“All best performing organizations have evolved to become great at understanding their operating differences and closing the gaps.  It’s as simple as that.”

We have all been inundated with so many confusing articles and posts on strategic improvement and culture change.  Many of these articles are treated as separate, polarizing topics which are often oversimplified, abstract representations of reality from an academic or intellectual perspective.  There’s too many people out there selling what they know, vs. providing grounded guidance around your specific business needs based on accumulated knowledge and successful experiences.

Others believe that copying and mimicking Toyota, Ford, GE, Boeing, Parker Hannifin, Danaher, or some other organization’s business improvement initiative is the answer. So many executives hop around aimlessly trying to shoehorn in business system improvement (e.g. the Sharepoint files) they lifted from their last organization.  If culture change, strategic improvement, and sustainable success were that simple, every organization would be world class!

Culture change is one of those leadership topics that every leader is committed to and knows how to do except in daily practice. The tactical process of improvement and the human dynamics of sustaining the gains are extremely difficult.  Everyone talks about culture as the soft stuff, but the reality is that culture is the hardest and most difficult stuff.  Understanding and managing the organization’s operating differences is the best, practical place to begin with culture change.


Culture: A Matter of Differences

Culture is also a dynamic and deliberate living process. Culture evolves to a higher order, remains the same, or becomes undermined by negative activities as perceived by the organization. Culture changes through deliberate design and proactive continuous nurturing. Culture also changes by poor leadership that fosters differences in how people behave, choose, and operate in organizations.

After decades of experiences with our clients, there is a simple way to approach the whole topic of strategic improvement and culture change, and it is not more education about the methodologies and tools.  If we think about culture as aligning and managing differences in people and organizations, the topic becomes more approachable.

All best performing organizations have evolved to become great at understanding their operating differences and closing the gaps.  It’s as simple as that.  This includes differences in:

  • Vision, mission, purpose
  • Values and code of conduct
  • Executive commitment
  • Management commitment
  • Trust, mutual respect, candor
  • Time horizons
  • People commitment
  • Awareness and understanding
  • Communication (non-uniform messaging)
  • Change planning and deployment
  • Execution efficiency and effectiveness
  • Leader and manager direction
  • Human capital capabilities and follow through
  • Education and professional development
  • Applied knowledge and experiences
  • Innovative problem solving vs. following the program
  • Paradigms and innovative thinking
  • Performance metrics
  • Leadership constancy and reinforcement
  • Cross-functional priorities
  • Program management priorities
  • Individual priorities
  • Expectations and perceived success
  • Political motivations
  • Beliefs, traditions, habits
  • Realistic capabilities and capacities
  • Level of engagement and empowerment
  • Personal motivation and goals
  • Level of broader business skills and talent
  • Performance-based recognition and rewards


Leaders and their organizations can only improve their current situation when they make the time and effort to understand and acknowledge these differences, and drill down to the drivers and root causes of undesirable performance.  The only way to close the gap on these differences is through a higher order, integrated business system approach to strategic improvement and culture change.  This always comes down to renewed visions that lead to best practices in leadership, operating strategy, planning and deployment, communication, execution, talent development, and performance management.

The above differences and many other dynamics create gaps, waves, and shifting tides in culture. Culture is the combined set of values, code of conduct, beliefs, traditions, habits, interpretations, behaviors, choices, actions, taboos, rituals, accepted norms, inhibitions, aspirations, functional subcultures, and the multidimensional interpretations of any of the above differences at any point in time. These dynamics are very different from organization to organization based on differences in existing leadership, culture, business challenges, and ever evolving customer requirements.

CEO’s Differences Assessment

CEO has created a simple assessment to calibrate the various operating differences in organizations. This simple assessment was developed from selected data and knowledge extracts from our  Lean Business System Reference Model. 

Our assessment is not the cure-all and end-all, but it provides:

  • A more analytical process for discussing and understanding the magnitude of these differences;
  • A gap analysis between your assessment results and the results from best performing benchmarks; and
  • A methodology for how to begin closing the gaps between current and desired operating performance.

Understanding and rationalizing the organization’s operating differences is the best practical place to begin if you’re serious about eliminating the real detractors to operating performance.

If you would like to use CEO’s Differences Assessment, please contact one of the authors below in your geographical area.

Contact Us



For the past thirty years The Center for Excellence in Operations, Inc. (CEO) has enjoyed the privilege to consult with hundreds of organizations on their different strategic improvement initiatives. We have achieved successes in a wide variety of challenging operating environments while working with thousands of great leaders and executives, around the globe.  We have implemented major operating improvements and cultural changes with over 350 clients scattered around 48 U.S. states and 24 different countries.  The reason we mention this is because we have accumulated significant real world, hands-on experience with culture change as the foundation of breakthrough improvement.  Again, understanding and rationalizing the organization’s “differences” is the best practical place to begin if you’re serious about eliminating the real detractors to operating performance.

Leadership as a living practice has the most profound influence on cultural development.  Culture is a living process, changing deliberately or intentionally, in good directions and in bad directions.  Culture changes positively by choice (vs. chance) and is highly influenced by managing the living dynamics of the above factors. Don’t expect to build a high performance culture with self-centered, egotistical or dysfunctional hair on fire leaders. These dysfunctional leaders create mediocre organizations that are only capable of producing more of the same inadequate results.  Innovative leaders recognize the above operating differences and proactively stay on the desired course, and always achieve the desired results.



 Call us today to discuss your current business improvement situation and operating challenges.  We can help you immediately with your lean business system or broader business transformation process.  We do this for a living.


The Center for Excellence in Operations, Inc. (CEO) is engaged with many different clients every day, within a variety of industries, operating environments, and with different Lean/CI and cultural renewal challenges.  We can get your Lean/CI and other strategic improvement initiatives back on track and operating at a much higher order, daily business system model level. Contact one of the authors below.  We will be happy to discuss your current situation and needs.


Terence T. Burton is President and Founder of The Center for Excellence in Operations, Inc. (CEO), a management consulting firm specializing in strategic and operational transformation. Terry has four decades of extensive operations and supply chain experience as a hands-on practitioner and executive in private industry, and has led consulting engagements in a wide spectrum of industries, having consulted with over 350 clients in 23 countries on their strategic and operations improvement initiatives. Terry can be reached directly at burton@ceobreakthrough.com

Edward A. Fagundes is the West Coast Practice Director for The Center for Excellence in Operations, Inc. (CEO), with emphasis on serving clients in the West Coast, United States region. Ed’s career spans various leadership roles in general management and as a global business system executive. He has proven expertise and extensive experience with improving business processes, developing lean transformation strategies and plans, leading the implementation of business improvement journeys to address business issues, and implementing enterprise-wide continuous improvement applications. Ed can be reached directly at edfagundes1@yahoo.com.