9.17.2013

Global Cultures and Lean Initiatives

This past Spring, Jeffrey P. Wincel and Thomas J. Kull published a book titled People, Process, and Culture: Lean Manufacturing in the Real World. A purchaser and reader of the book, Scott E. from the University of Kentucky, had some questions. He asked: "People, Process, and Culture: Lean Manufacturing in the Real World shows there are many interesting effects that a country's culture has on Lean. This is shown by testing the influence of each cultural dimension. Aren't all these dimensions, however, happening at once? If so, how can a manager use the results specified in the book and take into account all dimensions at once?" I directed these questions directly to the authors, and here is their reply: 

Thanks Scott, this is very true. The multiple dimensions of national culture we examine are operating simultaneously. So they all could be impacting how effective Lean practices are, all at the same time. Our method of testing does account for this. That is, we allow all nine dimensions of national culture (as described in the GLOBE international study HERE) to simultaneously try to predict if Lean practices will be effective in a country. Researchers sometimes call this "competing for variance." Our results try to mimic what's happening in the real world; each of these influences exists, but which ones really stand out as impacting Lean practice effectiveness? We find four. We should note that there are many more aspects of national culture not included in our study, and we hope researchers will build on what we did to explore those. 

Now, what does this mean for managers? At the end of our book, we list the various regions of the world and how they "score" on the four dimensions of national culture that we found impactful. It's a nice table, and it summarizes potential benefits and detriments of having a specific cultural bias. For instance, Latin America scores high on a dimension called "uncertainty avoidance," which is a dimension that increases Lean effectiveness. For managers working in Latin America or working with suppliers in Latin America, they can use this knowledge. High uncertainty avoidance means there's likely a cultural bias for responding to out-of-control signals, valuing structure improvement, and being attracted to routines: each beneficial to making Lean work. We think managers can go to this table and ask themselves, "Are my people generally sensitive to uncertainty?" If yes, then maybe showing them how Lean helps this can bring more effort into making Lean work. 

Our book has many other tables that make this research easy-to-use. So I hope readers can enjoy it, learn from it, and best of all make use of it! Thanks for asking! 

What do you think of Jeffrey and Thomas’ response? As Lean initiatives expand across the globe, what effect do you think local cultures will have on the implementation of Lean methodologies?

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