Creating a culture of Continuous Improvement for Climate Action – A lesson from Vietnam
Posted in Climate Action on 24/06/2021

Culture is defined as “the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society.” An organizational culture is the collection of values, expectations, and practices that guide and inform the actions of all team members. But why are we talking about the two of these ideas when considering Climate Action – are renewables / technology not the way forward for organizations to deliver measurable results?

The answer is a yes & no. Yes – technology and renewable energy will go a long way to providing us with the necessary means of decarbonization of our society but No – on its own we will be struggling to meet our targets for 2030 and beyond. Economic growth, population growth and changes in society, moving towards more energy requirements in business will limit the abilities of technology and renewable energy alone to decarbonize our society. We need more. We need to create a culture of Continuous Improvement (CI) among our entire society – we need every single person to see the impacts of their daily lives on climate change and ask themselves how can I /we improve.

Through my career I have travelled extensively across the world, seeing different factories, ways of working, different people and cultures within organizations. To be honest the majority of the factories I have worked with whether in Asia, the USA, South America or Europe were very similar – when inside them you would barely notice the difference physically, however the one thing that consistently differs from country to country is the culture within those facilities. There are a few cultures that really stuck with me – Vietnam was one.

Vietnam as a nation is developing rapidly, its energy consumption increasing over the last number of years and its economy is one of the success stories of the developing world. As WEF says in this article the country has been subject to an economic miracle, growing in a mere 30 years from one of the poorest in the world to a middle income country. It still remains one of the most energy intensive countries in Asia relative to its economic output and relies heavily on coal for power however my experience was that there was a real culture of energy efficiency & Continuous Improvement in Vietnam. Their economic success is the measure of how effective their nation is at Continuous improvement. There was a few small simple things I noticed, that to me, demonstrated their culture:

  1. When leaving rooms, everyone turned off the lights.
  2. Production equipment was turned off immediately when finished.
  3. Equipment was right sized for the duty.
  4. Each team member understood why change was required.
  5. There was a plan in place to improve.
  6. From the site manager to the operators on the floor they listened and wanted to learn how to improve.

Why was this I wondered – so I asked. The answer was simply – “Tam The”.

“Tam The” A Vietnamese word refers to a deep understanding of management and employees about the benefits of their tasks and lean management for themselves. It comes from a Lean system called “Made in Vietnam” which has been applied across many organizations. Basically, “Tam The” includes two deep understandings and one consciousness. Deep understanding 1 is to comprehend that a person’s work benefits himself. Deep understanding 2 is to comprehend that by doing the work seriously, people will enjoy massive benefits. Consciousness is to understand that people should have a good behavior, attitude, and morality towards the work. Having this consciousness will help people implement the two deep understandings. Learn more here.

“In Vietnam – Energy is expensive, the less energy we use the more successful our company can be and the more we do to make the company successful the better it is for us.”

So what can we learn from the Vietnamese model and “Tam The” – well it translates to English as “mindset”. How do we create a mindset / culture that helps organizations take effective Climate Action:

  1. Set goals for the program – ideally aligning with Climate Science – looking at programs like the Science Based Targets Initiative or SME Climate Hub. But there also needs to be other organizational goals for this to be effective – including cost reduction, improved employee experience, staff retention or other numerous benefits that come from a Continuous Improvement program.
  2. Communicate the goals to everyone – internally & externally.
  3. Have a framework – every CI program needs a process. Examples of frameworks include the Toyota Production System (TPS) or Leading Edge Group’s Client Way
  4. Empower and spread awareness – People are only as effective as the tools they have available. The only way to enable and empower employees is to educate them on the process and benefits of CI for Climate Action and provide them with a set of tools so that they can continue to be effective even after the initial program is implemented.
  5. Make change everyone’s responsibility – CI requires everyone in an organization to participate – from boardroom to production floor, all levels need to be engaged for this to be effective. In CI for Climate Action – even suppliers and other stakeholders need to be engaged in the success of the program.
  6. Enhanced communication – A CI program will lead to changes, changes are generally positive however if these changes are not managed or well communicated this can lead to disorder and chaos. There needs to be change management process and documentation standards and best practices. Remember the net zero pathway is a long one – This CI program needs to last until at least 2050 and beyond – if you improve – you need to sustain it.
  7. Measure & Monitor – Ongoing measurement, monitoring and tracking of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) enables organizations track progress, identify deviations and measure success. Measurement of success is essential to allow communication of positive results to build momentum, identification of negative results to learn and improve and to identify opportunities for replication of success across the organization.
  8. Celebrate success – CI is hard, it requires the team to think critically about their work and push change in the established ways of doing things. Celebrating each and every win in some fashion is essential to creating a culture where the team want to be recognized for their efforts.
  9. Create new habits – Creating a CI culture requires changing peoples habits. Part of the challenge to starting and sustaining this CI for Climate Action culture will be identifying a set of desired behavior’s and continuously reinforcing them.
  10. Repeat – Building a culture of continuous improvement takes time and does not happen overnight. It takes several years of commitment, deliberate planning and action. It is also not an initiative that can be “finished”. Creating a CI culture is almost like a video game – you work to reach a level and complete that level and then you need to level up. As a general rule, all things degrade over time if they are not properly taken care of. This analogy also applies to a CI for Climate Action Culture. Just as your car requires a service regularly to run efficiently, your CI for Climate Action culture also requires regular attention and care.

Continuous Improvement for Climate Action

At Climeaction, a Leading Edge Group company, we have added a layer to the highly successful Leading Edge Group framework for Continuous Improvement to create a Continuous Improvement Program for Climate Action. Our program is designed to create lasting changes in an organization to support their Climate Action program and deliver real results from within. Our framework allows organizations to change using their existing teams knowledge and experience, supported by our experience to creates an entire organizational culture focused on improving for the benefits of everyone – our planet, your company and your team.

To learn more about how we can help organizations of all scales create a Continuous Improvement program for Climate Action. Contact us.