Category Archives: Culture building

Teams & The “R Factor”

team

While the quality of relationships can be observed and evaluated within one-on-one interactions as discussed in our previous two posts, nothing brings to light the quality of relationships more than in the workings of a team.

Teams have become the primary and core structure for getting work done and it would be difficult to find an organization which does not have “teamwork” as a fundamental value.

This is highly logical when you consider that it is nearly impossible for a single person to possess the same amount of knowledge and experience that a high performing team possesses, and that the involvement of multiple people in decision-making strengthens commitment. The exchange of ideas that takes place in a team environment, (as opposed to a setting in which people work in individual silos), promotes new thinking and innovation as well.

Yet, it is interesting that although the value of teams is readily accepted, it is rare to find teams that have truly reached their potential. In team language, this means they have yet to reach a level of high performance.

What is often missing is the realization that creating high performing teams is not just about implementing the basics of team structures. Going from an effective team to a high performing team requires additional skills, practice, commitment, and most importantly, in the words again of Mike Morrison, “It’s the relationship!” Teams seeking to become high performing must have strong relationships at their very core.

Consider the following key areas when measuring the strength of your organizational or team relationships:

  • Mutual Accountability
  • Trust and Loyalty
  • Esprit de Corps
  • Commitment to Results

These characteristics are exemplified by the preeminent model for high performance — The Navy SEALs! Their creed, actions, and success solidly point to their reputation of high performance.

Observe any high performing team and you will find these same characteristics evident — and not just “some of the time.” A high performing team reflects these characteristics in every way and at all times.

You might also take a look upward, or a more reflective look depending upon job function, because a concerted, focused effort needs to take place. And as is most often the case with any change or improvement initiative, it needs to happen at the top. Hence it is an absolute requirement that the Senior Executive Team “walks the talk” of high performing teams. It is not enough to accept a “do as we say, not as we do” attitude. Failure to model high performing team characteristics at the executive level is a sure path to mediocre team results throughout the organization.

In actuality, high performing executive teams are less plentiful than high performance workforce teams, and possibly for good reason. Many executives got to the top by their individual ability to be the best; and many successful executives have not necessarily had a track record of either leading high performing teams, or even having been a part of a high performing team. In addition, because of the rotating door of management (one of Dr. Deming’s “deadly sins”), many executives aren’t around in one position long enough to develop the skills and most importantly the relationships required for high performing teams.

Yet, in spite of the inherent challenges for executives to truly create high performing teams, it is a challenge worth overcoming.

This need is particularly strong, not only because of the clear advantages of a high performing team anywhere in an organization, but also because of the need to model such behavior at the executive level. When any value is proclaimed by an organization (in this case teamwork), the first and constant litmus test of the value is evidence that the value is demonstrated at the top levels.

The “R” Factor Part 2: Show Me the Money!

Our previous post focused on the importance of relationships within the workplace and the impact on people.

It has also been well-documented with facts and data that the cost of poor relationships in the workplace is significant; and in contrast, improving relationships improves the bottom line.

For example, a Watson Wyatt Worldwide study found a direct correlation between trust and profitability. Where employees trusted executives, companies posted returns 42% higher than those where distrust was the norm.

In a different study, they found that of the 7,500 employees surveyed only half trusted their senior managers. So imagine the impact of improving the relationships with the ‘other’ half!

Another study on trust in the workplace conducted by Leadership IQ, which involved a database of 7,209 executives, managers and employees, revealed that 44% of participants’ responses ranged from not trusting to strongly distrusting their top management, and that trust significantly predicts employee loyalty and their inclination to stay or leave the organization. Having employees “go” is costly and especially so at the managerial and executive level. As once cited in the Orange County Business Journal, the cost of losing one executive who underperforms or one who chooses to join another executive team is an average of $1.5 million per executive hire. Calculated another way, the cost can reach 400% of the yearly salary of a high level employee.

Along the same lines, in his book The Speed of Trust, Covey quoted Professor John Whitney of Columbia Business School, who said “Mistrust doubles the cost of doing business.”

