Tag Archives: building a high performing culture

Building a Culture of Continuous Improvement…

The “Elephant” in the Room?

Among the highest achieving organizations we’ve worked with are those that have successfully planned and developed high performance cultures of continuous improvement. A vitally-important tool for bringing about a culture of continuous improvement and engagement within a workforce is communication, which many people agree is the most frequently-used skill in today’s workplace.

Aside from standard team or project meetings, there are a number of ways leaders might go about accomplishing this. For example, employee forums are an ideal way to engage people around their work and contribute to the building of a high-performance culture of continuous improvement.

Consider that one of the most obvious yet often overlooked requirements for high performance is a setting for employees to share and discuss problems and ideas for improvement.

But too often, managers and leaders tend to believe that if someone has a really great idea for improvement, they will raise it.  Yet when we talk to people close to the work, we more often hear ideas they have carried around for months or even years but never found the right time or place to share; or felt their idea would not be welcomed.

Even worse, when no forum for sharing improvement ideas is provided, people adapt to the way things are and stop noticing the waste—the elephant in the room—and stop trying to think of better ways.

But it is important for business leaders to recognize that some forms of communication are better than others. In fact, as reported in a recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) article, a survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year because of inadequate communication to and between employees. The article also referenced another study showing that miscommunication in smaller companies of 100 employees cost an average of $420,000 per year.

For example, many organizations use suggestion boxes as forums. But the results are often disappointing. While a suggestion box requires little time or effort to initiate, its success relies on the ideas being completely and clearly expressed in writing.  Unfortunately, many people with good ideas simply cannot express them well.

Furthermore, if a suggestion requires more explanation or development before it can be turned into a really great idea, the suggestion box does not offer an opportunity for clarification, debate, or refinement. Even worse, when the initial ideas are not fully formed or expressed, and management doesn’t have an opportunity for clarification, the ideas are harder to act upon, and often management loses interest.  When people notice nothing comes of the suggestion box, they stop offering ideas.

Here are some additional examples of costly miscommunication in business environments identified by Helen Wilkie, a consultant and author specializing in profitable, applied communication:

  • Long, boring, poorly planned unproductive meetings that reach no conclusion and serve no purpose
  • Sales presentations that show no concern for, or understanding of, the client’s needs
  • Wasted time due to miscommunication about time or scheduling
  • Badly written e-mail messages that cause misunderstandings, ill will and wasted time
  • The email habit of unnecessarily “replying to all”
  • Employee alienation caused by managers who don’t listen
  • Lack of understanding between people of different age groups
  • Lack of understanding between male and female employees

Ultimately, the best forums are regularly scheduled gatherings in which people can surface and discuss problems, waste, and opportunities for improvement.

Examples of effective discussion forums were shared during one of our Partners in Improvement sessions, which included:

  • Monthly safety talks at the end of which the company president discusses pertinent issues with team members and provides input as well as support
  • Weekly one-on-one session between management and team members during which leaders not only offer ideas and support, but also gather feedback on successes and challenges
  • Regular “town hall” meetings where he shares information about what is going on and what to expect, and also provides an opportunity for people to raise questions or concerns

Motivating for Performance

Our previous post referenced how high-achieving organizations are able to develop and sustain high performance cultures in which team members are engaged and highly-motivated.

During a recent discussion with Continuous Improvement leaders, various approaches to the motivational component of performance management were shared. Some organizations focused on the individual quantitative measurements to motivate individuals and to encourage them to achieve important goals. For example, tying individual goals to the organization’s KPIs was cited as an effective way to align behaviors with goals and make sure everyone knows exactly what they are expected to do.

However, others said that group rewards and recognition were more effective than individual metrics. For example, one participant described how teamwork deteriorated to the detriment of the organization as a whole after his organization switched to individual metrics and rewards instead of rewarding everyone based on achievement of the company’s key strategic metrics.

We also discussed experience with financial rewards as opposed to intrinsic rewards, such as recognition. Financial rewards did not necessarily produce the best results.

One participant explicitly pays people for participating on improvement teams in some of their plants, while one of their Midwestern plants is prohibited from paying for participation. The Midwestern plant relies on intangible rewards such as recognition and “thank yous.” Surprising to many, the Midwestern plant had a much higher rate of participation than the others, seeming to demonstrate that intangible or ‘intrinsic’ rewards can be more effective than monetary rewards.

Another organization found recognition, sometimes coupled with small gift cards, was an effective method for their organization.

