144 — Can You Change Your Company’s Culture Yourself?

 

You know you need to change your company culture. You know some ways you could begin, e.g. choosing one or two items from the list of 25 Actions, beginning the Interviews or diving off the deep end by starting down the full culture change path. But you’ve never done anything like this before — you’re walking in the dark. Can you do it yourself or should you bring in skilled professional assistance?

Easy or Hard?

With your last acquisition and merger you brought in a Wall Street banker. Surely culture change is a lot easier? It isn’t. Changing a culture is the hardest thing a leader can ever undertake. Nothing else gets close.

In some ways leading culture change change is a little bit like being a family therapist, but on a vast scale. Just as a skilled therapist can help a family change its ways, a skilled experienced business leader who is familiar with changing a company culture can do it. However a business unit manager who has not gone through the trying experience of changing a culture will probably fail when confronted by the brilliantly skillful ways all cultures have to keep things just the way they are.

It’s not as if the culture doesn’t want to change. They do. Everybody wants to enjoy work, feel productive, be appreciated for their contribution, and go home knowing they have had a good day and will have another good day tomorrow. That’s not the problem. The leadership problem in culture change is getting to know the culture as if it were that ambivalent person and gently nudging it, by working closely together, to the better place — of greater maturity, openness and trust — while the culture tries too stay just where it is. Doing that is a learned skill. It doesn’t come naturally.

Not an Analytic Problem

Leading and changing a company culture is not an abstract academic skill you pick up in business school. It is very much like “emotional intelligence”, something you learn by living. A company is the collective mind of hundreds, perhaps tens of thousands of people. It has a powerful memory and enormous inertia. It is very comfortable doing things in familiar ways and is very skilled at resisting efforts to change it (unless of course it is involved in and feels the necessity for the change. Then it can change rapidly.)

The Odds of Success

You may have come across the statistics on the success of “Change Management” efforts. They are dismal. Most start with good intentions, few succeed.

There are very few specialists with the necessary skills to assist leaders in culture change. Most consultants are trained in analysis and project management. They approach culture change as if it were a project. It’s not. When it comes to culture, analysis and reports can actually make things worse. A company’s culture is its personality — the way it is in the world. You don’t understand a person or a culture with analysis and reports. You get to know a culture, and how to influence it, just like you get to know a person — by doing things together, by watching how it reacts in different situations, by seeing how it responds to your requests, your attention, your needs, your urgings. Learning to do that takes years of specialized experience.

If You Have Not Done It Before, Get Help

To summarize; if you’re the business unit leader and have not been coached or mentored through a full culture change experience, don’t try it by yourself. It’s just too strange, too unfamiliar, too difficult. In addition, the first time around you probably want to be part of the team, not standing out in front where you’ll definitely take some arrows in your back. It’s just not worth it. The odds of do-it-yourself success are slim, while the potential payoff of successful culture change is enormous.

cc 144 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: About Company Culture — Why is Culture Important?

Leave a Comment (0) →

332 — A Plant Turnaround, The Manager’s Story

By engaging employees, a manager improves productivity and avoids closing the plant. This is his story in his words.

“I was a Plant Manager at the California Plant of a multi-plant Fortune 50 company. There I worked with Meridian Group for a number of years, and with their help, became a student of the cultural approach to leadership. During all my years at the California plant, this operation was the number one or number two performer in a thirteen plant nationwide production system. My job was to get quality products on the dock, and I did that through people.”

“I was recognized for my management accomplishments with a promotion to Vice President of the company’s flagship plant in the Midwest. In my five years there, I applied the lessons I learned in California, to take this plant from the highest cost producer to among the company’s lowest cost producers.”

“While much of this was done through capital improvements, the attention to the plant culture allowed these improvements to come on stream with a minimum of plant disruption. I kept this question in front of my mind. ‘How do you get the hearts and minds and interest of the people?’

Getting Everyone On-Board

“At the first management meeting at the mid-western operation, the managers were ready to give me the production numbers. But I asked ‘How many people were laid off this week, and on what shifts?’ I also asked about accidents. Second I said ‘I want a measure of the quality of production. Then last I’ll want the numbers.’ The response was silence from my managers.”

“I said ‘Here is the direction, how can we get there?’ I got the message out in weekly meetings, and annual meetings. I repeatedly explained the overall goal, and opened the plans to the people affected. This really threw them off base. They were used to management keeping things close. I kept asking [myself and managers], ‘How can we ensure that the people will trust management?’”

“We had weekly meetings with supervisors. These were “No-Agenda” meetings. The topic was relationships. The Plant Manager was there week after week.”

