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Relationships between national culture and Lean
Management: a literature Review
(presented at the 6th IESM Conference, October 2015, Seville, Spain) © I 4e2 2015
Anne Francine Martins
Arts et Métiers ParisTech,
151 boulevard de l'Hôpital,
Roberta Costa Affonso
3 rue Fernand-Hainaut,
MINES ParisTech, PSL
60 boulevard Saint-Michel,
Arts et Métiers ParisTech,
151 boulevard de l'Hôpital,
Christine Baldy Ngayo,
1, rue de la Libération, Jouy
en Josas, France
Abstract - In an increasingly volatile, globalized, and demanding
market, Lean is the differential factor that could increase companies'
competitiveness and efficiency. In spite of the abundant literature
addressing Lean system's technical aspects, there has been little
discussion on the importance of national culture in Lean's
implementation process. It has been proven that the implementation
of lean practices do not always produce the intended results and
national culture has been highlighted as one of the contextual
variables that may explain the success or failure of Lean practices.
Since companies are inffluenced by the culture of the country where
they're located, some comparative advantages may occur due to their
location, making it necessary to adjust Lean's implementation
process to national culture. The purpose of this article is to propose
a literature review to examine the relationship between national
culture and Lean Management. This study explores the assertions
and/or contradictions found in the literature regarding the cultural
dimensions that may act as enablers or withholders to the lean
principles and practices.
Keywords—Lean; practices; national culture; multicultural
In the last decades, the market has become even more
volatile and competitive, demanding constant efforts of
organizations in order to evolve towards the achievement of
managerial excellence. In this scenario of change and even
instability, the ability to adapt is crucial and decisive for the
survival of firms. As a result, new management methods
emerged to agilely drive the development of organizations with
robust rules adapted to the evolving economic and societal
One of the major approaches used by companies to achieve
efficiency and improvement of their industrial system is the
implementation of Lean Management. The term “Lean” was
first proposed by Womack et al.  in the book “The machine
that changed the world”. Nonetheless, foundations of Lean
Management were practically introduced in the Toyota
factories in the 70s named TPS (Toyota Production System).
The goal of Lean is to maximize customer value while
minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for
customers with fewer resources.
A common mistake made by many companies is focusing
the Lean implementation on the deployment of tools and
technology without considering human, social and cultural
aspects. This mistake can cause Lean implementation failure
. The historical, philosophical and cultural heritage of Lean
Management is linked to the uniqueness of the Japanese model.
Consequently, it is not simple to implement such approach in
companies based in other countries. Indeed, cultural factors are
essential when it comes to the understanding of Lean practices
whenever they are implemented in different cultures.
Tanure  suggests that the notion of the Lean model itself
changes when it is to be implemented in a different culture.
Important differences arise from local translations and
interpretations resulting from the interaction between the
organizational structures. In this sense, the understanding of
the cultural differences between the Japanese society (source
of the original model) and the local culture of the system
application must be considered .
Several managers and researchers state that culture is a key
factor when developing and applying management techniques
[2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11]. It has been proven that cultural
differences can affect the approach and speed of change .
The nature of management skills needs to be adapted to
cultural specificities, I.E. a management technique or
philosophy that is appropriate in one national culture is not
necessarily appropriate in another .
The aim of this article is to propose the state-of-the-art to
examine the relationship between national culture and Lean
Management, seeking to identify the main cultural
characteristics that impact the lean approach and furthermore
propose research perspectives.
The state-of-the-art intends to answer the following
Do studies find a relationship between cultural
influences and the implementation of Lean
If so, which cultural dimensions have been identified
as potential enablers or withholders of the Lean
Following this introduction, relevant literatures are
reviewed in the next section. Section 3 presents our research
methodology, followed by discussion in Section 4. Section 5
concludes with a summary of findings and suggestions for
II. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
In order to perform this literature review relevant data
sources and keywords were identified; the databases included
Science Direct, Emerald, Jstor, and Springer Linker.
The research of the articles was oriented by choosing a set
of keywords (and its combinations) that could be significant to
the national culture influence in the Lean Management. The
key terms used in the research were: Lean Management,
culture, national culture values, Kaizen, TQM, Six sigma,
transfer of Japanese management styles.
As a result, a total of 61 articles meeting the inclusion
criteria were selected for the review. The bibliography includes
journal publications, working papers, conference papers,
dissertations and books. The selected articles were published
between 1983 and 2014.
