Changing Culture

We’ve defined culture as the values used to make decisions. Therefore, if you want to change (or create) culture, you must change (or create) values.

Connors and Smith, in Change the Culture, Change the Game, do an excellent job of explaining that the formula for changing culture is creating experiences that reinforce behaviors which drive action that provide the improved results.

OK, that’s a lot all at once. Once again, broken down into steps: changing culture is (a) creating experiences (b) that reinforce behaviors (c) which drive action (d) that improve results. Put another way, your employees need to (a) feel something that (b) affects what they do (c) in a way that makes them think and adjust that (d) ultimately helps your bottom line.

Here’s a concrete example. I come from the metal-working industry. Metal is a valuable resource. Therefore, scrap–or leftover, useless metal–is a problem. It’s waste. The more scrap we have, the less profit we have.

We designed a system to track scrap. It could be tracked by our operators and would be reported on a monthly basis. We told them that we wanted to be more efficient, that we wanted to reduce scrap, and that we’d be monitoring the numbers on a month-to-month basis. Any time we did not see an improvement from one month to the next, we required a “root cause/corrective action analysis” by the production team (a fancy way of saying “why is there more scrap, and how are you going to reduce it?”). Management would help them correct the problem by giving direction and offering any resources they needed to cut down on waste.

Once our operators understood that management would help them, and that their compensation would go up when scrap went down, they became more deliberate. They self-reinforced certain behaviors. During a three-year period, our scrap went down by 50%. That’s huge!

You might say that this is squeezing results out of your employees, or paying them off to do better work. I say, nay. It is neither of those things. However concrete we might be looking at day-to-day numbers, this has everything to do with values and culture. Why do I say so?

Number one: it was not purely a matter of incentives. It was not simply a choice between “lose your job by doing poorly” or “make more money by doing better.” We weren’t threatening them, and we weren’t bribing them. We were telling them what we wanted. We were saying what the values were: in this case, efficiency. 

Number two: we were helping them buy into the values. We were asking them: what do you need? What questions do you have? How can we help? They’re the operators, so they know quite a bit, including the parts of their process that need more attention. By being team players for them, they could become team players for us, at which point it was only fair that they should share in the wealth. Rising tides lift all ships. If everyone is efficient, everyone wins–and please, tell me, what’s better than a company in which everyone has an equal interest in doing better?

To return to Connors and Smith, the operators (a) felt a need to be efficient that (b) made them be more careful, which meant that (c) that they were thinking in terms of scrap/waste which (d) improved our bottom line. 

Notice that values come at the beginning of that process. In this case, “efficiency” is the value. It’s the first thought we wanted the operators to have, at the beginning of everything they do in their daily work. Once we told them that efficiency was the value, they folded it into their experience; they were thinking in terms of efficiency. “How can this be quicker? How can I generate less scrap?”

Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. “Hey, we’re trying to make things more efficient, and that means cutting down on scrap. Could you take a stab at it?”

For now, it’s that simple.

To change (or create) your culture, you have to start by identifying things that need to change. Only then can you say what results you want to improve–and following that, what people will have to do to bring about those better results.

The changes will probably be small. Let me repeat that: the changes will probably be small. Business will continue as usual; whatever your people do, they will continue to do it. You’re not trying to convert kickers into linemen; you’re just trying to make better kickers. Still, as any football kicker with good coaching will tell you, small changes make a huge difference. They make a difference in yards. If you challenge people, and give them a metric by which to measure progress–the way that you could give a kicker yards to measure their own progress–you could see tremendous improvement.

You can probably see what role tools will play later: in short, they’ll give people something to work with towards the goal. But it starts with culture. Make them believe, or better, give them something to believe in.

You don’t have to be their bar buddy or their minister. You just have to play your part at work. Set the values accordingly. Give them something to believe in, some standard to strive for. If it’s your value as a manager, it can be theirs as an employee. And none of this has to be touchy-feely. If you tell them that you want to sell more, or market more, or be more efficient, they will believe it and work with you–if you tell them, and tell them why.

I should mention that you don’t necessarily need to roll out only one initiative at a time. You can be working on several different things, so long as all of them get attention. We did our scrap reduction initiative at the same time that we did our quality improvement, time-delivery, and time-efficiency initiatives–and they all worked!

Change the culture, change the results. This is how you start building a helix of your own.



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