Emotional Intelligence & Culture Building

culture building

As explained in our previous post, Emotional Intelligence (E.Q.) is the phrase used to describe the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways.

It is also a capability that leaders can leverage to drive a high-performance culture of Continuous Improvement. Consider that creating a high-performing culture requires a resonant leader who can:

  • Communicate a vision
  • Inspire action
  • Drive out fear
  • Motivate truth-telling
  • Resolve conflicts
  • Create a safe place for people to exercise a passion for high quality, highly efficient work

Equipped with a heightened awareness of the most common traits associated with higher-levels of E.Q., senior leaders can enhance their ability to create a high-performance culture of continuous improvement by seeking-out and engaging those within the organization who exhibit those traits.

By exercising their ability to align and motivate people around a common vision and plan, emotionally intelligent managers and team members are very valuable in organizations desiring to create a high-performance culture and achieve ongoing improvement.

In addition, there are ways for helping people to develop stronger emotional intelligence, which we’ll share in our next post.

Emotional Intelligence, Leadership & Improvement

emotional intelligence

Our previous post focused on the important role played by “leadership” when striving to develop a high-performance culture. An important element of the necessary leadership is emotional intelligence (EQ).

As you may well be aware, emotional intelligence or EQ is the phrase used to describe a person’s ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways. It has been identified as a means to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.

There are several competencies that are sometimes grouped into four major components:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship management

Research shows that organizations led by people with high emotional intelligence tend to have climates in which information sharing, trust, healthy risk-taking, and learning flourish. Conversely, organizations led by people with low levels of EQ create climates rife with fear and anxiety. While fearful employees may produce well in the short term, over the long run quality and productivity suffer.

The same principles hold true for Continuous Improvement (CI) teams. The level of EQ on a process improvement team affects how much information sharing, how much inquiry, and even how creatively the team will exercise.

A low level of EQ on an improvement team causes operational problems. Silo mentality and lack of inquiry and listening create sub-optimal processes and impaired results.

On the other hand, a team that is emotionally in step has more drive, more commitment, and tends to achieve greater things. High EQ leads to better listening, and thus to better learning, to new insights and better solutions as well.

We will look more closely at the concept of emotional intelligence over the next few posts, and will share ways to increase one’s EQ level and also how to leverage higher levels of EQ in our continuous improvement efforts.

Leadership: Another Prerequisite to Developing a High Performance Culture

leadership

Continuing with the theme of developing a high performance culture, another prerequisite to doing so is effective leadership.

This need has clearly been recognized in the marketplace as, according to data shared by Northeastern University, 58% of U.S. companies say their number one strategic priority is closing their current leadership skill gaps. The study also indicated that many more plan to increase their total spending on leadership development initiatives in the next few years— “now treating professional development as an important component of their business strategy.”

Leadership provides the energy for change and the commitment to sustain it. Today’s leaders must continually work to hone and refine a range of skills if they are to engage and lead a cultural shift.

These skills include:

  • Communication and active listening
  • Method of sharing optimism, energy and enthusiasm
  • Empathy
  • Consistency
  • Dependability
  • Motivation
  • Risk assessment
  • Delegation
  • Empowerment

In addition, creating and working with a select work group is an ideal way to exercise, analyze and improve these leadership skills.

Finally, it’s important to note that, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be in a C-level role to be considered a leader. Strong leaders exist—and are highly valued—at every level of business to inspire, engage, and influence their colleagues and stakeholders.

Prerequisite to Developing a High Performance Culture

company culture

Our previous post shared insights and steps for developing a high performance culture. However, an important prerequisite to launching such an initiative is to conduct an organizational assessment, which most often helps leaders think differently about options and opportunities.

A good first step in this assessment is to develop an opportunity matrix. As you may know, this type of matrix is used for numerous purposes, ranging from evaluating an organizations strengths and opportunities for growth or improvement, to identifying the best markets to pursue or products to launch.

In this case, the matrix can help you evaluate your organization’s strengths and best opportunities for achieving a high performance culture. Specific steps will include:

  • Gather input (facts and data) from people at all levels of the organization
  • Assess skill levels
  • Observe work flow to identify the bottlenecks and eddies
  • Search expansively for opportunities and focus analytically on metrics and methods
  • Create a comprehensive summary of your findings and, based on the data, identify the best opportunities for achieving the desired cultural shifts

Developing a High Performance Culture

Over the years we have consistently found that the highest achieving organizations are those that have successfully planned and developed high performance cultures.

The first step of this process involves identifying the underlying assumptions, beliefs and values that cause people to behave the way they do (the practices), and then identifying a clear link between organizational goals and individual/team/department performance.

People at all levels must also develop a clear sense of purpose, and management at all levels must devote the necessary time and attention to a proactive and consistent performance management regimen in which they promote and recognize practices that are aligned with organizational values and objectives.

The infographic below depicts one approach to this type of performance management system.

performance management system

Drive Change Initiatives by “Feeding the Brain”

learning

A high tech firm was studying a group of competitors and one of the team members explained that when the firm sent people to visit other companies, each person was given a specific “learning goal.”

In addition to their task at hand, the visitor was expected to learn as much as possible about a particular issue and then share it within the firm. The organization believed their competitiveness could be improved largely based on how effectively they brought knowledge into the company.

Consequently, they invested in gathering, disseminating and using learning as a catalyst to change.

Similarly, we recently saw how powerful knowledge transfer can be when conducting a “Lean Office” training session during which we helped a cross-functional group map their value stream. All the participants had thorough knowledge of their own piece of the process, but no one really knew much about the processes of their internal customers and suppliers.