III. LITERATURE REVIEW
A. A multicultural management between two hypothesis
"Culture is the collective programming of the mind that
distinguishes the members of one group or category of people
from others" , in other words, culture is the compass that
provides instructions that are similar in a given population. In
effect, despite the great diversity of existing mentalities in a
country, there is a structure that serves as a basis for mutual
understanding and composed by the dimensions that define the
cultural differences [13, 14, 15, 16].
Companies often neglect the cultural assumptions
embedded in traditional management programs regarding
human resources, which can cause failure of the
implementation of such practices, when their values are in
contrast with dominant cultural values . Therefore it is
important to decide how to take into account such values
whenever a firm is to deploy a multicultural management
In order to ascertain, whether or not, should a company
adapt its management practices to the local culture, two main
hypothesis emerge: the convergence hypothesis and the
The convergence hypothesis [17,18] asserts that
learning will lead managers from different cultures to
adopt the same efficient management practices. This
theory argues that management programs are
universal, I.E., cultural differences are irrelevant in the
The culture-specific hypothesis argues that “the
management practices should be adapted to local
cultural aspects”, therefore it would not be possible to
simply apply standard methods to any country, with
the intention of improving performance [17, 18].
B. Dimensions that characterize cultural differences
Hofstede is the pioneer in the field of national culture and
its effects on management. He developed his original model by
using factor analysis in order to examine a worldwide survey
of IBM employee’s values. The survey was conducted twice in
1968 and 1972 producing more than 116.000 questionnaires.
These results provided the first representative worldwide data
that could be quantified and analysed in order to explain the
differences between cultures . As a result, Hofstede
identified six dimensions or ‘problem areas’ which
characterize basic differences among national cultures:
1. power distance;
2. individualism versus collectivism;
3. uncertainty avoidance;
5. long term orientation;
6. indulgence versus restraint.
Following the steps of Hofstede, The GLOBE Project
(Global Leadership and Organizational Behaviour
Effectiveness Research) was conceived in 1991 in the
University of Pennsylvania. The project looked at 62 societies
with different cultures, which were studied by researchers
working in their home countries. This international team
collected data from 17,300 middle managers in 951
organizations. They used qualitative methods to assist
their development of quantitative instruments. The research
identified nine cultural competencies and grouped the 62
countries into ten geographic clusters, including Latin
American, Nordic European, Sub-Saharan, and Confucian
The study was designed to replicate and expand on
Hofstede’s work and proposed three new dimensions :
1. human orientation;
2. performance orientation;
3. assertiveness orientation.
In 1998, Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner developed
“Seven Dimensions of Culture” , a model to explain
national cultural differences in organizations. They also
proposed some guidelines for managing such differences in a
heterogeneous business environment. Their works involved a
large-scale survey of 8,841 managers and organization
employees from 43 countries. The authors identified seven
1. universalism / particularism;
2. individualism / collectivism;
3. neutral / emotional;
4. specific / diffuse;
5. achievement / ascription;
6. sequential / synchronic;
7. internal direction / outer direction.
According to D’Iribarne [20, 21], “modern management
tools certainly are, in principle, universally applicable,
however they only reach their full potential when their sense is
shaped by the particular visions of each culture”. The author
studied companies in different countries, with a historical and
ethnographic approach, in order to identify the cultural logic of
organizations. In his works, the author presents the analysis
1. sense of duty;
2. hierarchical relationships;
3. perception of control;
4. definition of responsibilities;
6. quality of cooperation;
These categories vary according to cultural logics and
therefore national contexts. This research was conducted in
three organisations: one firm in France and its two subsidiaries
(United States and Holland). The author highlighted important
differences in cultural logics in terms of “responsibilities” and
“ways to formulate, evaluate results and recompense, or
sanction” [20, 21].
Table 1 summarizes the definitions of the cultural
dimensions identified in the models. It is interesting to notice
that all studies include the dimensions of “uncertainty
avoidance” and “power distance”. Moreover, Hofstede’s
“masculinity” dimension is comparable to the two dimensions
of “gender egalitarianism” and “assertiveness” in the GLOBE
study. Similarly, Hofstede’s “collectivism” can be matched
with GLOBE project’s “institutional and in-group
collectivism” and D’Iribarne’s “quality of cooperation”.
Hofstede’s “indulgence / restraint” is similar to D’Iribarne’s
“perception of control”. Finally, Hofstede’s “long-term
orientation” is similar to GLOBE’s “future orientation” and to
Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner’s sequential / synchronic.
