I have read in countless management books that having the right culture is key to getting the strategic vision of the company off the ground. Other gurus talk about the key to succeeding is facilitating a "culture of trust." I have yet to read any text that gives a concrete set of action steps to develop this kind of culture other than nebulously stating "First you must define your ideal culture."
The other quote that I have heard is, "Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you've got.” Mr. Drucker makes a valid point, but what do you work with if you have a culture of:
- Missed deadlines
- Lackluster productivity
- Compliance, not commitment
- Bias for inaction
- Lack of innovation
- No backbone
- Overtly Political
- Low Standards
- Segmented Business Silos
- Lack of Ownership
I literally walked into the first meeting of a new endeavor and thought I was going to pass out because due to the lack of engagement. So, if you have a good base-line, I would say that it is possible to "work with what you've got," but, otherwise, lets build a new dynamic!
OK, so assuming that you don't want to highlight the strengths of the aforementioned team, how do you get the team in motion? How does the momentum get created?
Without a Cultural Katalyst(c), the fuse will not light!
There are two types of Cultural Katalysts(c) that occur in an organization:
- Organic: These natural events are brought about by business or organizational change. These events must be capitalized upon by the organizational leader or they will be considered a missed opportunity. Two examples of this would be Winston Churchill leading his people through the plight of the Nazi invasion.
- The first Cultural Katalyst was simply the act of Churchill becoming the new leader. Had he not taken ownership of the situation immediately; the current administrations practice would have been sustained.
- The climate of Europe at the time could have been enough for the current leader to rally the team, but he did not.
- Induced: If you have been stagnant in your role for quite some time and you are deciding to change on your own, do not fear; this is the case for many managers or (positional) leaders. You have to rally the organization around a potential threat/change that could occur or insert someone into the organization
Warning: Do not lie to your team; they WILL find out and they will NEVER trust you again!
The Cultural Kaizen(c) improvement process will be initiated in one of four ways:
- New Manager, Organic Katalyst(c): A new manager at a site level is a small organic Katalyst(c) in and of itself. A new CEO is a large organic Katalyst(c). That said if their is a known organic Katalyst(c), such as a market decline, in addition to the management change, the team will automatically assume that the business is in trouble. The approach that needs to be taken is, "Change is coming to help save the business. Can I get a commitment from you guys to work with me so that the business will thrive (survive)?" It is also important to read the New Managers Primer to temper this enthusiasm/strength with solid relationship building skills. Remember, you have to show your team why these changes are occurring and that it will benefit everyone.
- New Manager, Induced Katalyst(c): This is a tough situation to be in because, if you are not careful, the team will think that you are only making changes to stroke your own ego. Reference the New Managers Primer and err on the side of longer before you make any changes. When you induce the Katalyst(c), I recommend over communicating about "the why." Two techniques you can use are:
- Have your manager come on site and deliver your plan and edify it to the team as a whole.
- Bring in some of your old team (preferably front-line supervisors that you are grooming) to work for you and have your team be your messenger to the work-force.
- Existing Manager, Organic Katalyst(c): This is probably the easiest situation to manage if you have a decent relationship with your team and even if you don't, it is a great time to set things right.
- Positive Relationship Strategy: "Team, everyone knows that we've faced some challenges due to the drop in the economy. I have been working with my superiors to help get us moving in the right direction"
- Neutral to Negative Relationship Strategy: "Team, I have made a lot of mistakes in the past; Please forgive me. We have some challenges in our business right now, and I want us to be able to work through them together."
- Note: I recommended this strategy to someone and they told me that they received a 1-on-1 thank-you from over about a dozen team members.
- Existing Manager, Induced Katalyst(c): This situation generally occurs when the manager is given an ultimatum that they have a fixed amount of time to turn the business or their team around. The Katalyst(c) is organic, but only affects one person. One of the ways to combat this is through perceived internal competitive pressure (This is generally true if a manager is given an ultimatum). "Team, the other sites are kicking our butt. I have been here a while and quite honestly I have been resting on my laurels. I have been competitive for most of my life and lately I've lost that edge. I want to turn this place around so that our site can go back to being the go-to site."
The important thing to remember is that every culture is different and every strategy will need to be tweaked slightly. Do not get married to the exact verbiage listed above. Above all, I do not recommend using the words change unless you are in a legitimate business crisis; use the words ideas, thought-process, or do a short Cultural Kaizen(c) overview. People only immediately change in high stress situations. I equivocate this to: "Yelling at some one that you don't know while there house is on fire is great; otherwise, its not."
Lastly, you should be having face-to-face group meeting with your entire (to clarify, this means the night shift too, if you have one- changing the culture requires a commitment) team, based on your organization size, in the following intervals:
The goal is to be totally transparent with your team so that unity will be created among the team and sub-teams. Many leaders find that after starting these meeting, they are so helpful that they perpetuate them indefinitely.
We have spent a good deal of time discussing the strategic thought process of the Cultural Katalyst(c). Next Stop: Tactical Cultural Katalyst(c) framework!