314 — How Fast Can Culture Change?

The speed of culture change depends on size, commitment, and resources.

    • The size of the organization— with fewer people to involve, small companies change faster than big companies.
    • The commitment of the top leaders to walk the talk. If leaders show by their actions that they are committed to the change, employees and managers will quickly join them. If leaders delegate the task, little will change.
    • The resources available. Developing a work culture takes a little extra time. If the operational needs are too demanding, if there simply is no time to meet and discuss the culture, it may be best to wait.


Cultures Change When Leaders Show That They Want Them to Change

Holding monthly “Culture Leadership Meetings” with the management team jump-starts the culture development process (see The Five Steps to An Unbeatable Culture). There managers discuss their relationships, the values they want to encourage in the organization and the actions they will take to demonstrate these values. Through this process of discussion and action, managers learn about themselves, the culture, and how they can lead it. When they are ready, leaders can then involve lower levels in a similar process. This step-by-step process is the fast and simple way to build a powerful and productive workplace.

Results Begin Immediately

With active leadership, positive results will begin immediately. Even in the biggest organization, people at every level will soon be aware that the culture is changing for the better. With visibly committed top leadership you can use the following general time guideline for completing the culture change, top to bottom and across all divisions. (Many factors can affect these numbers, e.g. if you are a local plant, eager to change, but the corporation’s leadership does not understand and accept your changes, that will slow down and limit the extent of your effort.)

Number of Employees      10  100  1,000  10,000  100,000
Year to complete change   1     2      3         4         5

It is only natural and human to want an engaging workplace with trusting relationships and good communications, where you feel valued and productive. If leaders move in that direction people will eagerly follow. Once leaders learn how to go with the current of human desire, see Evolution and Company Culture, they usually look back and wonder why they ran the company any other way.

cc 314 — © Barry R. Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Company Culture Leadership — The Big Picture

Leave a Comment (0) →

426 — The Opportunistic Employee


Early man often acquired food by chasing away a predator from its recent kill. He used its fur for warmth, dug edible roots from plants found along the trail, made tools from stones, vines or branches, and systematically scouted an area for the night’s shelter. He was opportunistic. We still are. What we wear responds to the weather. How we drive to work responds to the traffic. What we do at our desk largely responds to other people.

Smart companies tap into this basic human skill by creating a culture where employees think and act opportunistically, taking advantage of unexpected opportunities. It brings growth and profits.

Niels Bohr famously remarked, “Prediction Is Very Difficult, Especially of The Future.” With today’s rapid change, prediction has never been more difficult, so  rewards go to cultures that don’t try to predict the unknowable but help employees see opportunities and grab them. Some top-down planning is essential, but too much leads to passivity in low levels.

For employee to grab opportunities, he or she needs to know:

  1. The overall game plan — where the company is going and how he or she fits into that picture, plus background information on finances, customers, company resources, and products — the information that helps a person make good decisions.
  2. When to decide independently and when to involve a superior or another department — what are the boundaries within which he or she has freedom to act, where does he or she stop and where do others need to be pulled in?
  3. That he or she needs the strong personal relationships and trust that give the confidence to act on opportunities. Seizing opportunities is too risky without the confidence that comes only from experience; that the organization will focus on successes, rather than on failures.

Every Employee Can Be an Entrepreneur
I worked with a company where package delivery drivers were presented daily with dozens of opportunities with customers to further the company’s business. Unfortunately this company did not see the drivers in the role of business development. That function went to the Marketing Department. Every day drivers watched business development opportunities slip by. The company didn’t see what it was losing.

Now imagine every employee unleashing their potential as an entrepreneur, a business developer, salesperson, R&D member, marketer, and customer service rep.

Release what’s already in your employee’s genes. It’s good for people and good for business.

cc 426 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — People

Leave a Comment (0) →

214 — Organization Climate Survey

Have team members individually complete the questionnaire. Then confidentially tally the results by marking everyone’s Xs, Os and Check Marks on one blank. Destroy their originals. Discuss the combined results.

For each question mark an ” X ” where you personally experience the item. Mark with a ” O ” where you feel it should be (where you would like it to be.)

What is the direction of information flow?




Down and up

Down, up and sideways

How accurate is upward communications?

