135 — First, Understand Who Has The Problem

A person with a problem is motivated to do something about it. Yet strangely we often take people’s problems from them and give them to people who are not motivated.

Example — Warehouse Gridlock!

It was 8:00am on the first day of my monthly consulting visit to this Southern California distribution center. I walked in and found the DC manager almost panicked. “The warehouse has filled the receiving docks with product and is beginning to receive on the loading dock. If this continues the warehouse we will go into gridlock. Then no stores will get their orders!

With daily deliveries to over 200 stores this was a serious situation. Fortunately the immediate crisis was soon averted but the broader system problem remained — buyers didn’t plan purchases and deliveries with the warehouse people. The result could be the sudden arrival of fifteen truckloads at already full docks. Then the receiving clerk, reluctant to tell the drivers (with loads of fresh food) to go away, diverts the trucks to shipping, leading to gridlock.

Poor Relationships

Communications between Buyers and warehouseman are rarely good. Buyers see themselves as special people and their suppliers want to keep it that way. If you sell meat to a company with 200 supermarkets you will do what it takes to keep that company’s buyer ordering your brand. You’ll do what makes that buyer feel like a king.

Being human, the buyer will soon begin to believe that is true, that he is very special. The lowly receiving clerk, having tried to talk with the buyer before and been rebuffed, soon gives up on directly solving his problem and takes the bureaucratic solution of going up the chain of command, working through channels. The clerk calls his supervisor who calls his superintendent who calls the manager who calls the director who calls the SVP who calls his EVP who talks across to the marketing EVP who tells his VP to talk with the buyer. Going up and back down the chain of command takes time, messages get distorted and none of those people, except the receiving clerk, actually has the problem. The clerk is the only one truly motivated by those fifteen extra trucks. (Of course once the problem expands and the warehouse starts to lock up, the warehouse manager has a problem — but that’s not the immediate issue.)

Ideally a problem should stay with the person who has it. In this warehouse we needed to create a situation where the buyer and clerk jointly plan purchases and deliveries. That means the buyer has to see the clerk as a peer and the clerk has to see the buyer as approachable, i.e. they have to have a personal business relationship. They need to feel that they are on the same ship. The buyer doesn’t have a problem, but the receiving clerk needs the buyer’s help to solve his dock problem.

Middle managers also have to change their cultural norms

We had to help the reluctant buyer talk with the clerk and help the clerk to see that his role included calling the buyer, whom he had never met and only rarely talked to by phone. We coached middle managers to let go of their traditional roles in the chain of command. They needed to know of the major boundary crossing — the clerk talking to the buyer — but learn how to stand back and not take the problem away from the clerk. This was difficult for managers who largely defined who they were by their ability to take on others’ problems.

New broad vistas

Though this seems like a small problem it was an excellent illustration of a company-wide issue that showed itself in many areas, and frustrated people at every level. Like most cultural issues, solving this particular problem led to curing the broader cancer. Once the management team understood the clerk/buyer problem they realized it was just the tip of the iceberg. They launched a process of exploring wider implications throughout the company. It took time, ruffled many feathers, and induced much self-reflection, but eventually built a more efficient, less frustrating, more cooperative workplace.

Who has the problem? A Second Example

It was the monthly meeting of the Transportation Department where the director, managers and supervisors discussed the culture — relationships, communications and involvement. Each person shared what he or she had done to involve his or her people in the previous four weeks.

Ted, a senior supervisor from fleet maintenance said that the drivers were frustrated by the 30 minutes delay they had at the start of the shift. “It is a long walk from where they parked to the trucks and then they have to wait for the trucks to be fueled, oiled and checked out. They are anxious to get on the road.” Ted was emphatic about the drivers’ frustration, “We are always looking for ways to involve people more in solving their own problems. Since the drivers are so frustrated I’d like to see if some of them might be interested in working on what they could do to make things better. What do you think?” Ted asked the group.

Darlene, the director of transportation, thought it was a good idea, but Joe, the fleet maintenance manager, and most significantly Ted’s boss, cautioned, “Changing parking and maintenance procedures is complicated. It involves insurance liability issues and other departments. It’s not really something the driver should do.”

The group reminded Joe that he had agreed that the person closest to the problem should be involved in solving it. As they discuss this issue further it was obvious they all understood that they as managers were not the ones closest to the problem; the drivers were, so they should be solving it.

Handling objections

Joe thew one more challenge to driver involvement, “Yes but with 400 drivers that half hour cost the company a lot of money. That’s a company problem.”

