Monday, February 22, 2010

Example—Culture Change in Three Days

A highly motivated midwest management team began their culture change overnight.

This was a 300-person supply division of a regional retailer. During our first phone conversation the division vice president told me that the workforce was overworked and demoralized—turnover exceeded 80%. The management team wanted to improve employee morale and motivation, and help new hires quickly become more productive.

We Meet the Management Team

Wednesday morning at 8:00 a.m., my partner and I met on-site with the division vice president. We discussed the morale problem in detail and what we would do during our three days. At 9:00 a.m., we attended the daily Operations Meeting, met the unit's managers and supervisors, and discussed why we were there.

We spent the rest of the day in one-on-one interviews with the managers, establishing relationships and learning about the culture. That evening, my partner and I reviewed our interview notes, making our first preliminary description of the culture to share next day with the managers.

Thursday at 9:00 a.m. we joined the weekly Senior Staff Meeting. Just as we had done at the Wednesday Operations Meeting, we discussed company culture—what it is and how to change it. Now with information from the interviews, we discussed their own culture and outlined the basics of culture change:

Culture Change Basics

"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, motivation, morale, and the meanings people give to management's actions. Most companies have a well-developed operations half, but their human half is underdeveloped.

What people do at work is largely outside of their direct control, driven by customers, markets, financial constraints, laws, and technology. But what we do is only half the picture. How we do it is the other half and establishes the culture. Fortunately we have almost total control over how we work and the message this gives others."

Managers Decide On Their Direction

We asked each manager to, "Think of a situation where you felt involved and motivated. What was special about that workplace?" They replied, “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.
  • Leaders take care of my needs.”

We titled that list "Qualities We Want More of."

Managers Decide What to Do

We then asked, "What do you do here that you could use to reinforce the qualities you just listed?" They said:

  • How we do everything everyday.
  • How we manage staffing, retention and training.
  • How we talk with associates—be more balanced, more personal.
  • How we talk one-on-one with new hires.
  • Recognize when people do things right.
  • By introducing new people at the start of the shift.
  • By finding out something personal about a low performer and encouraging them.
  • By using rotations positively as cross training.
  • Encouraging more discussion by meeting with smaller, nine-person teams, not just the full 30-person shift.
  • Follow through on issues employees raise—involve them in the solution.
  • Involve people in designing and implementing the new production process.

We titled that list "Opportunities".

Almost everyone said that they would do something from that list that same day, and agreed to discuss what they did at the next morning's Operations Meeting.

Managers Discuss What They Did

It was now Friday, our third day at the facility. We were again at the daily 9:00am. Operations Meeting. Five people were there who had been at the previous day's Senior Staff Meeting. They had each done something:

  • One had conversations with several people he didn't normally talk with.
  • Two had brought their teams together to get their ideas on new proposed procedures.
  • Two decided to meet each day with a different team member one-on-one. They had had their first meetings. As they said, "Quality Time."

I was impressed—so was the Operations Manager. He asked the group if these discussions—on how things are done, the people side—should be a permanent part of their daily operations meeting. They enthusiastically agreed.

I knew from experience that if they continued like this, the division's problems with employee morale and motivation would soon be history.

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