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Bruce Hamilton

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Culture Change

When you sow seeds of change, prepare the soil

Published: Wednesday, July 29, 2020 - 12:02

Shortly after a recent post, in which I referred to sowing the seeds of change, I enlisted the help of my son, Ben, to reseed a particularly bare area of our yard. I’d neglected this spot for a few years, and it had become sparse and dormant.

Fixing the problem was therefore not merely a matter of spreading new seed. There was a significant amount of work to be done first to prepare the soil. This essentially exposed the problem and at the same time made it amenable to improvement. Had I just sown seed on the thatch and weeds that had infested the grass, the results would have been disappointing. A seed or two might have taken root, but most would have languished.

It occurred to me as I watched Ben, 50 years my junior, steadily completing a task that would have been more of a struggle for me, that changing a culture requires sweeping away an accumulation of debris from the past. Exposing the problems is hard work and not pretty. “Make problems ugly,” is a popular expression in the lean world, but exposing problems often elicits criticism from the keepers of the status quo. At least in this case, exposing the problems fortunately fell to the younger generation. I got the easy job: sowing the seeds. Each of us contributed to the change as we were able.

After three months more of creating a favorable environment for the grass, I celebrated with a Sam Adams in the space we planted together.

This time, I think, I will try harder not to take the lawn for granted. Culture change is, after all, not a discrete event but continuous improvement that engages everyone according to his individual capabilities. That’s not something to be taken for granted.

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About The Author

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Bruce Hamilton

Bruce Hamilton, president of the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership (GBMP), brings hands-on experience as a manager, teacher, and change agent. Prior to GBMP, Hamilton led efforts to transform United Electric Controls Co.’s production from a traditional batch factory to a single-piece-flow environment that has become an international showcase. Hamilton has spoken internationally on lean manufacturing, employee involvement, continuous improvement, and implementing change; and he has contributed to numerous texts ranging from visual control to variety reduction. Hamilton’s blog, Old Lean Dude, is an on-going reflection on lean philosophy and practices with an emphasis on keeping good jobs close to home.