The Case for Conducting a Behavioral Lean Maturity Assessment

Organizations that embody continuous improvement are exemplars within and outside of their respective industries. Ironically, we measure nearly every key metric critical to the forward progress of our respective organizations, but many organizations have only anecdotal methods of measuring continuous improvement. There is no debate that continuous improvement is key to organizational success. Therefore, measuring the approach and integration of Behavioral Lean as part of organizational culture is essential.

There is a strong case for extending the same measurement methodologies applied to key business metrics to measuring a culture of continuous improvement. How do leaders know they have a culture of continuous improvement? What does it look like? What should people at different levels be doing and saying? How are successes identified so that success can be replicated in other areas? Where does opportunity exist? These questions present a compelling case for an objective assessment of the Behavioral Lean Maturity of an organization. The business insights gained from an assessment can empower leaders to reduce implementation variability, streamline efforts, track progress, and accelerate and sustain success. 

Assessing the integration of Behavioral Lean within an organization begins with the ability to objectively evaluate its current state. ADI accomplishes this by using an evaluation tool to rate the presence of critical features within subsystems of Behavioral Lean implementation. Performing an objective, functional assessment with a comprehensive evaluation tool allows us to identify high-performing areas in the organization as well as those areas that might need dedicated attention and focus. It ensures alignment not only on what success looks like, but the leading indicators that let you know you are on your way to realizing your organization’s continuous improvement vision. 

Each subsystem is scored against a set of critical features. Each score indicates the Behavioral Lean Maturity of a subsystem. Those scores are then plotted within the five levels of the continuum: Absent, Informal, Standardized, High-Performing, and Industry-Leading. The aggregate results on the continuum equip ADI to provide specific strengths and actionable recommendations for improvement based on the desired future state of the organization. 

This assessment provides a targeted strategy to pragmatically and sustainably address common challenges. For example, the omnipresent “Groundhog Day” effect characterized by a well-thought-out improvement initiative, implemented with the best of intentions. Positive results typically follow for the subsequent 30, 60, and 90 days. Then, unfortunately, a reversal backward, eventually to baseline. Frustration, disengagement, and rework results. This vicious circle is a byproduct of a combination of factors and characteristics associated with the Informal level on the Behavioral Lean Assessment. In this Informal stage, leaders may inadvertently discourage engagement in continuous improvement initiatives through “do it or else” approaches (negative reinforcement). Leaders may find themselves saying things like, “This is the new process. I expect the team to do it the new way moving forward.” Having elevated expectations is great, but improvement is simply not sustainable when governed by a “do it or else” approach. Behavior science reliably predicts this variation in performance. Teams revert to old habits/behaviors or processes, which in turn delivers the results that the former process was designed to deliver.

Take for example, the use of a process map. Many organizations use process mapping as a tool to drive standardization and agreement across cross-functional, complex work environments. Process maps can be fantastic, effective tools to specify the behaviors required to produce a business outcome. They outline which function performs what activity (i.e., behavior) at a designated point in the process. Intentional use of a process map yields standardized results, aligns all key stakeholders, and clearly outlines inputs and outputs. There is no doubt that process maps can be powerful tools to drive results. But as stated above, they can only prompt a process behavior to occur. There is nothing about a process map itself to sustain the behavior or encourage the behavior to recur. One may argue that the tie to results would sustain the behavior, but that potential improvement in results is far removed from the day-to-day activities and competing priorities in the workplace. Positive reinforcement is required to build and sustain new process habits. Behavioral Lean builds that reinforcement into the process rather than leaving it to chance. 

Organizations that embed a Behavioral Lean approach that integrates positive reinforcement into their continuous improvement tools and strategies set themselves up for sustainable success. These organizations have progressed to the High-Performing or Industry-Leading level on the continuum. Lean tools and principles are integrated into how work is done, and leaders provide feedback and positive reinforcement during projects. A Behavioral Lean approach proactivity eliminates common pitfalls, mitigates variation, and is designed for sustainable success utilizing positive reinforcement. As previously stated, the primary differentiating factor between sustainable success and rework is people—continuous improvement is behavior. A science-based approach, applied to Lean methodologies, is powerful and effective. Leaders can position their organizations on a rapid trajectory toward industry leadership by implementing a Behavioral Lean approach to continuous improvement strategies. 


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.