Value Stream Mapping is inherently a ‘knowledge sharing’ or learning process, so there were plenty of Eureka’s! When individuals learned how their work fit into (and often slowed or hindered) the work of other parts of the value stream, they were able to identify ways to shrink the time required to deliver their service by well over half.

To quote the innovator, Doug Hall, we must ‘feed the brain’! In order to develop new insights, new solutions, new opportunities for competitive advantage, we must actively mine for knowledge that can trigger solutions.

All sorts of learning can become a catalyst for change. Learning about the market and the customers can help you see possibilities for innovation that you have overlooked before.

5 Steps for Managing Change

ADKAR change model

Recent posts have focused on various aspects of the rapid pace of change that permeates our world, our lives and businesses.

And while people generally accept the fact that change is, in fact, a constant and necessary factor, most of us struggle with applying the logic. Instead, we tend to resist change.

One way leaders can better manage the process of helping people deal with change is the Prosci ADKAR® Model, which is a goal-oriented approach to change management for individuals and organizations.

The ADKAR® Model was created by Jeff Hiatt, founder of Prosci, a change management solutions provider. It is an acronym that represents the five “tangible and concrete outcomes that people need to achieve for lasting change.”

These outcomes or steps are:

  • Awareness of why change is necessary
  • Desire or a willingness to support the change (often requires steps 3-5)
  • Knowledge of how the change will be made
  • Ability to apply or work within the change, possibly through skill development
  • Reinforcement to help make the change stick

This approach has proved to be an effective way for leaders to both facilitate change and support team members (and possibly themselves!) throughout the process.

The Way Things Could or Should Be in the New Normal

As a follow-up to our previous post, which shared an introduction to this concept, this video shares some new perspectives about the current pace of change within the business world and adapting to the “new normal.”

It also raises more than a few questions about how your organization might best adapt — and how quickly you’ll be able to do it — and provides ideas and examples for doing so.

Common Pitfalls to Completing Improvement Projects

pitfall

As I’m sure you are aware, to get and stay ahead of the competition, it is all about how to improve further and faster. But sometimes, despite the best intentions, our continuous improvement efforts can get bogged down.

While there can be a number of reasons for delays and the related under-achievement — such as failing to identify root causes — we have identified common pitfalls that every improvement leader should avoid.

Here’s a list of the top three along with some ideas on how you might avoid them:

  1. Pace: The most common cause of delay in achieving results is the pace. Some teams schedule an hour a week to work on the project, so that under the best of circumstances, two months will pass before the project gets one day’s attention. But far more often it will take three or four months to complete one day’s effort on the project because meetings get cancelled, or start late, and then a portion of each meeting is spent going over the status or covering old ground for a member who missed a meeting. And, of course, the current pandemic has complicated meeting schedules and effectiveness. Regardless of reason, when a project progresses this slowly, priorities may change or resources might be reassigned without ever completing the work and gaining the improvements.

    The secret to avoiding this trap is, to the fullest extent possible, employ the Kaizen approach. Kaizen requires planning and data gathering up front and then all the necessary people are pulled off their jobs for one day or several days to completely solve the problem: designing, testing, stabilizing solutions usually in under a week. The Kaizen approach requires good planning on the part of the leaders and facilitator, but makes good use of the entire team’s time while accelerating the benefits of the improvement effort.
  2. Scope: The second most common trap that slows down progress is a poorly designed project scope. The scope may start out too large — i.e., trying to take on all locations, departments, functions, product lines, etc. all at once. When the scope is too large, you have too many aspects of the problem to track down, analyze, and address, and too many people to consult, inform, an persuade. A team’s progress can also be inhibited if too much of the scope falls beyond their sphere of control. For example, if a receiving team wants to address a Purchasing process or a Manufacturing team wants to address an Order Entry process.

    Sometimes a project begins with the intention of being short and sweet, but gradually the scope keeps growing until the project is in danger of crumbling under its own weight.

    Avoid the scope-trap by explicitly raising and resolving as many questions about scope as possible. Define the scope so that improvement results can be realized as quickly as possible. Decide what locations, functions, departments are in scope by identifying the one or two that will provide the biggest impact (you can do this by stratifying the data you used to quantify the opportunity). Decide what types of problems are out of scope. You may decide that systems design issues should be out-of-scope if the organization already has a multi-year waiting list for systems changes. An area that is slated for major change in the near future often should be deemed out-of-scope. Be clear about the expected project deliverable. Sometimes improvements can be implemented, verified, stabilized. In other situations, the project team may be chartered to merely gather, analyze, and report data about the problem.
  3. Poor communication: Sometimes delays are caused by insufficient communication, especially today when many of us are working remotely. When a team leader does not communicate regularly with the sponsor, many delays can crop up: the team leader misses out on useful information that the sponsor has on the topic; a team struggles with obstacles that the sponsor can move out of the way; a team becomes set on a solution that the sponsor feels is untenable or does not understand well enough to give it full support. Many things can go awry when the team and the sponsor are out of touch.

    This pitfall is easy to avoid by discussing these risks up front with the sponsor and agreeing how frequently to communicate about the project. The frequency really depends on the speed of the projects. If you are executing a Kaizen, you should communicate in advance and update the sponsor at the end of every day. If your improvement team is meeting an hour a week, perhaps too little happens to merit a weekly update, but a team leader should not go more than three weeks without updating the sponsor. Agree on the update schedule and put it in your calendars for the expected duration of the project.

Challenges and best practices associated with continuous improvement