Posts Tagged participation

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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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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327 — Selecting The Best Candidate for Promotion

When a group is involved in selecting its own leader, you get the best candidate and a motivated, committed team. This process also demonstrates desirable cultural values.

“My lead manager suddenly resigned and I am looking for a replacement.” In this top-down autocratic company my friend added that he didn’t know if the opening would be filled with somebody from his own team or from another division. I suggested that he could use this unexpected vacancy as an opportunity to engage the people most affected — his Department Managers — in the selection process. Done right, the process would reveal the best candidate and further develop the division’s culture. Here’s what we discussed.

Invite the Department Managers to a meeting, “To discuss the selection of your new leader“. In the meeting, outline this group decision process. With your leadership they will:

    • Develop and agree on the selection criteria for the new lead manager.
    • Rank-order their selection criteria.
    • Rate each other (everyone in the room) against the criteria.
    • Discuss the results.

Be clear that the results of their discussion will not necessarily be the final decision. But at minimum what they say will be an important part of the selection decision process. Ask for their agreement before using this process. It involves peer feedback. People will be apprehensive. You might hand out copies of this paper so they better understand the process before agreeing to it. Emphasize that what is discussed in the meeting is confidential—it must “stay in the room”. Get their commitment to this.

Develop the Selection Criteria

    • Ask everybody to think about the qualities they would like in their new leader.
      “Think about a leader you had when you felt motivated and productive- who make your work easier. With that situation in mind, what qualities would you like in your new leader?” Allow plenty of time for discussion. Then allow five or ten minutes for everyone to separately write down his or her thoughts.
    • Go around the group asking each person for one criterion. Record what they say on a flip chart. Continue until there are no more criteria. For more on this technique see Making Better Decisions.
    • Ask the group to consolidate the criteria into 6 to 10 numbered items.
    • Ask each person to individually rank order the numbered items on a separate piece of paper.
    • Collect their rankings, tally the results, and write it on the flip chart
    • Now ask the group to weight each ranked item so the total is 100. This can be done individually and the results tallied, or it can be done through general group discussion.

You can stop the process at this point with some valuable information to the group, or you can continue and rank the candidates.

Rank Order the Candidates

    • On an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of paper turned horizontally (landscape mode), draw a rectangular grid/matrix with the criteria written on the left as horizontal rows, and each candidate (everyone in the room) as a vertical column with their initials on the top. Make one copy for everybody. This might be done during a coffee break.
    • Have each person privately rank order everyone (except him or herself) against each criterion. 1 as highest. No ties. Explain that the consolidated results will be information for them as a group and individually.
    • After each person has completed his or her scoring you collect them all and privately tally the results. Make a copy of the tally sheet for each person in the room. Destroy the individual ranking pages.

 

Discuss the Results

Each manager now knows how the group rates each person against the criteria they all developed. Some will rank high, others low. Sometimes one person stands out as the group’s clear favorite. Leave plenty of time for discussion. It may move in surprising and productive directions. For example an experienced team might decide that those scoring high in one area might coach those scoring low. Be open to developments.

Do a “Plus/Delta” on the meeting. Thank everyone for participating. Remind them of their agreement on confidentiality.

Caution

My friend the director was quite apprehensive about using this process with his managers. It is not for all groups. In a competitive or mistrusting group, the results might be used outside of the meeting as ammunition. This is dangerous and unfair. Because of the potential for misuse, discuss the process in detail with the group ahead of time. Get full understanding and honest agreement before using it.

In the right setting this process is exciting and informative. It identifies the person who can lead the team to new heights.

This process:

    • Involves the people most affected—in this case the Department Managers.
    • Demonstrates a new level of openness and involvement in a very sensitive area.
    • By opening the selection process to scrutiny, it reduces accusations of favoritism.
    • Shows the managers they are valued in new ways and encourages them to do something similar in their own departments.
    • Produces a clear set of selection criteria — what is important about the job to those most affected.
    • If the top ranked candidate is finally chosen, it almost guarantees his or her on-the-job success because he or she will have the support of the group.
    • Informs and simplifies the selection process for the Division Director.
    • Gives managers feedback from their peers on areas they should work on.

 

So what happened?

We worked through the process just as described. The managers were pleased and amazed at what they did and what it meant to them. Their rank ordering had no surprises, but doing it themselves built a powerful understanding and teamwork. It turned out that the corporation transferred in a new manager from outside the division. But that didn’t diminish the team’s work or the value and learning they gained from it.

More on Creative Uses for Group Decisions:

A very similar process is described in the paper Promotions and Transfers. You can use this process to pick the best candidate, satisfy everyone involved, and develop the culture. Here a volunteer group used a similar decision process to shrink itself to a workable size.

cc 327 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Company Culture Leadership -- Specific Tools

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420 — Trust: People Won’t Speak Up at Meetings

A site visitor sent this email.

