Category Archives: Change

Too Busy to Improve?

“How do you motivate people who say they are too busy to improve?”

culture5This question was posed during a recent discussion and the most common responses identified “culture.”

We agree… in fact, among the highest achieving organizations we’ve encountered are those that have successfully planned and developed high performance cultures.

Some of the key steps in helping clients develop a high performing/high achieving culture include:

  • Identifying a clear link between individual/team/department performance and organizational goals.
  • Helping people develop a clear sense of purpose.
  • Help managers develop and refine their skills and ability to coach for improved performance.
  • Helping management devote the necessary time and attention to the performance management culture.

While these steps might appear simple, they are not easy to implement; and nearly impossible to achieve without significant contributions of time and energy from senior leaders.

The image above illustrates a typical framework that we use for performance management. It defines in quantitative terms, what needs to be accomplished.

Read more…

Changing & Sustaining Culture

cultureandleadershipConcluding our “culture” theme, our Partners in Improvement groups discussed this subject during one of or recent sessions, and specifically focused on ways to change, support and sustain a culture that is aligned with a new strategic direction.

While peer pressure was identified as one component of helping people try to assimilate to the group they are in, the interchange was primarily geared toward how organizations can take more formal steps to sustain this important ingredient to success.

For example, sustaining the culture may include hiring people with values that are consistent with the culture. Some organizations try to identify these people through focusing on values in the interview process or using psychological profiles to identify people who would be likely to embrace the culture and those whose values would push them in a different direction.

Some organizations use publications and meetings to celebrate, reward, and reinforce examples of the culture in action. Others design measurement systems to support and reinforce the culture and behaviors they want to see.

For example, one of our Partners, in a successful attempt to build a culture of continuous improvement, has implemented a performance management system that rewards people who participated in an improvement over the past year; and the improvement must meet specific criteria:

  • Done
  • Quantified
  • Successfully run for a period of time
  • Standardized

Another Partner company puts everyone through a five day course to help people learn to work effectively in teams. Yet another has a course that emphasizes culture that every single employee must take. And some are sent back to take it a second time!

But the Partners Forum and the literature overwhelmingly suggest that culture is most powerfully influenced by the leadership… and in particular leadership’s behavior that is consistent with the culture.

“Living it begins at the top. If people don’t see the executives living and displaying the corporate values that they expect others to live by, the end is near.” [Ryan Rieches]

 

Aligning Organizational Culture & Strategy

culture4Continuing our theme of how organizational culture is a key driver of continuous improvement, it is important to properly align strategies with culture because culture can support or constrain strategy in a number of ways.

For example, an organization that that fosters employee engagement supports a culture of hard work, innovation, and “going the extra mile;” a culture in which people generally like coming to work. Such a culture enables successful execution on a strategy to give customers better responsiveness and reliability.

Similarly, a culture of caring and respect for others is essential to a strategy based on providing the most helpful and caring service to customers so as to win loyalty and referrals. For example, one of the Partners described how their cultural value of giving back to their communities in donations and volunteerism enabled them to appeal to the civic-mindedness that their customers valued. Another described “maverick thinking” that prompted employees to challenge things that were not quite right as a culture that supported the strategy of constantly improving safety, quality, and efficiency.

Each of these examples described core strategies that were aligned with and supported by their cultures.

But what if an organization’s culture no longer supports a winning strategy?

Sometimes a culture becomes out-of-step with its strategy due to internal changes. For example, a change in leadership behaviors can very easily shift an organization’s culture from engaged to disengaged, from collaborative to everyone out for his or herself, from maverick thinkers to risk-averse CYA’s. Careful work is required to rebuild and to sustain the cultures that support the strategy.

Sometimes, leadership must create a new strategy that the culture is ill-equipped to support when external factors change. For example, a company with a culture that values tradition and continuity will suffer from the entrance to the market by an innovative, paradigm-changing upstart. A company that thrived by attracting and rewarding hot shot individuals may struggle when the market begins to demand sophisticated coordination and execution. A company that thrived on risk taking may suffer when expectation about quality and reliability rise.

Clearly in some instances the culture must change, or it will devour the organization’s strategy and everyone will be out of work.

Culture v. Strategy

culture3As noted in our previous post, an organization’s culture is a key driver of continuous improvement; and as management guru Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

We believe he meant that you can have a brilliant strategy, but if it is not aligned with the culture of the organization that will have to execute that strategy, the strategy will simply fail; and we agree!