Generally, it was agreed that the keys to effective use of recognition as a motivational method are timeliness and making the recognition public.

One successful example involved a peer-recognition program, in which people were empowered to recognize one another by giving-out stars for helping an internal or external customer. When someone receives a certain number of stars, they get a gift card and the ‘star of the month’ gets a party, recognition, and a preferred parking space. It was noted that guidelines for the awarding of stars were set in advance.

Another perspective relative to timeliness involved making motivational and performance management activities an “everyday job,” and basing strategies on more than just past data.

Over-reliance on past data when crafting improvement or motivational plans was referenced as working through the “rear-view-mirror.” A better approach not only enables managers to identify opportunities for team improvement based on analyzing past activities and results, but to also identify preemptive action steps and strategies that can impact outcomes and future results.

Conclusions

  • Performance Management and motivation must be about much more than individual performance measurement. As Deming said, over 90% of problems are caused by the system not the person. To manage performance, we must manage the system by which people, plant, process interact to produce results.
  • Frequent observation and feedback is more helpful to people than more formal annual reviews. Motivation and engagement levels were consistently rated as “much higher” when team members received frequent, consistent feedback on their work, and also when they felt they had input to improvement plans.
  • Frequent communication about what an organization needs and wants greatly increases the odds that the organization will get what they need and want.
  • Group rewards encourage teamwork, while individual rewards encourage an individual to optimize his or her own goals even if it may sub-optimize the organization as a whole.
  • Tying money directly to performance appraisal can be a two-edged sword – raising stress and reducing the intrinsic rewards and personal satisfaction from doing a good job for the team.
  • Intrinsic rewards tend to increase motivation over time as opposed to financial rewards. Recognition is among the most effective. The keys to effective use of recognition as a motivational method are timeliness and making the recognition public.
  • Avoid performance management in the “rear-view mirror.”

Building a Performance Culture Infographic

Our previous post listed ten behaviors that have proved effective when taking a formalized approach to employee engagement.

But as noted in that, and other posts, engagement alone is not enough if the goal is to improve performance in a measurable way.

Not surprisingly, some of the highest achieving organizations with which we’ve worked are those that have successfully leveraged their engagement effort to develop and sustain high performance cultures.

The info-graphic  summarizes  steps you can take in order to achieve a high-performance culture.

Within this type of culture, people at all levels are encouraged to continually look for better ways of doing their jobs.  They are continually educated about, and coached to use, the tools of improvement; and to understand the link between individual or team performance and organizational goals.

Leaders within such a culture make available the necessary resources for helping people at all levels to understand the core competencies, values and beliefs which drive the culture.  These leaders also devote the necessary time and attention toward encouraging an environment that supports high quality and productivity, and toward effective performance management.

Survey Says…!

An organization’s workforce is its most important and unique asset.

As such, we must make every effort to effectively lead, support, motivate, empower and engage employees, and to maintain a keen awareness of what this “key asset” thinks and feels about the organization.

Surveying employees on a regular basis is a good way to gain this knowledge. This simple practice can put us in the best position to make the best decisions, and can better-enable us to optimize our efforts to bring about a culture of engagement and continuous improvement — a high-performance culture.

By gathering critical knowledge about what employees really think and how they feel about our organization, we can identify the true status-quo and the best areas on which to focus our improvement effort.

Additional benefits associated with regularly-conducted employee satisfaction surveys include:

  • Maintain an accurate picture of current reality with respect to employee engagement
  • Understand what employees value… the things that are most important to them
  • Understand employee concerns and the magnitude of those concerns, and how to use this information to implement necessary changes and improvements
  • Compile facts and data by which to measure the impact of changes
  • Compile a relative ranking as to how our results compare to the “best” companies

Communication & A Culture of Continuous Improvement

rally_the_troops_800_10095Our previous post shared fundamental steps for building a high performing culture – a culture of continuous improvement; and a key element of doing so involves engaging the workforce.

There are 4 underlying principles to build engagement:

  1. Understand the various factors that motivate people
  2. Have excellent 2-way communication
  3. Build a great workplace
  4. Work at engagement every day

These steps may seem simple, but they are not necessarily easy.  Consider that in order to understand people and develop effective two-way communication leaders must create a systematic way of interacting with team members so they can cascade information to (and from) their reports and throughout the organization.

At the core of this communication mission is the ability to plan, run and follow-through on effective meetings, which we’ll discuss in upcoming posts.