TABLE 1. DEFINITIONS AND EQUIVALENCES OF THE CULTURAL DIMENSIONS IDENTIFIED IN THE STUDIED MODELS.
Trompenaars and Hampden-
The degree to which
organizations or societies are
comfortable with upwards
influence in the power structure.
In high PD societies there is
accept of inequality in
distribution on power in society.
The degree to which members of
an organization or society expect
and agree that power should be
Achievement / ascription: the
degree to which individuals must
prove themselves to receive status
(achievement) versus status
simply given to them (ascription).
association between different
organizational levels of
concentration of power, which
indicates the level of legitimacy of
The degree to which members of
an organizations or society are
comfortable with taking risks.
Low UA = people willing to
change the way they work or live.
High UA = people preferring the
The extent to which members of
an organization or society strive to
avoid uncertainty by reliance on
social norms, rituals, and
bureaucratic practices to alleviate
the unpredictability of future
Universalism / particularism: the
degree of importance a culture
assigns to either the law
(universalism) or to personal
Regulation: formal and/or informal
Reflect whether certain
organization or society is
predominantly male or female in
terms of cultural values, gender
roles and power relations.
Gender egalitarianism: the degree
to which a collective minimizes
The degree to which individuals
or societies prioritize personal
needs and goals in comparison to
the needs and goals of the
Institutional collectivism: the
degree to which organizational
and societal institutional practices
encourage and reward collective
distribution of resources and
The degree to which people see
themselves function more as a
community or more as individuals.
Quality of cooperation: the degree
to which credibility and trust are
installed between individuals.
In-group collectivism: the degree
to which individuals express pride,
loyalty, and cohesiveness in their
organizations or families.
Long-term perspective, planning
for future, perseverance values
vs. short time past and present
The degree to which individuals in
organizations or societies engage
in future-oriented behaviours such
as planning, investing in the
future, and delaying gratification.
Sequential / synchronic: the
degree to which individuals do
things one at a time (sequential)
versus several things at once
Indulgence: the degree to which
organizations or societies allow
relatively free gratification of
basic and natural human drives
related to enjoying life and
having fun. Restraint: the degree
to which organizations or
societies suppresses gratification
of needs and regulates it by
means of strict social norms.
Perception of control: level and
compliance with established
standards and with the authority.
Perception of freedom: aversion to
The degree to which individuals in
organizations or societies
encourage and reward individuals
for being fair, altruistic, friendly,
generous, caring, and kind to
Refers to the extent to which an
organization or society encourages
and rewards group members for
performance improvement and
Sanctions: refers to the
management of rewards and
The degree to which organizations
or societies are assertive,
confrontational, and aggressive in
The degree to which individuals
display their emotions.
The degree to which responsibility
is specifically assigned (specific)
or is diffusely accepted (diffuse).
The degree to which individuals
believe the environment can be
controlled (internal direction)
versus believing that the
environment controls them (outer
Sense of duty
Awareness of rights and duties.
Codification of rights and duties;
distribution of work and
C. The Japanese: a tradition of continuous improvement
According to Hofstede  the Japanese culture made
possible a commitment to quality throughout its rigorous social
ranks. Although not intended to refer explicitly to a particular
approach in the field of “quality”, this statement is valid for most
quality management techniques  as no other country
succeeded as Japan did in such domain. Several authors analysed
the influence of cultural dimensions in the implementation of
TQM (Total Quality Management) [2, 9, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27,
28].The main topics of these studies are:
the impact of national culture on quality programs,
analysing the influence of cultural dimensions of
Hofstede / GLOBE project / Trompenaars in the
understanding and application of TQM [5, 10, 11, 29,
30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36];
relationships between organizational culture, national
culture and TQM practices [3, 9, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28];
transferability of Japanese suggestion systems ;
comparison of the implementation results of TQM
between companies in different countries [6, 8, 10, 26,
32, 34, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42];
relationships between the Baldrige constructs (a TQM
Prize in U.S.A.) and the cultural dimensions of Hofstede
convergence hypothesis and culture-specific hypothesis
in TQM processes [44, 45]
Relationship entre critical success factors and TQM [17,
43, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50,51]
These studies affirm that the implementation of continuous
improvement and quality management tools, are unquestionably
connected to cultural differences. It is shown that western
management culture has an important focus on obtaining short-
term results, as opposed to oriental culture, which tends to
prioritize the long-term results [3, 4, 5, 22, 27, 38]. In addition,
Japanese and other oriental cultures have traditional heritage of
teamwork that enhances the dimension of collectivism, "the
success of the aforementioned Japanese model is largely due to
a unique cultural heritage" . As a result the long-term-
collectivist orientation facilitates the implementation of TQM,
and the western short-term-individualism makes it –sometimes-
hard to achieve.
