A collaborative results-producing culture requires two important capabilities: the ability for decision makers on all levels to work collaboratively, and the ability of leaders to lead and mentor subordinates effectively so that they produce results.
Powerful strategies and creative ideas result when a company’s culture fosters trust, communication and dedication. Managers uncover and seize opportunities, problem-solving time is shortened, and market-breaking products capture new customers.
A results producing culture makes it possible for the strategies generated by the leaders to reach down to employees who put them to work. In turn, employees send information and ideas upward so that managers can create new strategies.
The Veritas Group has developed an innovative process for transforming organizational cultures into powerful results-producing cultures.
Organizational sciences, not fads, inform our work.
According to a recent IBM study, CEOs see creativity as the greatest challenge affecting their organizations today. Yet, while understanding that creativity is crucial to the success of organizations today, they admit to being in the dark about how to promote its growth.
Why the mystery surrounding something that is so critical and of which we have such powerful examples in the last few decades.
The answer lies in the fact that creativity is not what we think it is: it is not a “thing” that can be manipulated. It is an emergent property. An emergent property can technically be defined as a characteristic that emerges within a system when the parts of the system operate in a certain way and in a certain relationship to each other. We can never affect an emergent property directly: the only thing we can do is work with the ways of operating that foster that property.
So what does this mean to creativity in organizations? Since creativity is an emergent property of the organization system, then only certain ways of being can result in its emergence, and those ways have everything to do with the culture.
Creativity emerges in a culture that rewards original thinking, calculated risk taking and speaking up. People in a creative organization would be expected to play devil’s advocate and openly offer their ideas, and they would be rewarded for doing so.
No idea would be scoffed at or rejected without examination. The culture would be one in which learning from mistakes rather than punishing them is rewarded, because fear of making a mistake kills creativity. And most importantly top leaders would demonstrate this by publicly owning and learning from their mistakes.
If a company does these things, it doesn’t have to think about creativity; creativity will simply happen, it will be the property that emerges from the culture. And, no, it isn’t easy, but it can be done with enough commitment from leaders.
We are veteran sleuths and masters of the “secret lives” of organizations. With our tool kit of systems-based methods we uncover and interpret the hidden causes beneath the most important, critical and persistent issues in your organization.
Whether it’s turnover, conflict, workplace lawsuits, creativity, accountability, or sagging profits, we design plans for implementing changes that stay changed.
I was winding down the section of a communication training on “how to be certain you got your point across” when a man suddenly looked at his watched, jumped out of his seat and ran out of the room.
My client, a quality commercial builder in San Diego, had engaged me to do a series of trainings for their top managers including project managers and site superintendents.
Their specific goal was to reduce errors, do-overs, and accidents. On this particular day the training was on communication.
About twenty minutes later the man came back into the room. He was the project manager on a new job for a large energy company in Southern California, re-asphalting one of their energized substations. He had given the crew detailed instructions, asked for and gotten assurance from them that they understood every aspect of the job, and left the site to come to the training.
At the “how to be sure you got your point across” part of the training he looked at his watch and realized that crew was minutes away from starting the job, and he couldn’t be sure that he actually had gotten his point across.
Here’s a little background: electricity enters the sub-station through the high tension wires at a very high voltage. That voltage is then stepped down for distribution to customers. This generates lots of static electricity. Now remember, lightening is static electricity!
So electricity sub stations have something called a safety ground-grid, a web of wires under the asphalt that grounds the large amount of static electricity in the station, so that it doesn’t discharge and wipe out equipment and people.
When the project manager called his crew he found that he had not gotten his point across. In fact they were just moments away from dropping the big claw of their wrecking machine onto the asphalt to begin ripping it up along with the safety ground-grid!
A few years earlier another construction had made this same mistake: they had ripped up the asphalt and all the electrical wires underneath. Besides having to bear the huge cost of replacing the grid, the construction company was forever banned from working on their sites.
That day my construction client got back their investment in manager training a hundred fold, thanks to their great commitment to quality.
What they hadn’t expected to get out of these trainings was the answer to a problem that had costs the construction industry hundreds of millions dollars, miscommunications.
The client was a nationwide insurance company and the darling of the industry in California. Over the years it had consistently received high ratings for service and price.
