Posts Tagged authority

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

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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

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121 — The Structure of Culture, The Five Levels

 

You don’t need to know the structure of your brain or personality to change your attitude and behavior. Similarly you don’t need to know the structure of you company culture in order to change it. However for those managers who’d like to know the basic structure of culture, here are the five distinct parts or levels. In a well developed work culture, these parts are balanced. The first three you can analyze, the last two you can’t. See also Balance The Two Halves of Culture.

1. Physical Objects — equipment

bridge 039This is the first level of any culture. It includes tools and objects people use to build and make, the clothes they wear, the structures they live and work in, the products they trade or sell, and the art they create and cherish. This is the level of physics and chemistry, equipment, hardware, engineering, and technology. (more…)

Posted in: About Company Culture — Structure

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