“First I explained the numbers, and if we don’t go from here to there, all our jobs will go, and the plant will shut down. ‘Do you agree with my figures? My choice is to do it or shut it down.’ I put all the numbers out for everyone to see and understand.”

“We had many different unions on the production floor. Because of the increased production, it meant layoffs in one area but more work in another. I committed to no long-term layoffs. That meant a lot of retraining.”

Operating Results

“Over five years we shrank the workforce from 2,500 people to 1,700 people, all by attrition and retirements. On the way we had 1 million man-hours without a lost-time accident. And we did all this while keeping people on-board.”

“I had a coherent master plan — reduce cost by one million dollars a month. We aimed at sixty million over five years. We easily achieved that. The actual savings were almost double our goal over the five years.”

 “I used lessons I learned at a smaller plant, to change the largest plant in the system.”

cc 332 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Company Culture Leadership — Examples

Leave a Comment (0) →

416 — Managing “Resistance” to Change

Resistance is a symptom of something else. Unless you get to the cause you will spend endless time trying to manage the “resistance” symptom.

Change is Natural

Change is natural in this world. Evolution itself is a response to change. We naturally respond to a changed situation — if it is cold you put on a sweater, if you are short of cash you don’t eat at a fancy restaurant. Sometimes managers, stockholders, suppliers, or customers look at a company or at a person and think, “They are so stuck in their ways, so rigid.” Sometimes managers think, “Why don’t employees show more enthusiasm for the changes?”

But none of us experience ourselves as rigid, as resisting change. We always experience ourselves as responding appropriately to our situation. Others may not understand just what our experience is, but we do. We are each intimately connected to our world in our own unique way. If people or organizations do not respond to change you can assume they do not experience the need to change, i.e. their environment has not changed — from their point of view — from their experience.

Resistance is a Straw Man

The idea that people resist change is a straw man, a red-herring. Resisting change is not an issue, because nobody resists. Talking about people, departments, or companies as if they resist change is a way to avoid understanding the true situation — that the person or group is not properly connected to the (changing) company environment, so does not experience the need to change.

Example

For over two years the management of a 300 employee chemical plant had been trying to get operators to pay more attention to costs, maintenance, overtime, wasteful processes, etc. But employees seemed to not care. Early in Meridian Group’s work with this company we had pointed out to the managers that while they prepared detailed statements of costs, profit margins, etc. that these were shared only within management ranks, not with operators. Managers said that sharing this with (union) employees was “Just not done.”

A new operations manager was brought in from outside and we mentioned the obvious contradiction to him. He immediately asked the accounting department to begin sharing numbers with the operators on a weekly basis at the regular morning meetings. The operators were thrilled to have this financial area of the company opened to them. The day when the numbers were discussed was the most well attended of the morning meetings.

Soon supervisors and managers reported that operators were becoming more conscious of costs, sometimes going overboard. E.g. one now-cost-sensitive supervisor canceled installing a concrete slab in a highly trafficked area under an elevated production unit because he felt it was too much money. As he explained, “I wouldn’t do that at home.” It took the Plant Manager to convince him that in the plant’s budget this was a tiny item and the benefit was worth it.

This plant now reported constantly dropping monthly costs as employees felt a new level of understanding, responsibility and control. Engaging employees around cost control was just one piece of a broad culture change effort that eventually made this plant a model for the other plants in the company.

cc 416 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — People

Leave a Comment (1) →

333 — Culture Change in Three Days?

My partner and I had an initial three day visit with a new client in the Midwest. The company’s workforce was overworked and demoralized. Turnover exceeded 80%. The managers wanted to improve morale and help new hires and temporary employees quickly become productive. Here is the story of a highly motivated group moving quickly to action.

Day One

The client is a 300-person division of a $2 billion annual sales retailer. The first meeting my partner and I had was Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. with the unit manager. We discussed work issues and what Meridian Group would do over the next three days. At 9:00 a.m., we attended the daily Operations Meeting where we met the managers and supervisors and discussed why we were there. Following the meeting, we spent the rest of the day in one-on-one interviews with department managers, establishing relationships and learning about the culture. That evening, my partner and I shared our interview notes with each other and developed our preliminary understanding of the culture.

Day Two

At 9:00 a.m. the following morning, Thursday, we attended the weekly Senior Staff Meeting. As we had done at the Operations Meeting, we discussed company culture — what it is and how to change it. But now, armed with information gathered from the interviews, we spoke from greater knowledge. We outlined to the managers the basics of culture change:

“Think of culture as a circle. The bottom is the operations half, WHAT we do, the hardware, systems, controls, production, and profits. On the top is the human half-HOW we do operations. This includes communication, trust, relationships, involvement, and the meaning people give to management’s actions. Most companies have a well-developed bottom half, but their top half is underdeveloped. In most workplaces, what people do is largely outside of their direct control—driven by laws, technology, customers, markets, and financial constraints. Fortunately, culture flows mostly from how we do our work. We have almost total control over this. Developing the company culture means getting the two halves in balance-paying attention to the messages we convey in how we do things.”

