Culture by Design-Finding Diamonds in the Rough

Culture by Design-Finding Diamonds in the Rough

By Eric Pope, VP Operations, U.S. Synthetic

Eric Pope, VP Operations, U.S. Synthetic

Today’s business leaders know that the key to long-term success is aligning resources to satisfy customers. Some believe the latest organizational tool or leadership fad can control cost, boost employee performance, satisfy existing customers, and achieve operational excellence. Unfortunately, these quick-fix tools and fads create some short-term gains, but ultimately fall flat months after the leaders have moved onto the next continuous improvement problem.

"The collection of these good choices, over time, increases a business ability to drive results"

Leadership principles, philosophies, and tools are vital in developing high-performing organizations. However, principles and tools don’t produce sustainable continuous improvement. The key to high performance is culture by design. Creating a high-performance culture is the foundation to ensure that every individual within the business is empowered to make good decisions everyday. It’s critical to recognize the relationship between choices and results. The sum of people’s choices ultimately equals operational results.

To drive results, organizations must improve each employee’s ability to make good decisions in the business and community. With each choice, an employee automatically determines the organization’s path to success or failure. The choices each employee makes overtime contribute to the overall success of the organization.

Employees make hundreds of choices everyday. They come to work and decide what they’ll do and how they’ll behave. For 8 hours, they either deliberately choose or habitually choose their activities. They choose how they’ll work and how much they’ll work. They choose their quality of work and whom they’ll work with. They also choose what work they’ll ignore. Employees constantly make decisions on their behavior when they’re stressed or when customers have problems. It’s ultimately their choice on how they’ll behave when they don’t understand or when they make a mistake or discover something new. The business relies on these choices. The sum of these choices defines your business results. Success requires that every employee make good decisions every day. Every choice that every employee makes is important because it has an impact on the business.

If businesses win or lose by their people’s choices, how does an organization ensure or drive better choices? The typical approach is to limit decision-making to a trusted group. Businesses spend endless effort recruiting and retaining the “smartest” people. Organizations need these people because they are the decision makers, the ones entrusted with the business. Organizations create levels of bureaucracy and systems for approval to protect against bad decision-making. These are typical management approaches; but, unfortunately, cannot drive the sum of all your employee-based decisions. Although these approaches attempt to control/limit risk, employees still must make choices relative to the ever-changing circumstance they encounter everyday. Control-based management methodologies are a thin veil of false comfort that gives management the illusion that they are making better decisions across the organization.

So how can management drive improved decision-making within the business? Is there an alternative to controlling and limiting decision-making? To illustrate this principle, consider the difference between a lump of coal and polished diamond. What is the difference between the two? Coal has low value and is in vast supply. Diamonds are rare, beautiful and have high value. Both are forms of carbon. The difference is a result of the circumstance in which they were formed. The diamond was formed under intense pressure and heat over time. The atoms realigned into a new, stronger, beautiful crystalline structure. This circumstance changed the plentiful, low value item into something rare and valuable. The circumstance made the difference.

What is the difference between your trusted employees and the newest shop floor employee? Both are humans, with hearts and minds to engage. The difference in capability is due to the circumstance in which they were formed. What if every individual could become a diamond? What if every employee could become thatkey player that you trust to make the best choices? What would your organization look like if that were the case? A high-performance culture is when the whole organization is seeing and solving problems relative to the things that matter most. When this condition is achieved, organizations begin to reach their full potential. Efforts to hire and retain the best employees can drivegreat results, but may limit the organization’s potential to achieve even greater results through building diamonds of their people.

The primary purpose of a leader is to focus on how he or she can enable others to make great choices. Leaders do this by creating the circumstance where people are capable of seeing and solving problems relative to the things that matter most. Success is based on 5 critical outputs:

1. Shared Vision – Leaders ensure that all employees know, understand and believe in the purpose or endgame of the organization. All choices must move the organization toward that end.

2. Shared Strategy – Leaders must help all employees know the customer. What is the sustainable strategic advantage? What does the customer value? What is the connection to that value? How well are they performing that connection? What are the critical gaps to improve? This knowledge enables each employee to see and choose work to solve the most critical business gaps.

3. Shared Culture – Leaders must ensure that every employee understands and works according to the best-known practices for creating value. This enables employees to choose to work in a way that has already been established as the best way.

4. Systems – Leaders must teach, build, analyze, and improve key value creation systems. Every employee must know their part and connection to others in the creation of value. This knowledge enables employees to make system decisions, versus local optimization.

5. Skill – Leaders must develop the skills of each employee. Teaching people how to do and improve their work enables people to contribute to their fullest potential.

By focusing on these outputs, leaders create a circumstance where each employee can make good choices everyday. The collection of these good choices, over time, increases a business ability to drive results. Organizations reach full potential when employees make good choices every day.

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