National culture plays a very important role in the
deployment of processes and Japanese techniques, as it
influences the comprehension and the way of implementing
such approaches. In this sense, many studies use cultural
dimensions (mainly Hofstede’s and GLOBE Project’s) in order
to associate differences in Lean management with cultural
characteristics. One example illustrated by Flynn and Saladin
 explored the relationship between Hofstede’s cultural
standards and the Baldridge Award
. The authors have found a
positive correlation between TQM values, collectivism
dimension, and masculinity.
The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award is the national quality
award that recognizes U.S. organizations in the business, health care, education,
and nonprofit sectors for performance excellence. The Baldrige Award is the
only formal recognition of the performance excellence of both public and
private U.S. organizations given by the President of the United States. It is
administered by the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, which is based
at and managed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, an
Galperin and Lituchy  analysed the implementation of
TQM in Canada and Mexico. According to the authors,
companies with a collectivist culture, such as the Mexican, are
more successful at implementing TQM than firms in an
individualistic culture, such as the Canadian.
Recht and Wilderom  examined the transferability of
Japanese suggestion systems. According to the authors for a
successful transfer, five organizational and cultural conditions
a clear employee orientation;
a free flow of information;
a so-called ‘pragmative’ orientation;
employees who are both process- and results-oriented.
In addition, the authors indicate that for successful
implementation it is necessary to have the same cultural
alignment as Japan, I.E., high long-term orientation, high
uncertainty avoidance, moderate individualism, moderate
power distance and strong masculinity.
Lagrosen  bases his works on Hofstede’s model and
shows how TQM carries different connotations in each country.
He highlights that dimensions of “power distance” and
“acceptance of uncertainty” play an important role in this
adaptation of TQM to local environments. Subsequent work of
Lagrosen  addressed that countries with “low uncertainty
avoidance” and “high collectivism” have a tendency to be
Although the literature used in this state-of-the-art is related
the culture influences in TQM, not all of them are focused
directly on the issue of defining success factors to operational
points of the TQM implementation. Although, authors agree that
when countries have different critical success factors, the
national culture can be the difference in the successful
implementation [43, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50,51].
Some of the studies verify the compatibility of Lean Man-
agement with Confucian principles
[5, 6, 37, 38]. Lo  states
that Confucian instructions can difficult Lean implementation
in China, the author suggests that managers ought to use the
same Confucianism principles to adapt Lean practices.
Philipsen, Littrell  conducted a study to look at possible cul-
tural effects of the implementation of Lean Six Sigma in China
(according to GLOBE’s dimensions). The authors state that
when implementing Lean Six Sigma in China the critical factors
to consider are: the national cultural values, team performance,
the country’s history, the chinese adherence to authority and
personal motivation stimuli.
agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce 
Confucianism is not a religion in the traditional sense. It is an ethical code.
These values permeate Chinese culture and everyday life, and also influenced
cultures of neighboring countries. The six principles that many recognize in
Confucianism are [5, 10] humanity, gain, righteousness, reverence, moral
wisdom and authority.
We also highlight the work of Tortorella and Fogliatto 
who presented a method for assessing the impact of
sociocultural aspects (human resources management practices
and organisational learning factors) in a Brazilian company
under lean implementation. The proposed method integrates
phases of the Lean Enterprise Model roadmap and the DLOQ
(Dimensions of the Learning Organization Questionnaire). The
method proposes two main steps:
data collection and maturity analysis (determination of
organizational learning problems’ frequency, analysis of
maturity levels, consolidation of improvement
definition of an improvements’ portfolio (definition of
criteria weights and attributes, prioritisation of
improvement opportunities, ranking of improvement
We would like to particularly point out the works of
Abrahamsson and Isaksson’s , which compared Lean’s 14
principles (developed by Liker ) to Hofstede’s dimensions
in order to obtain a global image of how the cultures of different
countries could affect the “will” and “capability” of an
organization to implement and use Lean. As shown in Figure 1
several Lean principles relate to the uncertainty avoidance,
individualism and power distance, these relations are explored
in the following sections.
