Posts Tagged leadership

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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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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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

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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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