Using the “Plan, Do, Check, Act” Model to Improve Your Company’s Culture

When artists create a beautiful painting, they begin with a blank slate. Their vision and clarity for what the painting will ultimately look like begins to improve with each successive paint stroke. CEOs can use the same learning techniques to improve their organization’s culture with the “Plan, Do, Check, Act” (PDCA) model, which increases the likelihood of success through layered improvements.

May 16 2014 by Colin D. Baird


PDCA, developed by Dr. Shewhart (of Bell Laboratories) and Dr. Deming, is a way of life for organizations such as Toyota, Boeing and Ford. All three companies use the model to analyze problems, then take a series of actions intended to improve the organization through regular Kaizen (Continuous Improvement) training activities. While PDCA is often utilized to improve a method, machine or type of material, it is also a useful tool for studying and improving an organization’s culture.

SET A BENCHMARK

Before the PDCA process is put into motion, it’s important to understand the current pulse of the organization. While information regarding other areas of the business that need improvement may be readily available, analytics on existing culture often are not. If your organization does not have this type of data, confidential environmental assessments can help establish baseline analytics that measure the pulse of the organization. These tools scientifically measure how employees and management perceive conditions in which they work, and whether the culture creates energy for employees, or drains it.

WORK THROUGH THE STEPS

As you can imagine, there are widely differing opinions between what management and workers believe to be true about their organization. Assessments uncover these differences, as well as where opportunities exist for improvement, and ultimately, the root causes of various problems.

  1. Plan. Once the assessments are complete, the Plan phase begins. Here, objectives and goals are discussed as collaborations between management and participating teams in Kaizen activities take place. Goals are then agreed to, and a formal written plan is set into motion to accomplish these outcomes.

  2. Do. During the Do phase, the plan phase’s theory is formally tested, rehearsed and then rolled out to the participating team members.

  3. Check. In the Check phase, executives and employees reflect deeply on the results based on what they’ve experienced so far. Within Toyota, this period is referred to as the “Hansei,” a Japanese event and term for deep personal reflection. Examples of the Hansei, or check phase include discussing personal contributions that led to the root causes of personal and team failures, what successes the team achieved and experienced using the new thinking, and what each individual will do to improve their future. Unlike American culture, in the Hansei, there is little finger pointing. This meditative approach encourages one to dive deeply into their own personal failures to unlock the opportunity to improve one’s self, and organization.

    Traditional Kaizen events last 1-2 weeks. When Kaizen and PDCA are used to improve culture, they take considerably more time. Having long term measurable results throughout the entire process allows analytics to be continually tracked, studied and analyzed. Data trends can be coordinated with personal observations and acted upon if improvement efforts lose their momentum. To accomplish this, individuals taking Environment Assessments should be surveyed regularly (each organization decides on their own frequency), to see what they are experiencing in the current climate. Organizations can use a compilation of these results to measure whether or not they are successfully creating new energy from their Kaizen activities.

  4. Act. Once predictions from the plan phase hold true over time, (i.e. 6 months to one year), the Act phase can then go into action, and a larger-scale rollout of the improvements may occur by division, region or other areas that have similar challenges.

When it comes to building a corporate culture, today’s leaders are creative artists with a blank canvas. With PDCA, they can sculpt and build an organization-wide culture based on mutual cooperation that both reflects their organization today and propels it into the future.

Additional reading:

Kaizen and Other Tools to Improve Culture and Boost Productivity