In addition to the obvious and direct costs of attrition (recruitment, severance, training, etc.), there are other costs associated with dissatisfied employees at any level. There is the pervasive, though
often not measured, cost of wasted time and lowered productivity — the unproductive time spent in unresolved conflicts, complaining about management or co-workers, lack of engagement and not putting forth best efforts. It follows that reducing wasted time, like reducing other forms of waste, can contribute to improved profitability.

Imagine how much better-off we all might be if we could better manage our relationships; as noted above, the improvements could be staggering!

Ten Steps for Developing a High Performance Culture

five stars

Among the highest achieving organizations are those that have successfully planned and developed high performance cultures.

When helping clients build such cultures we focus on the following ten things:

  •  identifying the underlying assumptions, beliefs and values that cause people to behave the way they do
  • Identifying a clear link between individual performance and organizational goals
  • Identifying a clear link between team/department performance and organizational goals
  • Helping people develop a clear sense of purpose
  • Identifying the necessary time and attention management will need to devote to the performance management culture
  • Creating a work environment that supports high quality and productivity
  • Helping people at all levels understand the core values and beliefs which drive behavior
  • Promoting practices that are in sync with organizational values and beliefs
  • Clearly defining roles and responsibilities, performance gaps and accountabilities
  • Help managers develop and refine their skills and ability to coach for improved performance

Feedback Formula

performance management

As noted in our previous post, an effective performance management regimen is a necessity for any organization hoping to build and sustain a high-performance culture of continuous improvement.

That post also noted that an effective process for giving feedback is a critically-important part of performance management. However, the post went on to share the results of research by Gallup indicating that only 26% of U.S. workers surveyed strongly agreed that the feedback they receive as part of their organizations’ performance management effort actually helps them to improve their work or behavior.

Fortunately, a simple four-step formula for effectively giving feedback or for sharing difficult messages in a “brain-friendly” way (so the receiver recognizes important feedback is about to be shared) was recently shared during a TED talk by Cognitive Psychologist LeeAnn Renniger.

These steps are:

Micro yes. Begin the interaction by asking a short, but important, closed-ended question to gain initial acceptance or buy-in and to give the other person a sense of autonomy (they can, after all, answer either yes or no). The objective is to get them to say, “yes.”

For example, you might ask, “Do you have five minutes to talk about yesterday’s meeting?”

Data point. To help others avoid confusion and to make sure your message is clear, make a concise and specific statement about the action or behavior you want to address. By avoiding ambiguous or “blur” words, you will enable the other person to more clearly understand the issue at hand.

For example, “During yesterday’s meeting you agreed to send a follow-up email with instructions by 11am this morning. It’s now after 3pm and I still don’t have it.”

The data point need not only refer to a negative situation. For example, “During yesterday’s meeting you shared a great example of how the order processing works best!”

Impact statement. Explain how the action or behavior impacted you.

For example, “The story really made it easier for me to understand how the process should work, and will make it easier for me to do my part going forward.”

Question. Wrap-up with another question (open-ended this time) that is geared toward confirming understanding and gaining commitment.

For example, “How do you see it?” Or “What do you think?”

While simple in structure, Renniger explained this approach is a scientifically proven method for gaining the attention of others and for giving feedback in a meaningful way.

Possibly most important, having a set of guidelines can make it easier for the feedback giver to approach potentially awkward interactions with greater levels of confidence, and to execute more effectively.

How to Improve EQ

EQ

Our previous post focused on Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and the role it plays in leadership, Continuous Improvement, and developing a high-performance culture.

Most of us are able to identify people who posses a high EQ, and some of the prevalent traits were listed in our previous post. But what about those who don’t exhibit a very high EQ?

Fortunately, according to data compiled by Richard E. Boyatzis, a pioneering researcher into leadership and emotional intelligence, Emotional Intelligence can be taught and improved.

