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Sociology of LeanDarrell Rogers

By Darrell Rogers, Training Specialist

Social Norms

Sociology is the study of people in groups, the study of social behavior. One of the fundamental elements of this study is recognizing the social mores and norms. Norms are group-held beliefs (typically unstated and undocumented) about how members should behave in a given context.

Some behaviors occur that are outside the norms of the group. The response to these behaviors functions as an attempt to move them back into line with what is acceptable. Behavior that fits the norm is encouraged and behavior that does not is discouraged. Enforcement is very powerful, ubiquitous, and effective.

Enforcement of a set of group norms creates a "Stable Social Structure.” This structure is a transparent but predictable, reliable and consistent set of behaviors that are manifested in literally every interaction, transaction, and decision within the group.

Social Capability

If the norms of the current stable social structure discourage the types of behaviors needed in the Lean environment, this is likely to be the root cause of our inability to create or maintain a new culture of continuous improvement.

We know that capability analysis measures the ability of a process or system, based on its normal state, to do what it’s supposed to do. “Social Capability” determines if the existing stable social structure enhances or constrains efforts to become Lean. The viability and sustainability of all Lean/TPS, SixSigma, or Continuous Improvement implementations are determined by our social capability.

Social Destabilization

In an organization that lacks social capability the existing stable social structure must be destabilized and then re-invented with new and more effective norms. Efforts to create a culture of continuous improvement/problem-solving without social capability are ultimately destined to fail or be marginally successful.

Destabilizing the existing Stable Social Structure is dangerous and treacherous work. To create true systemic change this work must be done by the top leadership of the organization. Individuals who are not in top leadership roles can certainly demonstrate more socially capable behaviors but they will ultimately leave, be asked to leave, or become resigned to the current status of social capability.

Social Leadership

This combination of organizational and personal strength needed to change an organization’s Social Capability comes from two types of leaders: “Revolutionary” and “Revelationary”

Revolutionary Leaders come from outside the “core” organization. They may be total outsiders or they may come from somewhere within a larger organization.

“Revelationary Leaders” are already in charge of the organization or have significant autonomous authority. They may be founders, “O” level executives, or owners.

Both types of leaders have three attributes:

  1. They realize that a non-capable Stable Social Structure exists in their own organizations.
  2. They realize that it MUST be changed in order to be successful on the journey of continuous improvement. Revelationary leaders may even have been complicit in its establishment or perpetuation.
  3. They become the agents of destabilization of the old, non-capable social structure and they re-stabilize outside the old norm in an aggressive, demonstrable, consistent manner until a new set of norms develops. They socially destabilize in order to create social capability.

Darrell Rogers
NMC Training Services
(231) 995-2006

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