Posts Tagged company culture

413 — Collaboration, Teamwork and Cooperation

People like to be valued and appreciated, and involved, in decisions that affect them. Involvement, teamwork and collaboration are basic human desires. To get them, invite them.

Here are two examples. The first is a manager, deep within the organization, who created a new collaborative setting with her peers. The second is how a top leadership team decided to change its collaboration message to those below.

Example I: Initiating Collaboration as A Mid-Manager

Jo-Ann, a second-tier manager in a major manufacturer, had a special assignment: to better coordinate the functions across R&D, marketing, sales, manufacturing, shipping and service. Jo-Ann and I carefully planned an approach that included “Interviewing” key people, together with carefully practiced group facilitation techniques (see Make Better Decisions).

At the first meeting, the managers, directors and VPs she invited, were suspicious. Some had wanted to send a subordinate in their place — she took this to mean that they were not on-board. It took Jo-Ann three, very carefully facilitated meetings, where she stood thoroughly neutral on all issues, before attendees trusted her enough to put their real concerns about collaboration on the table.

It was several more meetings before members allowed the group to make decisions that affected their functions. The group liked their experience and the positive results so much that they continued, expanding the topic to include other cross-functional issues. The Executive Committee applauded Jo-Ann’s success, rewarding her with a significant promotion.

The Lesson; You can invite collaboration from any level in the organization

Hidden behind much of people’s initial resistance to collaboration is the common human longing for teamwork and good relationships. If you have a project that affects others, talk with each one personally. Build a relationship. Take your time explaining how your project will affect them or their people. Stay open. Be clear that you don’t have the answer. Say something like, “I’d like to pull together everyone affected so we can all find a way to make it work for everyone. I’m planning on inviting . . . . . . . . . If I find a time that suits everyone, could you join us?” This way you can take the lead on collaboration.

If you persevere, most people will eventually join you. Don’t be fooled by people’s sometime gruff initial response. That usually just a defensive reaction to being burned in the past.

Example II: Upper Management Encourages Collaboration by Cutting the Criticism

This was the leadership group of a 5,000-person company located in the southwest. We met for several hours monthly, discussing how to build a more productive company culture. At one of these morning meetings, a manager complained that at lower levels of the company, divisions were not working well together.

In my role as their company culture consultant, I frequently reminded the group, “Nothing occurs in a vacuum. What you do as leaders sets the stage. People follow your example. What happens below is partly because of your actions here at the top. And in any case, to be practical, that is the part you can most easily change.”

This time I did not give them this full spiel, but I did ask, “What might you be doing that inadvertently supported this lack of cooperation? For example, in the last six months have any of you criticized another person in this room or 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!” As the laughter subsided, I hardly needed to say it — but did anyway. “So here we are setting an example, by criticizing other people and divisions, and then wondering why they don’t feel like cooperating.”

This was one of those rare moments of insight for the group. At the next meeting they told stories of how they had stopped criticizing, and instead, were working together on visibly cooperative solutions. They also reported that people below had noticed the change and liked it.

The Lesson; To Understand Employee’s Behavior, Look at Leader’s Behavior

The cultural or system perspective says: “No event occurs in a vacuum. If you want to understand an event — in this case, why people aren’t collaborating — just look at the situation. It will tell you.” Ask yourself, “If people aren’t collaborating, how is our organization saying, ‘Don’t collaborate’?”

People don’t collaborate when leaders give the signal not to. This is rarely intentional. I have never found a leader who says he or she wants non-cooperation. However, I have seen many leaders whose personal actions do not demonstrate or invite collaboration. For example, they might be critical of people’s suggestions or actions, or they might make decisions without involving the people affected, or they might be generally distant. Whatever the reason, if leaders don’t show collaboration in their daily actions, people throughout the organization will follow their lead.

cc 413 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — People

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114 — Some Company Culture Maxims

    • There is no event in a vacuum. To understand an event, look at its context.
    • The event is not the problem. The person is not the problem. The system is the problem.
    • What people do reflects the culture. Culture is established by its leaders. What people do is information about the culture and about the leaders.
    • A company’s culture is the context for all that happens in the company.
    • Because the culture determines productivity and profits, it is the real bottom line.
    • The purpose of human systems is to serve people. If people are the subject, not the object — if people are put first — enthusiasm and high productivity will follow.
    • Don’t involve people just to solve problems. Use problems and problem-solving to involve people.
    • You can’t have a safe workplace if you don’t have safe meetings.

 

cc 114 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: About Company Culture — Definitions

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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?

