Posts Tagged trust

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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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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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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121 — The Structure of Culture, The Five Levels

 

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

1. Physical Objects — equipment

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

Posted in: About Company Culture — Structure

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