In an article about the dependency of strategy on culture, Ryan Rieches’ presents the picture shown above that makes the point. The strategy says to move right, but the thread of commonality running through employees’ thinking, feeling, and behaving points left. In which direction will this organization move?

Similarly, Booz & Company says that “Culture is the oil that makes the company’s value creation engine turn frictionless.”

But of course that is only true if culture and strategy are aligned. As hard as it is to develop a winning strategy given economic challenges and uncertainties, given the technical challenges of product development and the vagaries of the market, and given that every single competitor is also trying desperately to develop a winning strategy, we must also consider the constraints and capabilities of our organization’s culture. In fact, we must consider it first.

Booz & Company advises, “You can’t do strategy without your culture. You need to choose a strategy that fits your culture, and you need to leverage your culture.”

This approach starts by gaining a clear understanding of the current culture and then identifying the unique competitive advantage that your particular culture enables.

So culture may not always eat strategy for breakfast. If they are well-aligned, they thrive together. But if they clash, the strategy is done for.

 

Culture Drives Continuous Improvement

culture2In a recent discussion a question about culture was raised, which has prompted us to begin a short series of blog posts about the importance of building a culture of continuous improvement and how the right culture drives continuous improvement.

The question to which I’m referring was, “Should there be a change in culture before implementing Six-Sigma or CI?”

Cultural issues have been discussed in several past posts, and this very issue was the subject of review during one of our Partners in Improvement sessions, during which participants agreed that despite a predominant focus on strategy and execution, ‘culture’ is the principal determinant of how well an organization does.

A few corroborating perspectives:

“Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization’s makeup and success — along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like. I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game; it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.” 

— Lou Gerstner, speaking about his IBM turnaround

Culture isn’t an important thing; it’s the ONLY thing!”

— Jim Senegal co-founder and retired CEO of Costco

Mr. Senegal’s point is that if we get the culture right, all else will follow: engaged, empowered employees (who have deep experience because turnover is so low) will hit it out of the park again and again, driving the entire organization to success.

IBM and Costco certainly have results that support the view that culture drives success. In a less publicized example, one of our partners described her CEO’s successful decision to create a culture of Continuous Improvement, and over the five year effort, the stock price has increased 780%!

But what is culture? Does it really eat strategy for breakfast, as Peter Drucker claimed? How do we build and maintain this powerful stuff?

These will be among the questions addressed in upcoming posts…

 

Managing Resistance to Continuous Improvement

We came across a good article on LinkedIn Pulse entitled “Managing Resistance to Improvement,” in which author John Shultz shares insights as to why improvements can cause anxiety and how to help people deal with their anxiety or concerns.

“Systems and processes exist in their current state because someone got them to that level of refinement,” Shultz explains.  “Flawed and inconsistent as these practices may now appear, at some point in the past, an effort—possibly heroic—was made to coordinate activities and relationships to create a sense of order.

“Then over time those involved learned to compensate for gaps and made the system operational. In turn, these employees built a mental model about who they were and what they could do based on this arrangement for getting work done.

“Proposed improvements often threaten these mental pictures and create self-doubt because the new way of operating will require skills and social structures that are not familiar. The thought of uncertainty then produce anxious feelings about loss of identity, loss of position, and loss of face that give rise to guarded behavior.”

The article goes on to explain that these fears may take many forms from negative attitudes to active sabotage, and may become evident through reduced productivity, decreased quality, increased absenteeism, and produce increased grievances. The following are typical sources for anxiety:

  • Comfort with current operations: The old way for getting work done has been in place for some period of time, and seems to be working fine. Process operators and stakeholders don’t see a need to “reinvent the wheel.”
  • Doubt about the need and vision for improvement: There is uncertainty about the reason behind proposed improvements and how existing work structures and relationships will be impacted. The question—“what’s in it for me?”—has not been adequately answered.
  • Concern over loss: There is a perceived fear over how improvements will affect acquired skills, salary, status, quality of work, or other benefits attributed to the existing process.
  • Organization’s past history: Past proposals for improvement have been poorly handled—muddled implementation, lack of resources, inadequate training, or the eventual abandonment of activities—only to have remedies replaced by another “program of the month.”
  • The proposed improvement is flawed: There is a realization that the new way for operating has real problems that will ultimately create difficulty in the current or adjacent processes.

Read the full article…