Drawing on Intentional Change Theory (ICT), he describes five steps to the type of personal change required in order to increase emotional intelligence, which are listed below. However, it is important to recognize that the pursuit of improving EQ, like the pursuit of any sustainable change, must be intentional. The requirement is a desire for change; without that, no sustainable improvement is possible. People with no interest in developing EQ will not do so, but if they are motivated to change, the following steps will help them:

  1. Identify the ideal self. In a way, this is analogous to imagining the future state of an organization — what it would look like if everything were right — but the ideal self is much more personal. One person’s ideal self, building on his or her core identity and aspirations, will be different from another’s ideal self. Personal change starts with envisioning the ideal self — the way one would like to be, to work, and to be perceived. This has three elements: awareness of one’s strengths, an image of the desired future, and a sense of hope that the desired future is attainable.
  2. Identify the real self. Where is one, relative to one’s goals today. This step is not as easy as it sounds. The greatest challenge is to see oneself as others do. Using multiple sources of feedback, such as 360-degree evaluations can be useful.
  3. Develop a learning agenda. In contrast to a list of to-dos and complying with agendas of others, the learning agenda is development focused. It provides structure for exploration and learning.
  4. Experimentation and Practice. Practice, look for feedback, and practice again.
  5. Form helping relationships. Coaches, mentors, or guides are very helpful to someone aiming to transition to the ideal self through practicing greater EQ.

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.

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.

Continuous Improvement Impediments

People most often agree that the “hard” part of Continuous Improvement (CI) isn’t making improvements, but rather making it “continuous!”

In a past newsletter we entitled this reality as “Discontinuous Improvement,” noting that two things common to a high percentage of CI efforts are:

  1. They produce some improvements
  2. Then they peter out

For an organization to go through a cultural change so that “continuous” improvement becomes the new way of working and not just a one-time program, we need to pay close attention to the softer part of the improvement model. This will enable us to smooth the path, remove the obstacles, and continue to lead, communicate, and motivate both emotionally and intellectually.

Following are six common causes of discontinuous improvement, which hopefully your organization can avoid:

  • Neglecting aligning individual or team goals with those of the organization
  • Insufficient communication between management, the workforce, project teams and CI leaders
  • Delegating leadership, which is a responsibility that should stay with senior management
  • Manager’s or Sponsor’s failure to remove obstacles
  • Lack of quick success
  • Letting-up on the “gas” when initial results are made

The Pathway to Engagement

The path leading to a culture of engagement is linked with productivity, performance and job satisfaction. It follows a clear objective of engaging people around the one thing they all have in common—and the one thing that can bring about increased profitability and a sustainable competitive edge—the work.

As we all know, traditional employee engagement efforts have primarily failed to yield tangible results. They have also failed the sustainability test. As is the case with any improvement or change initiative, an ad-hoc approach involving little or no planning or structure, and lacking defined, measurable objectives, is prone to failure. This approach might be called “engagement for engagement’s sake.”

In contrast, a more focused approach of improving both the work and the workplace in a measurable way can result in high-levels of productivity, profitability and engagement!

As explained by Robin Gee, Coca-Cola’s Director of Employee Engagement, “We engage employees in aggressive efforts to eliminate waste and reinvest those savings in ways that are visible and meaningful to the employees.”

This perspective differs from traditional attempts at employee engagement in two critically-important ways:

  • A strong focus on productivity and continuous improvement as catalysts to engagement
  • A strong focus on measurement and return on investment

Of course this perspective is not necessarily new. For example, in 2012 ISO 10018 was introduced, which provides guidance on engaging people in an organization’s quality management system, and on enhancing their involvement and competence within it. The standard is applicable to any organization, regardless of size, type, or activity.

You might also note that ISO 10018 standards provide considerable leeway on how an organization specifically goes about its attainment. The emphasis placed on each requirement depends on an organization’s specific brand, culture, people, situation and goals. If you’d like to determine how close your organization is to achieving ISO 10018 certification, Engagement Strategies Media has created a chart that outlines the pathway. You can access the chart here.

An Often Overlooked Tool for Driving 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.

A number of other examples of effective discussion forums that were shared during one of our Partners in Improvement sessions 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

It is also important to recognize that some “forums” are better than others, which will be the subject of our next post.