Often wrong

Censored for the boss




How well do you feel your manager knows the problems you face?

Not well



Quite well

Very well

How much trust and confidence do you feel is shown towards you?


Pretend to

Once in a while


How inspired are you by your manager?

Not at all




In difficult situations, does your manager back you?





How much are fear and threats used to motivate?




Very little

How much are reward and involvement used to motivate?

Very little




9. Do you feel involved in decisions that affect you and your work?

Not at all





Fully involved

10. Who clearly understands the goals of the company?

Only top


Top and





11. What are activity, production, and other measurement data used for?

Policing, and


Reward and


Reward, some self-guidance

Self-guidance, and problem solving

12. Put a check mark next to those items you feel are the most significant, and are worth discussing in a group meeting.

This page from www.companyculture.com is reproduced with permission.

cc 214 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Understanding Your Company Culture

Leave a Comment (0) →

334 — Employee Involvement Doubles Plant Productivity — Two Examples

Preparing the Soil

Managers of a California manufacturing plant with several hundred employees, at corporate’s prompting, agreed to build a more open workplace. Several meetings with the plant leadership group produced a vision and a plan.

Supervisors were trained to lead open problem-solving meetings with employees. Through a series of discussions with supervisors, managers committed to initially support just two employee problem-solving groups: manufacturing and sanitation and safety. Each group began by identifying problems interfering with their tasks.

1. Production Team

Breakdowns gave the production line group the most trouble. These were physically and psychologically draining for the workers. With guidance, the small group systematically collected data on the frequency, type and cause of breakdowns. The process of identifying and analyzing problems soon led to problem-solving. As their analysis looked deeper at root causes, the group involved other shifts and other departments in the analysis; first to collect and analyze data, but later to list and map broad system-related issues connected to the breakdowns.

It was not easy for the managers to remain open as the employees took responsibility for analyzing and addressing inter-departmental and, later on, external supplier issues. Many managers felt that this was their exclusive territory. (“If I don’t own that who am I?”) But with a little help from the plant manager and Meridian Group, they restrained themselves from interfering and soon adopted a strongly supportive role.

2. Sanitation and Safety Team

Meanwhile, the small group of sanitation and safety employees had begun analyzing their own work-related problems. Their biggest frustrations were the large mounds of product waste they had to constantly clean up. As a long-range goal, they wanted to keep the plant cleaner by stopping the mess at its source. As with the production group, it wasn’t long before they involved other parts of the plant in mapping broad system-wide issues that led to product waste.

Uncovering Systemic Problems

From a broad perspective all problems are related. So the two groups quickly found themselves working closely together on system-wide issues, a process that eventually involved, to some degree, almost everybody in the plant. It was clear that a new wind was blowing.

Trust in Management

Employees knew that upper management now supported employees in solving their frustrations at work, even if this sometimes involved changing comfortable and long-standing (but not necessarily constructive) relationships with supervisors, managers and other departments.

Not only did productivity increase and product loss decrease, but morale rose to the point that people were openly excited about coming to work. People discussed at home what was going on at work — something few had done in the past.

Other Leadership Changes

It wasn’t just employees who experienced change. I was pleased to hear the assistant plant manager talking with a group of new supervisors say, “After 28 years with the company, I’m looking forward to bringing you along so that you don’t have to unlearn what I have unlearned about leadership in the last year.” With employees taking more responsibility for issues in their work area the plant manager told a visitor, “I have more control of what goes on here now when I’m away from the plant than I had before when I was on-site.”

The Key: Senior Management’s Open-mindedness

It was upper management’s new openness to employees’ concerns that set the stage for these innovative changes. Management didn’t give employees these problems or abstract goals such as “increase productivity” or “improve customer service.” Managers allowed employees to identify real concerns and solve these through an open evolutionary* dialogue with each other and with management. Because employees identified the problems, they were highly motivated to solve them and to make their solutions stick.

The specific problems or their solutions were not set by upper management. While the process began with people’s workplace frustrations it soon led to addressing broad, system-wide interdepartmental and supplier issues that had been unapproachable for many years. At this plant, in 18 months, productivity doubled. Small evolutionary steps had led to big changes.

* Evolutionary Problem Solving?

