Are lean organizations more change agile?

Liz Guthridge Posted by Liz Guthridge, Managing Director, Connect Consulting Group.

Liz Guthridge is a coach, consultant and facilitator who helps leaders turn their blue-sky ideas into greener-pasture actions. She uses applied neuroscience, behavior design and mindful communications. 


Are lean organizations more change agile?

If you’re already a lean organization, do you enjoy a head start when implementing other strategic initiatives thanks to your commitment to continuous improvement?

My hypothesis is “yes.” Does anyone have any data one way or another that they’re willing to share?

For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been mulling over the question of whether having both a mindset and practice of continuous improvement— helps individuals and organizations adopt sustainable change faster.

Rather than take my usual approach of researching an issue first in private, I’ve decided to ask publicly.

My rationale is twofold. This is a chance to experiment crowdsourcing a question that’s important to me. And it allows me to take advantage of the 2015 NeuroLeadership Summit: Accelerate Leadership in New York City, Nov. 3-5.

The Summit draws scientists, academics and practitioners like me who are interested in bridging the frequent divide between business and science. Among other things, we’ll learn about the latest breakthrough research in applied neuroscience.

This year’s conference will examine research-driven ways to develop more effective leadership capabilities faster inside organizations.

Through the ground-breaking work of Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University, Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson of Columbia University and others, we already know that employees who have a “growth mindset” instead of a “fixed mindset” are more likely to say their company supports risk taking and fosters innovation. (See Why you don’t want to be #1 for more information.)

Risk-taking and innovation are important attributes for organizational change.

People with a “growth mindset” enjoy challenges, strive to learn, are willing to experiment, learn from their mistakes and consider weaknesses as strengths they haven’t developed…yet.

Individuals with a growth mindset personify “continuous improvement” –one of the key pillars of lean.

By contrast, people with a “fixed mindset” view their talent and skills as qualities they either possess or are without. This is the idea of being born a leader, as opposed to being able to learn how to be a leader. It’s nature vs. nurture.

If you subscribe to the concept that leaders can be made, not just born, you’ll be more likely to believe that individuals with a fixed mindset can flex and turn it into a growth mindset. And you’ll be correct.

Generally, individuals change their mindset when they’re regularly exposed to leaders and other employees with a growth mindset. Growth mindset leaders and other employees can serve as role models and inspire others to become like them. As the NeuroLeadership Group’s experience and research shows, peer pressure and role modeling are effective ways to encourage people to change their behavior.

Yet, it’s worth noting that most of the NeuroLeadership Group’s experience and research are with organizations that predominantly employ knowledge and service workers. (Some of these organizations have adopted lean, but the vast majority have not.)

What about production workers though? Are they more apt to either have a growth mindset or develop a growth mindset, especially those who work in a lean environment?

That’s one of my questions. And the other question: Are those who work in a lean organization with a focus on continuous improvement more agile around change?

In the recent NeuroLeadership webinar, Adapt: the Neuroscience of Change Agility, Heidi, who’s also affiliated with the NeuroLeadership Group, shared the many benefits of having a growth mindset when faced with organizational change.

That got me thinking about whether lean organizations with growth mindset leaders and employees are more agile with change and therefore enjoy a competitive advantage.

One of my clients fits this profile as the organization has made great strides in its second year of an ongoing transformation. Transformation has become a way of being for this organization.

The organization is taking further actions to help them embrace this new reality by learning more about the last frontier—understanding how the brain works and responds to change. I’m conducting a workshop for Global Operations leaders this week on how to lead transformation in a brain-friendly way.

Understanding how the brain works and responds to change is a great way to improve how you navigate in today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world. It’s continuous improvement in action.

Meanwhile, if you have any data about whether lean organizations that embrace continuous improvement are more change agile, please let me know.

I’m excited about discussing this issue with the scientists and academics at the NeuroLeadership Summit next week, as well as learning what else they and other practitioners are doing. Stay tuned!