FIGURE 1. RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LIKER’S 14 LEAN PRINCIPLES AND
HOFSTEDE’S DIMENSIONS (CREATED FROM THE RESULTS OBTAINED BY
ABRAHAMSSON AND ISAKSSON’S ).
Liker’s 14 principles are divided into four categories:
philosophy (long term thinking), process (waste elimination),
people and partners (respect, challenge and growth) and problem
solving (continuous improvement and learning).
As presented in Figure 1, the authors identified 27 correla-
tions . In addition, the authors developed a scale to measure
the degree of adhesion between Hofstede’s dimensions and
Lean’s 14 principles (Table 2). The correlations were evaluated
considering three different levels: weak, medium and strong
and if the correlation was positive or negative. For each of the
cultural dimensions a correlation sum was calculated by weak
(W) as 1, medium (M) as 2 and strong (S) as 3. The results in
Table 2 indicate that a strong PDI and MAS are affecting an
organization negatively and that a strong UAI and LTO are af-
fecting organization positively. Moreover, the number of
correlations shows that PDI (8 correlations) and UAI (7 corre-
lations) impact more effectively in different lean principles
. Despite the importance of long term orientation, this di-
mension has few correlations (4 correlations).
On the other hand, some works present Lean's implementa-
tion experiences in a diverse cultural context. In this case, a
particular mention should be made of Wangwacharakul's work
 for investigating the discrepancies and similarities of
Lean's Product Development System implementation process
(LPDS) between Swedish companies and the original Japanese
model. For the author, the main cultural differences are:
a) The Swedish are more focused in increasing creativity than
b) In Swedish companies hierarchy isn't rigid, as opposed to the
c) Swedish companies stimulate a democratic leadership where
a team is consulted in decision-making, as opposed to the
Japanese style that follows an autocratic leadership where
workers have little participation in decision-making.
Moreover, “the Swedish culture on autonomous and
equality have positive effects in preserving creativity in
Swedish organizations under LPDS and also help balancing
working and individual life of employees” .
Lastly, it is important to recognize that the main
characteristics of the Lean approach can have some Japanese
culture aspects that are crucial to its development. Cuche 
reminds us that the Lean model is "Japanese in the narrow sense
of the term” for it is directly inspired by the fundamental aspects
of the Japanese culture and is based on Japan’s social structures.
Following this same perspective, Tanure  also emphasizes
that the Japanese style of management was driven of the
specificities of Japanese culture.
The works presented in this section highlight the relationship
between the cultural dimensions and the implementation of
production management tools. The respect the national culture
should not be neglected in order to reduce the risks of failure due
to a possible lack of understanding by employees. "The
implications of the cultural differences can have a large effect
on the effectiveness of quality management systems" .
TABLE 2. CORRELATION BETWEEN LIKER’S 14 PRINCIPLES FOR LEAN WITH HOFSTEDE’S FIVE CULTURAL DIMENSIONS .
Base management decisions on a long-term philosophy,
even at the expense of short-term financial goals
Create a continuous process flow to bring problems to the
Use ‘pull’ systems to avoid overproduction
Level out the workload (work like the tortoise, not the hare)
Build a culture of stopping to fix problems, to get quality
right the first time
Standardized tasks and processes are the foundation for
continuous improvement and employee empowerment
Use visual controls so no problems are hidden
Use only reliable, thoroughly tested technology that serves
your people and process
Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the
philosophy, and teach it to others
Develop exceptional people and teams who follow your
Respect your extended network of partners and suppliers by
challenging them and helping them improve
Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the
Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly
considering all options; implement decisions rapidly
Become a learning organization through relentless reflection
and continuous improvement
Sum of correlation
Number of connections
IV. ANALYSIS OF THE LITERATURE
Since Lean Management emergence, many studies have
explored the techniques and tools for Lean’s implementation
process. Many companies have successfully achieved it but
have faced difficulties worldwide. One of the reasons for
failure is the negligence of cultural aspects in the process of
change, which can evidence the employees’ as well as the
directors’ lack of comprehension and engagement regarding
Lean principles .
Based on the literature review, the majority of
multicultural management research falls into one of two
categories: a) unicultural (single-culture studies) and b)
In general, unicultural articles are those that “focus on
the management of organizations in a single country”
[57,58]. Our literature review identified several
unicultural studies [2, 4, 11, 12, 22, 23, 27, 30, 31, 38,
42, 52, 53].
