Culture Drives Continuous Improvement

culture2In a recent discussion a question about culture was raised, which has prompted us to begin a short series of blog posts about the importance of building a culture of continuous improvement and how the right culture drives continuous improvement.

The question to which I’m referring was, “Should there be a change in culture before implementing Six-Sigma or CI?”

Cultural issues have been discussed in several past posts, and this very issue was the subject of review during one of our Partners in Improvement sessions, during which participants agreed that despite a predominant focus on strategy and execution, ‘culture’ is the principal determinant of how well an organization does.

A few corroborating perspectives:

“Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization’s makeup and success — along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like. I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game; it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.” 

— Lou Gerstner, speaking about his IBM turnaround

Culture isn’t an important thing; it’s the ONLY thing!”

— Jim Senegal co-founder and retired CEO of Costco

Mr. Senegal’s point is that if we get the culture right, all else will follow: engaged, empowered employees (who have deep experience because turnover is so low) will hit it out of the park again and again, driving the entire organization to success.

IBM and Costco certainly have results that support the view that culture drives success. In a less publicized example, one of our partners described her CEO’s successful decision to create a culture of Continuous Improvement, and over the five year effort, the stock price has increased 780%!

But what is culture? Does it really eat strategy for breakfast, as Peter Drucker claimed? How do we build and maintain this powerful stuff?

These will be among the questions addressed in upcoming posts…