Posts Tagged change

437 — Manage Uncertainty and Change with Adaptability

darwincolor

 

Charles Darwin discovered a key principle of evolution — survival of the fittest.  Massive dinosaurs dominated Earth for 20 million years, but following a sudden environmental change it was the insignificant, tiny, agile mammals that adapted and survived. Darwin recognized that in the long run fittest meant most adaptable.

With today’s increasing uncertain business environment — in markets, technology and regulation — organizing your company around yesterday’s predictability, brings unacceptable risk. We no longer have a stable environment — where the appropriate response is a hierarchic structure, policy manuals, and detailed procedures for each contingency. In a changing, uncertain, unpredictable environment, employees who are hampered by old-style structures and policies can’t respond quickly or properly. That’s the path to extinction.

Engage Employees with the Marketplace

The key to quickly adapting to the changing marketplace is being highly engaged with that marketplace. You can’t predict where the changes will come from but you will minimize your risk if every employee is fully committed and engaged, rapidly responding to change by feeding information into the organization, information they constantly receive through their engagement.

That kind of organizational adaptability takes strong relationships and trust. But how can you hold an employee’s trust when you can’t even promise they’ll be here tomorrow? “I want committed employees, but I can’t commit to them.” This looks like a dilemma. The challenge is to build a company culture, where employees are committed, open and trusting, but at the same time understand and accept that there are no employment guarantees.

It Takes Honesty, Openness and Trust

Employees know the realities of business. Adults appreciate straight talk. Unfortunately many managers think they should always put on a good front and that that sometimes means concealing negative information that may significantly affect employees, such as a severe financial downturn. But in an open and trusting workplace, where people at all levels are committed to each other, managers can talk as straightforwardly to employees about the financial health of the company, or unstable markets, or employment as they can about anything else.

Employees should be able to trust management to be open and honest, no matter what the topic. In such a workplace employees will accept the facts as facts because they know that no matter what happens, managers will do their best for everybody. That’s the new contract. It’s powerful and it works.

Does that sound hard to achieve? You might need help getting there, but the result is an adaptive, market-responsive company, guaranteeing survival. Darwin would approve, maybe even smile.

cc 437 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — People

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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

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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

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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

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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

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