Is Santa a Lean Leader?

Is Santa a Lean Leader?
December 17, 2017 Philip Holt
Is Santa a Lean Leader?

As we approach the Holiday period and Christmas, it got me thinking about Father Christmas, or Santa, and whether he is, in fact, a good example of a Lean Leader.

The more that I investigated, the more that I found supporting evidence:

Safety First

Safety is the top of mind for any Lean Leader and it appears that St. Nicholas is no exception, as he has consistently improved his approach to the gift delivery approach, utilising the latest in ‘Elf and Safety’ practice.


Leader Standard Work

Wherever you look, Father Christmas has created a standardised approach to his leadership, ensuring that he can maximise his time on solving the numerous unknowns throughout his hectic delivery period.

For example, he uses two key lists, naughty and nice, to ensure that he can keep track of who will and who won’t be receiving gifts this year.

He also has a standard sequencing of his call out to his reindeer:

Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen.

Couple that with the standardisation of his route, timing and suit, it would appear that he is inclined toward using LSW as a means to ensure a high quality leadership approach.

Voice of the Customer

Father Christmas has ensured that he is in direct contact with his customers, and reads every one of the communications sent to him. He has traditionally accepted communications via ‘Chimney mail’, traditional post and, more recently, email.

These wish lists are carefully checked and Presents are matched to the requirements of the customer. Remarkably, despite the many changes in fashion, toy technology and manufacturing techniques, Santa has been able to keep up with these changes.


Father Christmas appears to be quite fastidious about Quality and doesn’t allow his high peak workload to impact that.

He has some basic, but important, quality checks in place, such as the famous ‘checking it twice’ of his list.

Flexible Manufacturing

As mentioned, Santa Claus has maintained a close understanding of Children’s wishes over the years and, as a result, has been able to adapt. Especially when we consider the massive increase in the number of Children over the last 200 years or so.

Whilst his Public Relations spokesman, Kat Claus, claims that this is due to a flexible cellular manufacturing approach, the number of toys observed with ‘Made in China’ labels would suggest that some level of outsourcing has occurred.

Nevertheless, the logistics of getting millions of toys ready for Christmas day, transporting and storing them is an excellent example of world class flexible logistics.

Black Belt

It’s clear if you look at any photo or picture of Santa that he proudly wears a large Black Belt.

The question is about the significance of the belt. Some claim that it is related to his security precautions and is a martial arts Black Belt. Others claim it is a Six Sigma belt, awarded by Jack Welch, with Santa’s BB Project having been the ultimately unpopular project to make GE Domestic products the spousal gift of choice.

However, I have it on good authority from my source in the North Wing of the Pole House that he earned it as a Lean Master Black Belt for his project on Mixed Model Value Stream design, to solve some of the production bottlenecks that he was facing.

Apparently Elon Musk has been asking for his help in solving the Model 3 production issues.


Whilst many people claim that there is magic involved in Father Christmas’s ability to deliver so many parcels in one evening, I have been told that it is actually the result of a long-term SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Dies) program, which has consistently removed the wasteful internal time elements and resulted in the massive ramp-up of deliveries, from a mainly European focus in the 18th Century to the Global Distribution activity that it is now.


Santa’s operations have endured for over 300 years, compared with the average of less than 20 years for most S&P 500 or FTSE 100 companies. This is a benchmark performance and testimony to the customer intimacy but also the adaptability of the operations.

Utilising different technological solutions, and matching his customer’s unique requirements, he has created a robust and adaptable organisation.

For example, he has managed to effect some demand management by bringing forward the Children’s gifting to the 5th December in countries such as The Netherlands and Belgium (with his progenitor, Sinterklaas) and other variations in other countries.


There are also rumours of robotics and automation having been trialled, with Robotic Process Elfination and Artificial Elftelligence. However, these trials hve come up short.


Father Christmas has done a lot of work engaging his team members with Kaizen, with the slogan:

“Every little helps”

However, Tesco, who’s been using the slogan for a number of years, has threatened legal action over its use. Santa is apparently now considering the alternative of:

“Every little Helper helps”

Lean Accounting

Mrs Claus is the CFO, having gained her qualification from ACCA (Association of Chartered Christmas Accountants) and has a passion for simplifying the finance function at the North Pole.

Two main issues exist:

  1. Invoicing: Apparently no Invoices have been issued in the organisation’s 300+ years, which has had a significant effect on their cash flow.
  2. SOX (Santa-Oxley) issues: The financial auditors are finding it very difficult to understand how the financial accounting at the North Pole is working and, there are some issues with the SEC (Securities and Elves Commission) over their application of GAAP (General Arctic Accounting Principles), particularly over the capitalisation of Toy prototyping costs.

Mrs. Claus has decided to implement a Lean Accounting approach to resolve some of these issues and improve the P&L and the health of the Balance Sheet.

Parents should therefore brace themselves for the receipt of backdated invoices totalling many thousands.

Go to Gemba

Santa lives the Lean principle of ‘Go to Gemba’ extremely well, spending most of the year in the workshop supporting the Elf workforce and then personally delivering every Present to his Customers.

Some people have questioned his consumption of spirits whilst on his route and the probability of drink driving. However, no criminal charges have yet been brought.

This commitment means that he is a true example of an Activist and Visible Leader.

Is Santa a Lean Leader?

It appears clear that Santa has many elements of Lean Leadership in his organisation, and pre-date Toyota by many years. However, it must be said that there have been some concerns about the treatment of his team members.

The UAW (United Arctic Workers) Union have cited an issue with one of the newer Reindeer, Rudolph, who according to one source was the victim of systematic bullying. According to the source:

“… all of the other Reindeer, used to shout and call him names, they never let poor Rudolph join in any Reindeer games”.

However, according to Kat Claus, Santa dealt with this by including Rudolph in his team in a primary position and demonstrating the advantages that he brought to the team dynamics, especially in the guidance of the sleigh on a stormy night.

In another accusation, a source claimed that an unusually sized Elf, called Buddy, was treated differently within the community and that no adjustments to the structures or facilities were made to adapt to his size, providing him significant inconvenience and forcing him to walk to New York to find his natural Father.

In a prepared statement, the North Wing said:

“Father Christmas and the Pole Office strongly reject any accusations of sizeism at the North Pole. All Elves, regardless of height, are treated with respect.”

“Buddy’s decision to walk to New York was for personal reasons and in no way a result of his treatment within the North Pole community.”

It seems clear that there are some concerns by a small number of people, but the vast amount of evidence appears to suggest that the general culture at the North Pole is very positive and enduring.

So what do you think? Is Santa a Lean Leader?

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I am an experienced Senior Operations and Business Transformation Leader with over 20 years experience delivering value and improvements globally, and a track record of Lean Transformation within a Global Blue Chip Organisation. I am passionate about delivering Operational Excellence through Lean Leadership and enjoy sharing and discussing my experiences with others.

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By Philip Holt

Philip is a Senior Operations and Business Transformation Leader and Executive Lean Leadership Coach; an an experienced Change Leader with a track record of delivering Operational Excellence within Market Leading Businesses. With a people focused drive for results, he develops strong teams to ensure that the Business Strategy is successfully delivered. He is highly experienced working globally, combining adaptation to cultural differences with a maintenance of fidelity to the blueprint. Philip is also the author of “Leading with Lean” a Practical guide to Lean Transformation and Leadership. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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