behavioral Lean? Read our book Sustain Your Gains or bring our Behavioral Lean Workshop to your site.



Posted by Ashley Stapleton

Ashley Stapleton, M.S., Lean Six-Sigma Black Belt

Ashley helps organizations create meaningful and actionable strategic objectives by delivering behavioral approaches that support clients' improvement initiatives, leadership development efforts, and culture change endeavors. She is highly regarded for her ability to provide practical applications that drive positive results. With her expertise in behavior analysis and Lean Six Sigma, she excels at developing executable strategies and solutions tailored to meet the unique needs of each organization.