Category Archives: Engagement

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 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…


Customer Engagement Dilemma?

Who will lead the way...?A thought-provoking article in the current issue of Engagement Strategies Magazine suggests that organizations of all types will sooner-or-later realize the need for a senior executive who focuses on the customer experience.

As author Bruce Bolger explains, engaged customers “buy more… are often less sensitive to price… and regularly become advocates.”

However, the article goes on to share an ideal job description and poses an interesting question: “Where will we find qualified candidates for such a position?”

What are your thoughts?


Entrepreneurial Spirit, Engagement & Continuous Improvement

entrepreneurIn a recent Pulse article, David Chung, an expert in Business Model Design and Leadership Development, suggests “entrepreneurial spirit” is a critically-important factor for team performance.

“Entrepreneurial spirit is a mindset that actively seeks out change rather than waiting to adapt to change,” says Chug. “In other words, it’s a super positive mindset that embraces critical questioning, innovation and continuous improvement.”

He also states that entrepreneurial spirit is all about taking ownership and pride in your organization, and that while it can be classified as a culture of the workplace, both team leaders and members must also take responsibility for creating and maintaining it.

Sounds very much like “engagement” doesn’t it?

Chung also suggests there are five ways to go about creating and maintaining this level of engagement or entrepreneurial spirit:

  1. First, WORK AS an owner. All team members should feel empowered to make decisions–and decision-making processes and approvals need to be simplified. Leaders may need training in how to hand off the reins.
  2. Second, WORK ON some crazy ideas. At some of the most innovative companies they have a policy that everyone should feel free to throw out any idea they have, no matter how grand or seemingly unattainable.
  3. Third, WORK WITH cross-functional colleagues. One of the reasons smaller companies are naturally more entrepreneurial is because of this – the team is small enough that everyone has a voice and input on everything, even if it’s not part of their core responsibility or strength. As companies get bigger, departments tend to be segmented off from other departments, losing the diversity of ideas, and instead working in silos.
  4. Fourth, WORK AS a role model. As with most elements of a great team spirit, the entrepreneurial spirit has to come from the top management team or business owner.
  5. Fifth, as the team leader, TREAT YOURSELF AS AN ENTREPRENEUR, then your team members will believe they are working in the entrepreneurial team.


Engaging Suppliers: Improving the Extended Enterprise

enterpriseengagement3Continuing our theme of enterprise engagement, data from the Enterprise Engagement Alliance indicates that the least developed of the key components of enterprise engagement is supplier engagement.

The alliance’s studies have indicated that few organizations have a formal vendor engagement strategy, and only a small percentage have adopted a focus on the “extended enterprise,” which encompasses not only the workforce but also channel partners, the community, and suppliers.

“One of the keys to supplier engagement is understanding suppliers’ business and strategic goals, and appointing relationship managers that are able to see issues from the supplier’s point of view while balancing their own organization’s requirements and priorities,” the article says.

The piece goes on to suggest that supplier engagement tactics start with selection. Organizations should put processes in place to choose the best suppliers – not just on price and quality but also on cultural fit, compatibility, values, etc. This will help position the organization for a longer-term, more beneficial relationship and make true supplier engagement more sustainable.

Up front engagement tactics might also include making potential suppliers aware of the indirect financial aspects of winning the business, for example, such as capturing a new market or taking business from a primary competitor.

As with all aspects of enterprise engagement, emotional tools are critical to building a relationship that goes beyond mere contentment. For supplier engagement to work, vendors have to be treated with respect.

Ultimately, engaging not only our workforce but also our “extended” enterprise can help us to better understand all components of our operational processes, which can help us to more easily identify systemic inefficiencies, root causes to problems, and innovative opportunities for continuous improvement.


Engaging & Motivating Channel Partners

channel2In a recent issue of Engagement Strategies Magazine, an article co-authored by Conyngham Performance Group and SpearOne stresses the immportance of engaging channel partners.

Employee and customer engagement have become priorities, the article says, but it’s important to remember that channel partners are subject to the same drivers and emotions as employees and customers; and channel partners might even have added distractions since they often work with numerous source manufacturers or service providers and, in most cases, will tend to favor some over others.

The key objective is simple: organizations should actively nurture a culture of partner engagement so that, just like employees and customers, channel partners become emotionally engaged and become more likely to take an active interest in the organization’s success.

The main requirements are:

  1. Recruitment – know what kind of partners to pursue; set clear goals and objectives
  2. Enablement – reduce the time it takes for partners to become productive; help and motivate partners to run better businesses
  3. Management – simple and reliable processes that promote ease-of doing business; focus on benefits
  4. Reward – express appreciation, and include non-cash rewards