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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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123 — Evolution and Company Culture

 

Company cultures do not develop with the familiar analyze-plan-direct process used for operational issues. Cultures develop with an evolutionary process, .i.e. in response to the environment, to opportunities — never against resistance. You might induce a work culture to evolve, but you cannot direct a work culture to evolve by command from above.

Leaders can induce a work culture to evolve by changing the cultural “force-field”. They can do this easily and simply, by changing how they lead. When leaders, show openness, trust, and participation in their actions, they change the work environment, and the culture adapts (evolves) to it. An evolved or developed work culture is good for people and excellent for business success. Here are the principles of evolution.

What Is Evolution?

In its broadest sense evolution is change over time. In its more technical “Darwinian” usage, biological evolution occurs when a genetic change spreads to large populations of a species, because it helps the species survive. In everyday usage we say “evolution” occurs in organisms, galaxies, languages, cultures, people and politics.

Evolution Requires Adapting to the Environment

Billions of years ago when Earth’s temperature dropped and the right chemicals were present, life emerged. Life was a remarkable response to a changed environment. Organisms became increasingly complex, in response to complex environments, eventually occupying every conceivable ecological niche.

Organisms survive when they are well adapted. If the environment changes and the organism does not change, it will die. Dinosaurs expired when a large meteor hit the Earth, dramatically changing the climate. You don’t want this to happen to your company. As the Boy Scouts say, “Be Prepared.”

Human Evolution

“Human evolution” has three common meanings.

    • Biological evolution that took us from early primates to modern man. Notable additions were the large brain, the upright gait, and the opposable thumb.
    • Personal development of the individual from childhood to adulthood, from relative simplicity to psychological complexity.
    • Social evolution with our highly developed communication and social skills. Outstanding among these are language and culture.

 

Company Evolution

A company culture evolves if it develops in a direction that is good for people, and good for business. The process mirrors biological evolution, where genetic changes survive because they are advantageous to the species. Similarly, desirable corporate changes are those that ensure the health and long-term survival of the company.

When an evolved culture allows people to bring more of themselves to the task, the company will be more productive, profitable, and competitive. In evolutionary terms, this means the company will be stronger, more vital, more robust. When changes occur in the marketplace, the more evolved company will be more responsive and adaptable. It will thrive, while less developed, less adaptable companies fail.

A Well Developed Company Culture

Culture and personality are very similar. A well-developed company culture would be similar to a mature adult. It might be: open, secure, confident, responsible, empathetic, tolerant, self-aware, caring, engaged and engaging, trusting and trustable, productive, complex, self-directed, with actions based on a good and clear set of values.

A poorly developed company culture would be similar to a poorly developed person. For example it might be described as: impulsive, exploitive, aggressive, manipulative, blaming, fearful, controlling, dependent, retaliatory and having conceptual simplicity e.g. sees things in black and white terms instead of shades of gray, or, blames a person instead of looking at the situation.

Evolution Is Not a Motivational Session

While seminars and motivational events may be part of a company’s culture, such events will not change a work culture. There is no quick fix. Evolution is a long-term process of change, where desired characteristics are retained, undesirable ones allowed to regress, and undeveloped ones encouraged.

Ironically, attempts to change the culture by directives or motivational events may actually move the culture backwards. Such top-down actions reinforce the strong authoritarian qualities typical of most underdeveloped work cultures.

Evolution Is Unpredictable

At the start of the universe, who could have imagined life, people, or cultures? Evolution is certainly unpredictable, a real surprise. There are infinite ways:

      • The world could have evolved.
      • The day might turn out.
      • To be a mature person.
      • To become a well-developed company culture.

 

To illustrate unpredictability, let’s say managers decide to open decisions to the participation of people affected. What happens is often surprising, e.g.

A group of engineers at a chemical plant made a presentation to a work crew about a new supply system they were planning to install in the crew’s area. When they opened the meeting to questions one of the long-term employees casually mentioned that a similar system was currently accessible close by (though apparently missing from the plant’s ‘as-built’ engineering drawings). Surprised at the new information, the engineers cancelled their proposed project — at considerable saving.

Cultures Evolve Because People Want Them to Evolve

People want to be more productive, more involved, recognized, communicate better, and have stronger working relationships. So there is a natural pressure for the company to move in that direction. That’s why when leaders show that they want the culture to evolve, people quickly join them. You might say that leadership’s challenge is to get out of the way and let natural selection work.

cc 123 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: About Company Culture — Structure

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