Evolutionary change means changes that happen as a response to the environment. Here we use “evolution” to mean the step-at-a-time changes where the next step depends on what happened at the last step, i.e. how the situation responded to the previous action and what you do as a result of that new information. This contrasts with planned change, where the end goal is set and actions all geared to achieve it. To illustrate one difference: in planned change obstacles are identified and overcome with effort. In evolutionary change there are no obstacles because the path forward is always the easiest next step — whatever the situation (environment) suggests.

cc 334 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Company Culture Leadership — Examples

Leave a Comment (0) →

213 — How To Draw Your Cultural Landscape

The Landscape Metaphor ®

It’s impossible to put most of life’s experiences into words. At work it’s fairly straightforward to verbally describe operational issues — projects, the finances, the structure and hardware. But when it comes to our personal life, what really counts — our relationships, hopes and fears, trust or lack of, apprehensions, being heard or appreciated or ignored, i.e. the immediate, concrete, ordinary experience of being an organizational member — words just don’t cut it.

For thousands of years people have used music, dance, art, and forms of literature such as metaphor and poetry, and more recently film, to convey human experience. Of course none of them get to the core of it, but they’re the best tools we have.

To help people describe the subtle complexity of the work culture, Royal Foote, Ph.D. at Meridian Group, developed a tool that quickly records and communicates many difficult-to-describe and often too-scary-to-talk-about-directly qualities of the work culture.

What I describe here may sound to some of you a little simplistic or even childlike. But I can assure you it works spectacularly. I have used it dozens of times to great effect. Many managers look back years later to these drawings, warmly and vividly recalling the issues the metaphor helped put on the table for discussion, often for resolution. Years later managers recall the relief they felt at last getting into the open deep-seated, chronic, frustrating issues around relationships, authority, and communications.

What to Do

Because it’s so strange and unconventional, the group has to be warmed up to the task. If you are the group’s leader/facilitator you tell them the group will divide into groups of 4 or 5 people. Each small group will draw one picture that includes all the elements that individual members feel are important at work. They all have 40 minutes to do the drawing and it can only use items that you find in landscapes — any kind of landscapes — but not words.

ALandscape Itemss facilitator you now ask the group to name things they might see in a landscape. Write down the words they say on a board or pad for all to see. They might start with trees or roads or houses or people. If the group gets into one track, widen their view with a question such as “How about in the tropics?” Or “What other kinds of landscapes do we have here in America?

When the list has 20 to 40 items on it and seems to cover a wide range of landscapes, say, “Now I would like you to take 40 minutes for each group to draw a picture describing how you experience . . . . . (name of the organization) using the elements from landscapes as a metaphor. No words. We are not looking for artistry. The picture should include what is important to each of you. You each have many important experiences that you can describe this way. To start you might discuss and agree on some general picture that will allow everything to be included. Everyone should contribute. You can all draw or not, but everyone must contribute and participate. The drawing must include everything you think is important. When we get back together in 40 minutes, I’d like each group to describe how it decided what to do and then what the drawing means. Any questions? . . . . . . . . . . . . Enjoy yourselves.”

Be Patient

There’s always confusion at the beginning. It’s a strange exercise and some people may be embarrassed: “Adults don’t do things like this.” But it doesn’t take long for each group to get into the swing of it. If you have a particularly small group of leaders or managers, say six or seven, you can still make two groups. It’s important that each group work independently so they don’t see or hear what another group is doing.

People usually get very creative, drawing forests with tall trees, race cars, mountain climbing, warships at sea, battles, playgrounds, money bags, battles. These describe important parts of the work culture conveying meanings that could not be described so clearly, simply and richly by any other means.

When you return, ask each group to describe the process they went through in deciding what to do, then what the drawing is and what it means. Usually each group will have one person speak for the group, but it’s a good idea to invite each other person in that group to add anything he or she feels was missed in the description.

Drawing a landscape metaphor is an excellent beginning for a retreat or a little way into the culture development process. The drawings reveal important areas for discussion that might otherwise remain under the table. Group members typically want to take these drawings back to the office and pin them in a very visible place. It’s a memorable experience. Two examples.

landscape 2

cc 213 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Understanding Your Own Company Culture

Leave a Comment (0) →
Page 1 of 10 12345...»