Creating a Culture of Continuous Improvement #1

Culture is about how we do things around here

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” I don’t know who first said it but it’s 100% true, certainly from my 20 years of experience it is.

Simply defined culture equals “the way things are done around here.”   People do things via their actions i.e. behaviours, and these behaviours are reinforced by processes and systems companies have in place.

These processes and systems are created for logical and I am sure good reasons - It’s to keep the organisation functioning in an orderly and consistent manner, and to a significant extent they end up determining the culture of the organisation. This happens because they shape the behaviour of the individuals.

Let me provide a simple example from my own experience: I was called into investigate why an innovation program had failed to produce it’s intended result – ideas! You would think that this was not such a hard ask but after the hoopla of the initial launch, the coffee mugs, balloons and T-Shirts that were handed out the number of ideas submitted as part of the program dropped precipitously. The directors of the company were stunned they did not understand why the employees had failed to embrace the innovation program; after all there was the launch, the financial incentives for “good “ ideas, the processes and documentation all in place. 

Without sounding arrogant the reason for the programs failure was easy to identify once I asked the employees what they had to do. Here is what they had to do if they had an idea to contribute:

Work on the idea in their own time, not company time;

Fill out 25 pages of documentation;

Submit the idea to the innovation scheme hosts.

Then they had to wait to see if they got a response. If they got a response that their idea would be considered they then had to present their idea to a panel of executives whose job it was to evaluate the idea (read tear it apart).

The overall experience for the employees was negative and they did not go back for second attempts. In fact the message spread loud and far, and rather than create innovation the scheme killed it!

The processes they put in place punished employees for engaging in the very behaviour the innovation scheme was designed to promote.

The solution is to make it easier for people to engage in the behaviours you want them to exhibit.

The solution we finally came to was to reduce the 25 pages of documentation to 1 page, appoint coaches to help employees develop their ideas, and to allocate a budget code for innovation so the employees could work on it in company time.

If you want to create a culture of continuous improvement look first at the results you want and then the behaviours you want your people to exhibit. Ask yourself if you have made it easy for these people to engage in these behaviours if you have then you have made a good start.

Posted in Performance Improvement