Culture: Give It a Name!

When I realized I needed to launch some sort of effort to “turn around” our company, I still hadn’t realized a few things that now seem obvious. In the first place, I didn’t realize right away that it was going to be a journey of continuous improvement (CI). But I also didn’t know that I was asking myself to change a company’s culture, and worse, I honestly wasn’t thinking of company culture much at all.

But I started down this path anyway, looking for the right footholds, and the first place I stopped was at values. I stopped there because I’d been wondering about something: what is it like when there aren’t supervisors watching? What drives behavior when employees don’t feel like they have to “act the part” for someone watching?

As we covered separately, it is a question of values. I knew that employees could do their jobs for a dozen reasons, and I knew that, as a leader, I could elevate their thinking about work. Conveniently, value talk is easy if you’re being straight with people. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel—people will already know what you’re talking about. To start, all you have to do is identify your company’s values and give some context.

If you’re in a position of responsibility and that’s what has brought you to my writings, I’d guess you spend a good deal of time at work reading and analyzing and thinking about high-level stuff. Have you turned it inward and thought about why you do what you do at work? Have you put names to those values? And if they’re working well for you, how do you pass them on? (If you don’t feel like it’s working, read more of these writings.)

Identifying values is a foundational experience. It’s very simple, but very important. Equally important is giving your cultural makeover a name. After all, if this is the language you want people to be speaking, it needs to be easy to speak.

At my company, our continuous improvement culture is called STEPS. STEPS stands for “Superior Team Effort Provides Satisfied Customers.” We have a gain-sharing program that pays out a bonus to every employee in the company on a quarterly basis, and that’s called the STEPS Bonus (we’ll discuss this program in full detail later). For now, understand that it’s an all-encompassing machine with a name—and it’s a direct link in employees’ minds between our company values, their work, and their income. One reason that’s useful is that, with people making those mental connections, they’re much more likely to see the point of communications, training, metrics, and new tools, and they’re much quicker to embrace them.

Your CI program, and the culture which results, may not have gain-sharing as an option. However, you can still connect company values to some direct benefit to the team—the company’s survival and their job security, keeping key customers, opportunities for growth, and so forth. Again, having a name makes it easier for the idea to stick, and a name will therefore also make it easier to leverage this for everyone’s benefit.

Aside from your continuous improvement program as a whole, you may find occasion to give values—or the way they manifest at your company—names and themes of their own. As another example, one of our first struggles in the implementation of a CI program was problem-solving and conflict; lots of finger-pointing, blame, “not my job” talk, and so on. I was introduced to The Oz Principle, a book by Roger Connors, which I now highly recommend to you.

The Oz Principle first points out what is “below the line,” namely those same problems typical among untrained and undisciplined workers (finger-pointing and so forth). Connors then teaches readers how to take a situation “above the line” using the virtues of the four characters from the film The Wizard of Oz.

You must:
(1)  Have the Lion’s Courage to see the problem,
(2)  Have the Tin Man’s Heart to take ownership of the problem,
(3)  Have the Scarecrow’s Brain to solve the problem, and
(4)  Have Dorothy’s conviction to execute and follow through.

We decided to train our CI teams on this principle for problem-solving purposes. Ever since, “let’s take it above the line” has been a common phrase in meetings, and conflict resolution has become much less of a headache!

In any case, whatever your company’s needs, whatever program you design, and whatever values you adhere to, call them what they are—and give your efforts a new name so it can truly come alive.

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