But recently they had fallen on hard times. For a couple of years before we joined them they had received the lowest possible score in customer service from a major performance rating agency and were on the brink of losing their position as an insurer of choice.
Their revenues were down by $1 billion, and they had just laid off 10% of their workforce, their very first layoffs in their 52 year history. Yet, in spite of all of this they were still paying out millions in annual bonuses.
The VP of HR brought us in to assess a) what changes needed to be made in order to raise employee performance, and b) since past attempts at making performance-based changes had always failed, what they needed to do to make sure that this time they would be successful.
The CEO generously offered to make the entire management team available to us, because, “They could tell us what we needed to know.” Truth is, often executives are the last to know what’s really going on, so we asked to do a more extensive assessment.
We interviewed the executives and conducted accelerated focus groups with middle managers and with employees. From this we determined what the pressing issues were including what impact bonuses and raises really had on productivity and how existing management styles impacted performance. We designed a survey that we administered company wide to measure these things, as well as the quality of communication companywide, and level of employee engagement and commitment.
We found that the employees liked working for the company: nice but no big deal. What was a big deal was the fact that the company was paying out millions in bonuses almost NONE of which was contributing to productivity. In fact, at times the bonuses and raises were actually demotivating the best employees! In addition, the company was spending money on gifts and awards that the majority of employees thought were silly and didn’t want.
But most importantly, we discovered that what lay hidden underneath the “liking“ that employees had for the company was a laid back feeling of entitlement, a result of the current system: they expected to get their raises and bonuses but didn’t want to put out to get them and really didn’t want to be responsible for their results.
As a result of this assessment, the company is completely revamping the way it rewards employees, tying bonuses and raises closely to performance, especially customer service linked performance. After less than one year, from last place, they have moved up to the twentieth percentile and are on track to their goal of the thirty fifth percentile by the publication of the next rating report.
Every organization lives on two levels: the level of the things we see and the level of the things we don’t. The organizational life we see is made up of all of the things that involve us day to day, including strategy, goods and services, customers, policies, performance management, and much more.
It is the obvious life of the organization and where we invariably look when something needs to change. But there’s another life, the secret life of the organization. It’s where the real action is. It’s the level on which things really happen: personal responsibility, creativity, motivation, organizational learning.
The secret life of the organization is where real and lasting change takes place, but it’s also the part of the organization that’s almost always neglected. And that’s why so many changes fail!
Culture influences everything we do and think within the organization. It extends out to the farthest reaches surmounting geographic and social barriers, and it is amazingly resistant to change. Culture is the social container in which everything in an organization takes place. Ignore it at your own risk!
Why is culture so pervasive and so strong? Well, it’s the job of culture to make sure that nothing in the organization gets so out of balance that it becomes unstable, unpredictable or threatens the survival of the organization. “Better safe than sorry,” is the motto of culture; its core unifying principle is values, and the enforcer is the norms.
It’s also the job of culture to make sure that important survival and success-based knowledge survives and is passed on. A lot of this knowledge has to do with skills, but more importantly and subtly it deals with the transmission of the group’s values and norms, assumptions and beliefs. Thus, we can say that the purpose of culture is to maintain order and the status quo, and to contain and transmit the sum of organizational experience and knowledge to ensure continuity.
When we understand this we can see why change in organizations can be so difficult to bring about: change by its very nature IS discontinuous; even “continuous change” is discontinuous if only in small increments.
Look at an organization. What do you see? Well, you’ll likely see goods and services, employees and customers, sales materials, business strategies and plans. You could see a building, a web site and some other tangible artifacts.
But, try to gaze into the mire we call culture, and the first thing you’ll see is that you can’t see much. But keep looking, and some things will phase into view. You might notice a mission or vision statement written somewhere.
You might observe that people tend to dress in a certain way or that the building has a particular layout or decor. You’ll probably notice there are stated rules, standards, and behavioral norms that people are expected to follow and a set of espoused values in place to guide…well, everything.
If you listen hard you might hear some stories about the deeds and exploits of prominent people in the company that are designed to drive home those rules, standards, norms and values.
One thing you’ll probably notice is that there’s an awful lot of measuring going on: just about anything that can be measured is measured, and all these measured things are used to design strategies and make plans. This is the visible organization. We put our energy here because it’s what we can “see”!