Archive for About Company Culture — Person and Behavior

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.”

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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

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132 — To Understand Behavior, Look At the Situation — The Culture

A person’s behavior is information about the person’s situation. Culture is the situation. To understand culture, look at what people do. To understand behavior, look at the culture.

When something goes wrong:

      • Don’t focus on the person as if they are the problem.
      • Don’t look at the problem as if it is an independent event.
      • Do look at the situation that led to the problem.

 

“There is no event in a vacuum.” Most problems come from the system. Most system problems come from poor decisions, resulting from poor relationships and communications. These are cultural issues, which is why the culture is always part of any problem, often the root cause.

Culture Is the Context for Human Actions

What people do comes from who they are and the situation they are in — a person in a culture. People in any culture behave similarly because they have a shared sense of what is appropriate. At work, our national culture combined with the local company culture, tells us what is appropriate. Anthropologists have long known that culture is the context that explains human actions.

1-situation behavior

Personality plays a role in what happens, but as a manager you cannot change someone’s personality — and you probably should not try. The situation or company culture is the most important part to look at for two reasons:

  1. The culture is the part leaders can manage.
  2. Managing the culture has great leverage. Developing the culture lifts the whole ship, not one part — it is a very efficient allocation of management time.

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133 — Splitting Thoughts and Actions Cuts Profits

For many employees, what goes on in their head is not what they show through their words and actions. This split between thought and behavior is stressful and unproductive, a waste of company resources — bad for people and bad for business.

One of the many threads that led to my interest in culture was the book Something Happened by Joseph L. Heller of Catch 22 fame. In his book, Heller chronicles the inner life of Bob Slocum, a corporate middleman acutely conscious of company politics and power.

Like your average corporate employee, Bob Slocum struggles with what to say and what not to say in a meeting. He tries to interpret comments and glances in a hallway. He is uncertain about where he stands in the eyes of those above him. He does not say what he thinks. The contrast between his thoughts and actions, his feeling and words is jarring. What is real and unreal, true or false, rapidly blurs.

This describes my own experiences in my 20s, first as an employee, and later as a supervisor and manager in several companies. Later I thought, “If Slocum experiences corporate life like I do, perhaps others do also. Why don’t we talk about this at work?”

Dividing Thought and Action

We each adopt to the world of work. If we don’t we are ejected. I learned, as most of us do, that at work we discuss the abstractions, the ‘quantitative’ details of production — the numbers. In business meetings we rarely discuss the hard data of our immediate concrete experiences of work. We do not put these personal facts on the table. We sit in meetings thinking constantly, saying little. If we do talk about our feelings, it is at lunch, at the water cooler, in the restroom, after the meeting, or to our spouse in the evening, or to our friends at social gatherings.

Joining Thought and Action

Companies with well-developed cultures build relationships and trust that allow people to say what they are thinking, to be what they long to be, to hold together thought and action, to bring more of themselves to work. These companies are highly energetic and creative, a pleasure to work in, very productive, and exceptionally profitable.

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