I tried to connect to Joe but keep Ted in the picture by asking him, “Let’s put a rough number on this and see if it is worth looking into. You have 400 drivers. Are they each delayed a half hour a day?”

Ted, “On average that’s about right.”

“And what is the driver cost with benefits, overhead, etc.? Would you guess about $50-$60 an hour? Let’s say $50? How many days a week are we talking?”

Ted “Six on average.”

I wrote on the board and said, “So we can set a rough cost is 400 x $50 x 6 × 52 × 0.5 or about $1/2 million a year.”

Joe interjected again, “Well you couldn’t really say that. The drivers would probably do something else with that half hour. It wouldn’t go directly to savings.”

I asked, “But even if only a fraction did, would it be worth having the drivers look into it?”

Joe said “Yes” and with that the group agreed that Ted should work with the drivers. After the meeting, Ted asked me if he could call and discuss next steps. He thought a small driver group would be keen to work on this and he could help them get underway.

The Result

Ted didn’t call.

Just before the next month’s meeting started, I asked Ted why he hadn’t called. Ted said that his boss Joe didn’t really like the idea. I decided to let the issue sit. One of the rules of culture changes to go where there is support, not push where there is resistance.

Two meetings later Joe proudly described how he was working on the parking issue and driver delays. It was clearly difficult for Joe to see that he could solve the problem and engage drivers at the same time. He was so used to taking responsibility on by himself. Using Joe’s announcement as an opportunity, I invited the group to discuss once again the goal of culture change and the need to keep the person with the problem engaged in the solution. During this discussion I could see that Joe was thinking hard. From his expression I could tell he was slowly recognizing that he didn’t need to work directly on the problem, but could still keep it under control simply by being involved in the project’s development. With Darlene’s gentle prompting, Ted was now able to regain control of the process with the drivers while Joe learned a little more about defining a problem and about letting go.

This was the beginning of a real culture change in that large division. Decision-making and involvement was pushed down to the level where there was the most energy for solving the problem — with the people who had it, not with their managers — who didn’t.

Another Example. Who Had the Problem at Continental Airlines?

This is from an old The Wall Street Journal article.

“At a Houston meeting in late 1994, with Continental teetering on the brink of a third bankruptcy, eight major creditors began yelling at him (Mr. Brennenman, the then CEO) — at which point he headed for the door, announcing that he was going home to watch television. “They were screaming. ‘How could you do that?’ Mr. Brennenman recalls. “I just told them they were the ones with the problem, not me. The first step in problem solving is figuring out who’s got the problem.” Continental ended up with breathing room, and within 14 months those creditors were all repaid in full.”

cc 135 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: About Company Culture — Person and Behavior

Leave a Comment (1) →

131 — Why Employees Do What They Do

 

Employees’ imaginations inspires their actions. When employees feel positive they will act positively. Leaders can create this positive situation by behaving with a clear set of desirable values such as honesty, care, trust, respect and empathy.

Think-Feel-Act

Employee’s behavior follows their imagination. We may not always notice that imagination precedes our actions, but it does.  Sports coaches know this. They ask players to practice the game in their mind. “Imagine the follow through on your (golf) swing.”

We Choose Our Attitude

Every moment, everyday each employee chooses his or her attitude, whether to be productive or not, to be creative or not, to be cooperative or not, to be timely or tardy, to stay or to leave. And every employee chooses what fits into the company’s culture, the workplace expectations, or norms.

With the right company culture people imagine bringing more to the task, being more engaged, more responsible. In a poor culture, employees imagine being less engaged.

If People Can’t Satisfy Their Desires at Work, They May Disengage, or Even Worse!

Most employees want to have a good day, feel productive, be recognized for their achievements, and go home looking forward to returning to work the next day. If the work culture does not allow this, employees will be frustrated.

Frustrated employees withdraw their energy, creativity, and responsibility. Some will resign. Others will become actively resentful, or passive-aggressive, withholding information essential to the organization’s success. In a hostile work environment, a person may even retaliate by sabotaging operations, or in extreme cases becoming homicidal.

Engagement Is Very Profitable

You can assess the cost of low employee morale and motivation by watching the increasing productivity in a developing culture. As a culture develops, productivity increases anywhere between 10 and 100 percent. This gain represents the lost productivity of companies with a poor culture. Nationally this loss is huge, in the $trillions annually.

Developing a company culture where people see themselves as excited, caring, engaged, and valued team players, is an easy, low-cost way for leaders to make major jumps in company performance, stepping well ahead of the competition. To do this see 25 Actions to Build Your Culture

cc 131 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: About Company Culture — Person and Behavior

Leave a Comment (0) →

125 — When Competition Is Destructive

 

Internal competition often works against a good culture, against open communication, against success. No senior manager deliberately wants to close down communications, but competition in a leadership team can stifle openness throughout the company.

