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How to Change a Culture: Lessons From NUMMI

The joint venture between Toyota and GM known as NUMMI yielded some surprising success stories, including the transformation of GM’s worst plant into a world-class manufacturing model. Examining how this transformation took place provides insight into corporate-culture change and lean manufacturing.

The most important and difficult “cultural shift” that has to occur in a lean-manufacturing transformation revolves around the entire concept of problems. What is our attitude toward them? What do we do when someone finds and exposes one? Making it easy to learn from mistakes means changing our attitude toward them. That is the lean cultural shift.

The way to change culture is not first to change how people think, but instead to start by changing how people behave. Integrating quality, support and ownership into the job is vital. Those of us trying to change our organizations’ culture need to define the things we want to do, establish the ways we want to behave and want others to behave, provide training and then do what is necessary to reinforce those behaviors.

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