Comparative studies are those that “focus on a
comparison between (among) the organizations in
any two or more countries or cultures” [54, 55]. Our
literature review also presented several comparative
studies [7, 8, 9, 10, 17, 26, 28, 32, 33, 34, 43, 44, 45,
58, 59, 60].
The articles analysed validate the culture-specific hypoth-
esis, which questions the universal applicability of any
standardized business practice.
It is important to notice that most of the reviewed articles
have explicit focus on cultural issues and how they impact on
the efficiency of production tools (TQM, Lean, and Six
Sigma). Total Quality Management being the most present
tool in the works analysed up to this point.
A. Important assessments
Some studies use the Hofstede’s / GLOBE’s cultural
dimensions to associate differences in the Lean approaches
with cultural aspects. In that sense, literature discusses the
cultural matter in regards to the following dimensions:
Power Distance (PD): countries with a low PD
emphasize their employees’ education, whereas countries
with a high PD emphasize reinforcement of leadership in
order to achieve a higher level of efficiency. Moreover, power
distance has an important impact on the reactivity of the
decision-making process for it could represent a limitation of
the employees’ autonomy. However, countries with a high
collectivism dread traditions that could obstruct the process of
change [7, 10, 11, 17, 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 32, 35, 50,
56, 57,58,59,60]. According to Mathews et al  “low power
distance might suggest that peer or management control
would be less acceptable than self-assessments or
Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI): fear of change has a
positive influence over quality control efficiency, according
to [6, 10, 22, 28, 32, 34, 41, 59]; Silva  suggests that
employees in cultures that verge towards predictability and
understanding will be motivated to apply systematic
approaches for quality management. Furthermore, countries
with a high uncertainty control have a strict organizational
structure with clearly defined rules [32, 34, 35, 36]. However,
authors agree that in cultures with high uncertainty avoidance,
employees are motivated to follow established standards.
Regarding customer relations, countries with low uncertainty
avoidance concentrate on a small number of major customers;
on the other hand, countries with high uncertainty avoidance,
the tendency is to treat every customer equally. In this case, a
high level of uncertainty avoidance is compatible with strong
standards within the process, the implementation of strict rules
in the whole organizational structure, and the implementation
of well-structured continuous improvement programs. The
relation between the uncertainty dimension and the success of
certification initiatives (such as ISO) has proven to be
important [2, 9, 12, 17, 24, 25, 29, 36, 58, 59, 61]. According
to Philipsen and Littrell , “although resistance to change
is associated with high uncertainty avoidance, it is expected
that high uncertainty avoidance will have a positive effect on
Lean Six Sigma effectiveness”.
Individualism / collectivism (IDV): Countries with a
high level of collectivism will have a high degree of employee
empowerment and will encourage long-term relationships.
They prefer group-oriented objectives and seek to find
consensus in decision-making. Authors agree that high
collectivism motivates conflict resolution through
compromise as well as equality in the sharing of rewards.
Regarding quality practices, employees with a collectivist
predisposition are comfortable with continuous improvement
values because they emphasize cooperation, collaboration,
shared goals and employee participation.
Masculine / feminine (MAS): the masculine dimension
plays a crucial role in determining the global strategy of
continuous improvement actions. Masculine countries seem
to concentrate on internal operations, whereas feminine
countries show more concern for environment, quality of life,
cooperation, and customer-orientation [2, 8, 10, 17, 24, 27, 29,
30, 33, 41, 42, 43]. Moreover, a moderate level of femininity
is presented as an enabler for customer-focused practices,
efficient communication and assertiveness. According to
Philipsen and Littrell , this dimension does not seem to
have an influence on the effectiveness of Lean.
Long-term / short-term orientation (LTO): countries
with high long-term orientation follow a defined model of
main goals and objectives based on planning procedures at
every level of the organization. Furthermore, the long-term
orientation facilitates management actions towards
continuous improvement, and supports the conviction that
reward follows customer satisfaction [9, 25, 31, 39, 40, 41, 44,
Human Orientation (HO): countries with a high level of
HO encourage individuals to be altruistic, to recognize
Human rights, equality and sensibility. Some of these HO
features are congruent with quality management values, like
believing that people are intrinsically motivated,
strengthening cooperation over competition, believing in
sharing opinions, and paying special attention to relationships.
Cooperation and relationships, especially between customers
and suppliers, is critical to the success of Lean approaches [5,
6, 7, 9, 28, 33, 37, 52].