Most executives are unaware of the effect of their driving competitiveness. For example, you have probably experienced the well-meaning suggestions from an executive, that quickly turn to a shower of unwanted directives; or seen executives criticize another department, that unintentionally stifles cross-functional cooperation.

Aggression Above, Defense Below

Aggressive competitive behavior at the top of any organization sets the stage for aggressive, protective and defensive behavior below — such as mistrust and rigid, rule bound, and “siloed” communication. While these cultural patterns are understandable they are bad for morale, productivity, customer service and corporate success.

In the public sector, the politically appointed or elected officials compete for their share of public opinion, often criticizing each other openly. This is true in all levels of government, and in state and federal agencies. As long as organizations have combat at the top, they’ll have dysfunctional patterns below.

In every organization managers and supervisors try to protect their people from the often destructive environment they see above them. This is easier to do if your offices are physically removed from corporate headquarters. If you are in the same building it may be impossible.

One Solution — Put It On The Table For Discussion

Sometimes a good discussion about competition and communications among the members of the executive team is enough to begin changing this cultural pattern. The discussion can be fairly straightforward. One opener might be, “I’d like to hear from each of you about a situation you were in recently where communications really worked well. After that I’d like us to discuss what qualities made these situations work so well. Then I’d like to see what we can do, as the leadership group, to demonstrate more of these qualities throughout our organization. Who’d like to begin?”

Example — How One Leadership Team Changed from Combat to Cooperation

This company has 5,000 employees. I met monthly with the senior leaders to discuss building a more productive company culture. At one of these morning meetings, a manager complained that several divisions were not working well together in the field.

I had often reminded the group, “Nothing occurs in a vacuum. What you do as leaders sets the stage. People follow your example. What happens elsewhere is partly because of your actions here. And in any case, to be practical, what you do as leaders is what you can most easily change.”

This time I asked, “What are you doing that contributes to this lack of cooperation? For example, in the last six months have any of you criticized another person in this room or in another department or division?” Immediately a manger shot back with, “You mean since breakfast this morning don’t you?” Another manager chimed in, “You mean since the coffee break!”

Once the laughter died down, I hardly needed to say it — but did anyway. “So here you set an example by criticizing other people and divisions and then wonder why they don’t feel like cooperating.” This was one of those rare moments of insight for the group.

What They Changed

At the next meeting they told stories of how they had almost entirely stopped criticizing. Instead they were working together on cooperative solutions that could be easily noticed by others. For example, they decided to travel as pairs on site visits to exemplify cross department cooperation. They prohibited negative comments from their own managers, instead, helping them face and resolve issues.

The managers said that people noticed the change and liked it. The problem of lack of cooperation had significantly disappeared. All this in four weeks! Impressive.

cc 125 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: About Company Culture — Structure

Leave a Comment (0) →

124 — Studies and Reports Will Not Develop a Company Culture

Culture is not a problem to be analyzed. Studies might actually make things worse. You develop your company’s culture by doing things together. It’s the only way.

Developing a culture, or merging cultures, is not like solving an operational problem, or improving a work process. To begin with, culture is not a problem. Culture is like a person. As a person do you see yourself as a problem? I didn’t think so.

If a culture is approached as if it is a problem to be “corrected” it will probably push back, just as as you would and should.

Like a Person, Culture Is Not a Problem to Be Analyzed

Imagine someone is writing a report about you. It describes your physical features, your body, your speech, you’re known skills, how you work, and perhaps — if the writer interviewed you carefully — some more intimate things such as your likes, goals, hopes and fears.

But you know that such a report would not really capture who you are — how you experience life. More particularly it could not predict what you will do in a particular situation. Words cannot capture the experience of being you, or much about why you respond in your special way to situations and people. Even you probably don’t know why you do much of what you do.

Psychologists say that 80% of our communications are non-verbal, and of the verbal part only 25% is rational. That means that at most, only 5% of what is important can possibly be captured in even the best analytic study or report.

The reasons we do what we do are largely hidden (in our subconscious) to us, and even more so, hidden to others. But that does not matter because knowing why we do things is not as important or useful as moving forward together, achieving mutually desired goals. As an employee, I am prepared to work with you to build the trust that will lead to openness and a strong relationship. Then we will each bring enthusiasm, creativity and energy. The process of building that relationship is not a looking-backwards-and-analyzing activity. Relationships require engagement, that responds moment-to-moment to our interactions as we move forward together.