Barry,

I am a Logistics Manager at a bulky waste removal & recycling company. I manage guys in the field as well as the day-to-day stuff of the company. Every Monday (without fail) I hold a meeting to “get stuff on the table” as well as motivate the guys. I seem, though, to be running out of things to go over with them. The job is not complex, but does require labor and common sense as well as customer service. The guys are great. I have no complaints. I just can’t seem to find anything to go over continually with them. When I ask them what I can do to help them, or any suggestions, my questions are returned with answers of “Everything’s fine” or “No Complaints”. I constantly extend my appreciation for the wonderful job that they do daily, and do not take them for granted. I tried a motivational video, but it was extremely complex. I want to present fun, exciting things for them, so they can get amped up. I want them to view their day-to-day activities as challenges. Do you have any ideas?? I would appreciate anything that you can think of.
Thanks so much!
Darlene

Silence in Meetings A Common Problem

Dear Darlene,

I want to congratulate you on holding regular meetings. Even if people stay silent, keep it up.

The problem you face, getting the guys to talk up, is very common. I have spent many hours with groups of first-line employees in the recycling business. I think I know just what you are talking about. You have to be very patient and persistent. Eventually some of them will speak out, and that will be enough. There will always be some who will remain silent, and that’s OK.

There are two topics I have used to get people to speak up — and eventually “amped up” as you say. One area is Safety — “What can we do to make things safer around here?” The other area is Improvements — “What can we do to make things work better around here?” or, “What would make your job simpler and easier?”

Use the Four-Step Decision Process

I like to use the four-step decision process. The first step is “Describing the Situation, Issue, or Problem”. You might tell the group at one Monday meeting that at the next meeting you want to talk about any issue they have, or might want to discuss in the areas of Safety, Improvements, Problems, Making Work Easier, or Anything Else that is important to them. Tell them than next Monday you want to make a list of all the things they can think of, the longer the better.

Set the Stage.

During the week, talk individually with as many crew members as you can about the upcoming meeting and their work experiences. You might even consider doing one or two “Interviews” every week. Do what you can to encourage them to think about issues and problems before the meeting, and to understand that you value their experience and ideas, that you do want them to speak up at the meeting. Don’t wait until the meeting. Do a lot of one-on-one preparation. Lay the groundwork.

Use a Flip Chart

I always use a flip chart in these meetings to write-down what people have to say. Flip charts may seem low-tech or old fashioned, but they fit well with many field situations. Without publicly recording what each person says, too much is lost, and people may not believe that you really heard what they said.

Use their own words and check with them to make sure you got their idea correctly. I usually go around the group, one person at a time, so that everybody knows I will be asking him or her to speak up. Only allow one idea per person until everyone has had a chance to speak. Otherwise one or two people will dominate, and everyone else’s mind will go out the window. There is no hiding, everyone will be asked, and anything that is said will be written down, including negative comments. (That really gets people’s attention when you write-down negative comments, including cuss words. When you do that they know you are really serious about listening and valuing what they have to say. It also makes people laugh, which always helps.) Whatever anyone says is OK. I don’t make any comment about what people say except, “Did I get that right?” and, “Anything else to add?” and “Next!”

One Step at a Time

It is quite enough at one meeting to make a list of the issues, or problems, or situations. You might even say that, “Today we will just list issues. Next week we will look at your suggestions to change them.” I recommend that at the end of your meeting you do a quick Plus-Delta. This is the best way to improve meetings and show people that you value their suggestions. Start the next meeting by putting the Plus Delta sheet on the wall. Say what you have done to keep the good parts and make the changes they suggested.

If you use a flip chart, you can help the group and yourself by saying something open, inviting, and candid, e.g. “I’m new at this and I don’t spell very well. When I make a mistake, those of you who are good spellers, please tell me. I’ll need your help to make this work. This is new for all of us.”

Connect to Job Security

You might discuss the idea that constant improvement is essential for the company to stay in business, and for them to keep their jobs. The competition is always becoming more efficient and so must your company. It’s not just about efficiency. It’s about making everything work more smoothly and easily for them, and having fun doing it. They are closest to the job and maybe to customers. They know what needs to be done. Your job is to help them say what they know and act on it.

Dealing With Difficult People

Sometimes groups have one or two people who intimidate everybody else into acting sullen and hostile. These people discourage cooperation with management. They are afraid of being open but their fear is hidden to them. They act it out by mocking those who speak up and cooperate. These are the employees who are so toxic that the work group would be better off paying them to stay home.

With a little luck these sullen naysayers will eventually turn around, or leave, when other members of the group take them aside at a break, or even in a meeting, and tell him that they have had enough of their negative behavior, “Knock it off!” Peer pressure is more effective than anything you could ever do as a manager. All you need to do is keep providing the opportunity for people to be open, participative, and cooperative.

Rely on Your People — They Want You to Succeed

If people in your group are not speaking up and participating, it is not because they don’t want to. Almost everybody wants to be an active and valued member off his or her work group, to have a good day, and to go home feeling that he or she has been productive and constructive. If you are persistent you will tap into this basic human desire. People want to have a great workplace. They will eventually get on the train — as long as you keep the door open.

cc 420 — Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — People

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