First Decide Where to Go

Then, we asked each of them, “Think of a work situation where you felt involved and motivated. What were the qualities of that workplace?” In summary they said, it’s a situation where:

    • I am recognized.
    • There is camaraderie.
    • I get honest feedback.
    • I get support from management.
    • I am trusted — give and take on ideas.
    • There is respect from the top down—not fear.
    • Expectations are in line. We know the goal and what to do.
    • People help each other — teamwork.
    • I feel I am a part of something bigger.
    • I receive mentoring and training.
    • There is pride in accomplishments.
    • I feel trust.
    • That I am taken care of by leaders.

 

We titled that list “What we want more of here at work.”

Then Decide What to Do — Action

We then asked, “What opportunities happen every day that can reinforce these qualities?” They said:

    • Everything every day.
    • How we manage staffing, retention and training.
    • Daily interactions with associates — more balanced.
    • Talk one-on-one with new hires.
    • When people do it right — recognize it.
    • New people at the start of the shift — introduce them.
    • Find out something personal about a low performer and encourage them.
    • Rotations, cross training.
    • Talk with smaller, nine-person teams, not just the full shift.
    • Follow through on issues employees raise, involve them.
    • The new production process, involve people.

 

Almost everyone committed to doing something that same day and to talk about what they did at the Friday morning Operations Meeting.

Day Three

There were five people from the Staff Meeting at the Operations Meeting. They had each done something:

    • One had conversations with several people he didn’t normally talk with.
    • Two brought their teams together to get their ideas on proposed procedures.
    • Two started to meet each day with a different team member—”Quality time.”

 

The operations manager was as impressed as I was. He asked if this “people side” discussion should be a permanent part of the daily operations meeting. They all agreed. The Operations Manager reminded them that small steps were best steps.

The Future

Large trees from little acorns grow. As these managers continue their attention to the top half of the culture it won’t be long before morale and productivity will improve and turnover will cease to be a problem. The managers can then tackle the broader system issues that led to the present crisis.

This was the fastest move to action I had ever experienced. I could tell that the managers were as pleased as I was. I looked forward to our next site visit to see what had developed and to plan with the managers the long-range change process.

cc 333 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Company Culture Leadership — Examples

Leave a Comment (0) →

412 — Employeee Engagement Example

Every politician knows that the way to quell opposition is to put the agitators on the payroll. Engagement is like that. It handles “attitudes.”

Every company has “problem people”. Their behavior ranges from poor performance, to poor attitudes, to departmental morale busters. Whatever shape and size the problem is, your solution should demonstrate the qualities you want more of in the company. Old-style top-down autocracies traditionally point the finger at the employee and say, “You’re a problem and we’re going to do something about YOU.” The solution was usually “coaching”, “training”, reassignment or firing, none of which demonstrates the kind of qualities you want in your workplace.

There’s a Better Way

The company was a unionized, major Southern California distribution center. The seven person cleaning (sanitation) crew had two problem employees. They combined poor performance with bad attitudes. Their traditional, autocratic supervisor tried everything he knew. He shouted, got angry, lectured them on their bad performance and threatened they’d better straighten up or . . . . . .  Yes, you’ve seen his kind a dozen times. The other five members of the crew performed at an adequate level, but were hardly inspired. They didn’t like the supervisor’s behavior either. No one likes being threatened. This supervisor didn’t know any other way. Fortunately the distribution center manager did.

Using an Opportunity to Change

An increase in the workload gave the DC manager an opportunity to transfer the supervisor to the overworked area. Before doing that the DC manager asked the cleaning crew if they would be prepared to manage the cleaning themselves. They were thrilled and over four weeks, mostly on their own time, they prepared detailed spreadsheets describing how they would organize the cleaning process. These detailed plans, which the crew pinned on bulletin boards for feedback, were impressive. Even more impressive was what happened behind the scenes. The five-members told the two problem employees that they had to shape up and get on board or the proposed changes wouldn’t work. Failure was not an option. This was peer pressure at its strongest.

Within two months the distribution center was spotless, achieving the highest possible rating from an independent assessment group. As if by magic, the two “problem employees” were problems no longer. There were now seven highly motivated, enthusiastic and productive employees — fully engaged.

cc 412 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — People

Leave a Comment (0) →
Page 4 of 10 «...23456...»