Assertiveness (A): countries with high assertiveness have
a predisposition to blame individual ignorance and
incompetence for mistakes. Furthermore, an assertive culture
judges Lean values (such as cooperation) as suffocating and
demotivating. Societies who value competition and individual
responsibility are less efficient regarding group decision-
making and therefore are less efficient in the collaboration
process to implement Lean. Authors agree that societies with
a high level of assertiveness lack to recognize that systems,
not people, are the cause for most quality control issues [2, 5,
8, 24, 26, 29].
Performance Orientation (PO): countries with a high
PO are more susceptible to invest in education and
development. The fact of hiring employees according to their
abilities, relates to Lean, such as the importance of continuous
improvement and result orientation. However, other aspects
such as independence tendency and immediate results have a
negative impact over Lean’s implementation process [4, 7, 8,
24, 26, 29, 42].
The studies found in this state-of-the art show the
importance of national culture to understand the success or
failure in Lean implementation. Globally, the authors
conclude that national culture influences the comprehension
of Lean concepts and has an impact on its operation.
In addition, by assimilating the different results [4, 5, 6, 7,
9, 12, 17, 22, 24, 30, 32, 34, 35, 37, 41, 44, 45, 52], we
determine that in order to ensure a successful implementation
continuous improvement approaches and furthermore, Lean;
national culture needs to embody the following aspects of the
high level of long-term orientation;
high level of uncertainty avoidance;
moderate power distance;
high level of collectivism;
high level of masculinity;
low level of assertiveness;
high level of human orientation;
high level of performance orientation.
The works presented in this state-of-the-art emphasize the
link between cultural predispositions and Lean’s
implementation process. Though one should not neglect risks
of failure because of a possible lack of understanding, or
because of a strong disparity between the national culture and
the Japanese way of thinking. Furthermore, the authors state
that when the national culture and Lean principles are
compatible, the implementation is successful and positively
affects the company's performance (in this case, the resistance
to change is almost zero). Still, when there is discrepancy
between the national culture and Lean principles, this situation
creates several obstacles in the implementation process. In
such case, the company needs to find mechanisms in order to
align the Lean principles to the national culture. However, the
literature analysed doesn’t provide how to accomplish this
adaptation and what mechanisms take to reduce the negative
impacts during implementation.
B. Lean practices versus cultural dimensions
In order to complete the approach of Abrahamsson and
Isaksson’s (cf. Figure 1 and Table 1) we have analyzed the
literature from the standpoint of the “Lean practices” and
how they are revisited by different authors. The aim is to
detect recurrent relationships between Lean practices and
cultural dimensions mentioned before.
Based on this analysis, the authors have identified the
following Lean practices, which were not identified or
highlighted in the work of Abrahamsson and Isaksson’s, as
being practices influenced by social/cultural aspects :
Customer focus: all activities should be directed
towards fulfilling the needs and wants of customer [32,
34, 35, 36]. This practices involves customer
satisfaction with the organization’s products/service
and understanding customer’s value.
Business process: implies that the company should or-
ganise its structure on the activities that is performing
rather than squeezing into a predestined structure. The
focus should be on the process not on the outcomes
. The activities identified in the literature are: Stra-
tegic planning (long-term vision of the process),
project management and competitive market position.
Employee Empowerment: is the extent to which
groups of employees participate in activities to make a
decision of quality, implement quality practices, and
take responsibility for quality results . This prac-
tice involves people implying, autonomy,
assertiveness, multidisciplinary teamwork and creativ-
Measures focus: The use of metrics is widely empha-
sized in the Lean literature [2, 5, 7, 24, 28, 29, 31, 32,
34, 35, 36, 52]. Quantified measurement systems are
often recommended  by the implementation of key
Communication: a clear communication process is
essential to make employees accept new methods and
also helps to overcome resistance to new changes in
work [34,35,36] . In this case, we highlight the
communication process with internal (employees) and
external (suppliers, customers) partners for a
successful implementation of lean.