It is the same with a company culture. You can only get to know or understand a culture by doing things together, working together, through long-term conversations about the little things that make life. Getting to know someone, or a company culture is a synthetic (understanding the whole as a whole) action, not an analytic (breaking the whole into its parts) problem.

Treat People As Subjects, Not Objects

Developing a company culture is something you do intimately together, rather than something you analyze. When it comes to the people side of business, it is our actions, particularly how we do what we do, that makes all the difference. Engagement will not happen if people are treated like an object — a description in a report, or a survey statistic. It will only happen when people are engaged, valued, and involved — where the workplace is open to what people would like to bring. The challenge is getting rid of the cultural blocks to people’s engagement. You learn about these blocks through action, by starting the culture change process, by doing things together.

Culture Change Is Simple, Difficult, Satisfying

A company culture is its personality. But changing a culture is more difficult than curing a dysfunctional personality or reviving a failed marriage. Changing a work culture involves the complexities of people and large groups. It is the most difficult action a manager will ever undertake.

Managers who develop their work culture admit to the difficulty, but all say it is the most rewarding and satisfying action they have ever undertaken. Rewarding because the gains in performance, in company success, are so profound. Satisfying, because the change in the quality of work life, for themselves and everyone else, is so inspiring.

cc 124 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: About Company Culture — Structure

Leave a Comment (0) →

421 — Aligning Your People

magnet and iron filingsCulture is like a magnetic field aligning everything in it. If people are not aligned all you need do is change the magnetic field, i.e. the company’s culture, and they’ll all be aligned. That may sound overly simple, but it’s true. It’s the doing that’s difficult.

Culture and Leadership

Keep in mind that managing culture is a leadership issue. It cannot be delegated. If people are not aligned it means that when they look up and see the leadership team, or when they receive communications or information from the leadership team, they hear and see different things. Another way of saying that is, if employees all saw and heard the same thing, they would be aligned. That is the very nature of culture.

It is futile to delegate this problem of alignment to a “training” team or to an outside expert. Looking at the problem as, “WE need to align THEM” is looking in the wrong direction. Sadly many leadership teams deny that they are misaligned. They project misalignment onto the broader organization — though deep inside, each person on the leadership team probably knows that this is an issue in their own team.

It’s accurate and honest to look at misalignment as information about the culture, i.e. information to the leadership team that it should work on better communicating alignment. How can it do that?

Start with the Leadership Team

Assume that the leadership team is not aligned. If it were, so would everyone else. This doesn’t mean the leadership team needs to beat itself over the head. But it does mean that the team members need to have some heart-to-heart discussions about their own relationships and communications, where they are going, what values they believe in, and how they will show alignment by example to the organization. Discussions like this are difficult. They may need a third-party facilitator; or else one or two people could dominate the conversation; or the discussion might stay at a superficial level and not get to people’s true feelings and thoughts.

Take Your Time

This lack of alignment problem didn’t develop overnight and it won’t be corrected in one session. Even with outside help, it takes time for the leadership team to get comfortable discussing such sensitive areas. People need time to think over the discussions, get in touch with their feelings, look in the mirror, prepare to be more open — and hence more vulnerable — in a room possibly packed with alpha males. I know from experience that the first of these meetings may bring snarling, fangs bared, and hair raised on the back of neck’s. It helps when the facilitator knows what to do when attacked. Why is the facilitator attacked? Because the members cannot directly tackle the chief, the top dog. They deflect their aggression (and fears) to the newcomer. After this happens a few times you learn to look around the group and quietly ask, “Any other comments?”

Leadership, power, authority, competition and control are some of the most contentious and difficult areas for anyone or any leadership team to discuss — but they are often the most important. Don’t imagine that this means some kind of group psychotherapy or bare-the-soul discussions. It might mean simply asking, “How can we show greater alignment? What could we do to show we are all on the same page?” Often doing more things together, showing cooperation, will begin moving along the path to success.

Fortunately, as the leadership team becomes more comfortable discussing and showing its own alignment the managers at the next level see that a new wind is blowing, that the management team is becoming a true team, more cohesive, open, and less internally competitive. It is in the nature of people and of culture that this next level of managers will themselves start to think, feel, and act with greater alignment. And so it will flow down and across the organization.

Problem Solved

If the management team perseveres in exploring and experimenting with how it can show greater alignment to the organization, the problem, first defined as “People are not aligned!” will evaporate. Guaranteed!

cc 421 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — People

Leave a Comment (0) →
Page 5 of 10 «...34567...»