In that sense, literature discusses the cultural matter in
regards to the following Lean practices (table 3):
Customer focus: feminine cultures have an advantage in
manufacturing according to customer specification due to
their focus on understanding and negotiation. Collectivist
countries offer greater customer support, providing a nearest
Business process: a long-term vision is crucial for Lean’s
success. It is widely accepted that strategic planning,
processes management and long-term incentives are of prime
importance to implement the Lean system correctly and
successfully, but such practices can only exist in long-term-
oriented cultures. Countries with high uncertainty avoidance
have difficulties to accept and adapt in a flexible
organizational sphere, hindering the implementation of Lean
Employee empowerment: high level of power distance
gives unlimited power to managers and control over their
subordinates. Employees have an unquestioning, submissive
attitude, not providing the autonomy of employees, neglecting
the participation of employees in the decision-making
process. An important degree of collectivism will support a
high level of employee empowerment; it will encourage the
organizational learning initiatives and will facilitate teamwork
Measures focus: countries with high control of
uncertainty avoidance often create measures (indicators) in
order to reduce fluctuations (for example, variation in
production). In individualistic countries, personal
performances are a priority. As a result, indicators focus their
measure in the performance of each employee.
Communication: companies presenting a high level of
power distance have difficulties at establishing a clear and
effective communication between superiors and subordinates.
Indeed, in this type of environment, employees are unsafe to
expose their opinions. In addition, countries with a high
degree of uncertainty control have centralized work
environment in which employees have more difficulty
expressing their opinions and do not receive the necessary
feedback from their superiors. Lastly, in feminine countries
the relationship between subordinates and superiors is
expected to be more egalitarian (the employees have
autonomy and decision-making process is democratic),
providing clear communication.
These assertions confirm that the human factor is complex
and yet essential for a successful implementation of the Lean
system. People are the most affected element by culture and
the main obstacle in the changing process. Nonetheless we did
not find any works proposing how to adapt and implement
Lean principles to the cultural dimensions of a population. We
acknowledge the lack of a formal methodology for integrating
sociocultural factors in the Lean implementation.
TABLE 3. CORRELATION BETWEEN LEAN PRACTICES AND CULTURAL DIMENSIONS.
7, 22, 25, 29,30, 31
2, 22, 24, 25, 29, 32, 34, 35, 36
5, 10, 11, 17, 26, 31, 42, 2, 22, 28,
22, 29, 30, 32, 34, 35, 36, 52
2,5,6, 24, 28, 29, 31, 32, 34, 35,
V. CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH
This study proposes a literature review of the cultural
influences in the implementation of Lean management.
In order to characterise the main cultural differences that
could influence the Lean system, several models were studied
(Hofstede’s, GLOBE project’s, Trompenaars’ and
D’Iribarne’s). The analysis of these models revealed
important cultural dimensions, such as: power distance,
uncertainty avoidance, masculinity, collectivism, time
perspective, indulgence, human orientation, performance
orientation, assertiveness orientation, sense of duty and
definition of responsibilities.
The literature review shown that several studies explored
the local cultural influences on the deployment of continuous
improvement programs. It is apparent that Total Quality
Management is the most revised subject, but several studies
explored the Lean management approaches. In total 61
references were scrutinised in order to identify the direct
relations between the cultural dimensions and the Lean
implementation. These relations were explored in terms of
“compatibility of values” and “correlations of practices”.
A common factor of the reviewed articles is that, in order
to successfully implement Lean, the local culture should:
be long-term oriented;
have a moderate power distance;
be more collectivist than individualist;
have a low level of assertiveness;
In the literature reviewed none of the analysed works
presented an implementation methodology that adapts the
Lean principles to the local cultural dimensions. Most of the
analysed studies claim that culture has a significant influence
on the implementation of Lean; but do not provide
mechanisms to reduce / avoid the cultural-related problems.
In addition, these studies did not examine the relation between
the cultural dimensions and the management of change. As
the state-of-the-art is today, there is no formal association
between the local population and the Lean implementation
roadmap. This is an important gap, since the cultural approach
plays an important role in the understanding of Lean
management process and directly influences the behaviour of
workers in the Lean transformation process.
Future research will focus on developing a methodology
that integrates cultural aspects in the Lean implementation
process. It should allow decision-makers to identify and
understand the weaknesses and opportunities in the
deployment. More precisely, it should relate each stage of the
Lean implementation process with an evaluation model of
"cultural compatibility", allowing the identification of critical
cases and the introduction of corrective measures in the
transformation process. A starting point would be to identify
indicators to characterize the composition of a national culture
based on the most accepted cultural dimensions, namely,
Hofstede’s and GLOBE Project’s. For instance, the number of
interactions between employees over time can indicate the
degree of collectivism. These indicators will be used to define
"the ideal culture" for a successful implementation of Lean;
then compare it with the national culture and thus
systematically identify the lines of work that will be at the
origin of the proposed methodology.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the Brazilian
National Council for Scientific and Technological
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