I was invited by a close associate to work with him at a large FMCG manufacturer where he worked to help improve team performance. This team works in central services in an extremely large multinational corporation.
I arrived at the location on a Sunday evening and in the car journey to the hotel, my client advised that he wanted to change the focus of the development. Instead of working with the full team, I was to work with a smaller sub-team. My client advised that this sub-team was having particular problems with delivering their expected objectives. My revised task was to support the sub-team to identify what help was needed to develop their skills and improve overall performance. The sub team’s role is to approve new suppliers.
I created a team development workshop overnight and we started the next day looking at the team’s behaviours and output. We quickly identified several problems
- The process was inconsistent between team members
- The process was also inconsistently completed between departments.
- The team was governed through fear, carried over from a previous manager
- There were no measures of team performance
- The team was still working to a set of rules laid down by a former manager
The impact of these behaviours was that the staff were uncertain and working in constant fear. Failure to deliver was normal, all failures were blamed on people, and external demands were never challenged. This increased the workload in the department without adding value from the customer’s perspective. As a result, the team had become demotivated and disillusioned
I had two issues. The first was to understand and support the overall process. The second was to work with the individuals to help them improve their skills and resilience.
We employed three strategies to develop in parallel
- Focus on the process to identify and agree on the standard work.
- Work with the individuals to help them identify as a team and start collaborating
- Coach the individuals to enable them to understand their reactions and interact more positively
The strategies worked very well, by applying transformational coaching across the needs of the immediate client, recognising the demands of the wider organisation and the constraints individual team members perceived, we made huge step-change improvements in performance. The client (this team’s line manager) was coached to modify his behaviours to reflect the values agreed with the team. Individuals in the team were also coached to address their confidence and behavioural challenges. Working with the team, we were able to establish common values and establish the required process to enable the team to work effectively as a unit and in concert with other parts of the business. Since the process was developed by the team with support and guidance by me, they were fully engaged with the process.
After completing the intervention, the team identified that they needed to enforce the existing agreement and insist their customer, another internal department, upheld their part of the agreement. The team also stopped competing and arguing internally, focusing instead on solving problems at their root cause. The overall result was a reduction in workload and a higher quality of work product. The team also had higher engagement, morale, and created a positive and supportive working environment.
The work was so successful that further engagements were booked to deliver training and development with this team and with other teams in the business. A team build for another team in the department is planned for later in the year. I continue to coach the team director to support his development.
Culture change. It’s a huge and popular topic these days. There are so many departments that want to lead this area, human resources, change management, finance, organisational design, manufacturing, the list is as varied as the department names your business uses. Everyone tries their own strategy, but they all run into the same problem;
“Culture determines and limits strategy”
– Edgar H. Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 1985
So why does culture keep reasserting itself, no matter how much well-meaning change management is brought in. Internal consultants, external consultants, charismatic leaders, servant leaders, there are more leadership models than you can shake a stick at. Yet still, the culture reasserts itself, it is pervasive and incredibly hard to change. Why?
Culture change efforts always focus on changing behaviours. It is right that behaviours must change, but with all these skilled people changing behaviours, why doesn’t the culture change?
Johnson and Scholes proposed a model of culture in their cultural web. There are many aspects to culture, and it is vitally important to connect each of the aspects of the cultural web to the values and beliefs required for our new culture.
One of the aspects of Johnson and Scholes cultural web that seems to be overlooked is Stories.
In every aspect of life, we tell stories, and these stories grow to be an oral history of the underlying “common sense” values and beliefs in the business. As change agents we work really hard to change behaviours, but how much effort do we put into changing the stories told? If we change behaviours to conflict with the stories in the business, we set new behaviours in conflict with the historical values and beliefs of the business. We start to hear comments such as “I know we aren’t supposed to say this, but…” or see the more experienced heads in the business purse their lips or shake their heads when new processes or behaviours are implemented. The old stories subside, but they don’t go away, they are instead told in quiet corners to select groups. The problem is the select groups overlap, so the story is still told as the history of the business, and the new behaviours are labelled as “the latest fad” and members are told to “just keep your head down and ride it out”. We create cliques and cabals to either protect our history or We can’t just suppress the old stories, and we can’t create new stories fast enough to displace the old values.
So what is the one thing that must be changed?
You can’t eliminate the story since it is part of the oral history of the business, so use it by changing the perspective of the story! Don’t just focus on changing behaviour, ensure the stories told in the business reflect the changing values and beliefs. Us the telling and retelling of the stories to change how the stories are interpreted and understood.
For example, if you have a hero culture and stories are told about how people have cut through bureaucracy to find solutions to past situations, just telling people not to tell the story won’t work. Telling people to obey the bureaucracy won’t work. Change the emphasis of the story to match the new belief system; add to the story, for example, add that whilst it was a brilliant outcome, highlight that there was a huge risk to the business from missing paperwork, and we were lucky to get away with it. When you get an example of the bureaucracy controlling the process and preventing an error, add a positive that using the bureaucracy has enabled the business to meet the customer needs. Once the change is embedded the story is changed forever. Reality hasn’t been changed, there is no deception, we have interpreted the old story in line with our new values. All the while we are telling new stories, stories that support the new values and beliefs.
In this way, we accelerate the culture change by adding new stories and modifying the interpretation of the old stories to match the modified cultures and beliefs embedded in the business. Be careful though, if you just tell people to interpret the story differently you will drive it into the shadows. The new interpretation must be through storytelling in collaboration with the people who guard the business beliefs and used to flush out conflicts between new and old values in a positive way for discussion and debate.
In summary, if you want to change the way your business behaves, change the stories that are told in and by the business both new and old.
What story will you change today?
Everything varies. We know it happens, and if you can’t see it, the variation may not be that significant to your process. However, it may be that your measurement systems are incapable of detecting significant variation that is important to your process, more about that in another post. Variation leads to production problems, waste and ultimately quality and delivery problems. Control the variation, you control the waste and costs. If waste and costs are a problem in your business, you may be interested in reading on.
There are two types of variation, common cause and special cause. Common cause variation is natural, characteristic of the process and most importantly, predictable. Special cause variation is caused by external factors acting on the process and is not predictable. This is an important distinction because the methodologies for investigating special and common cause variation are different, and if you investigate the wrong sort of variation it can waste a huge amount of time and cause frustration.
Take the process shown above. Just creating a graph of the data isn’t really useful, since it is unclear what should be investigated, or how to proceed. Typically a manager will look at a trend line to see if the process data is trending up or down. If the process is in control and (often) a manager observes an undesirable deviation from target, it is common to ask for that to be investigated. If the investigation focuses on special cause variation which is likely, since the investigator is likely to assume something is “wrong” therefore there must be a root cause. In businesses that do not use process control charts, there is no objective assessment of process performance before launching into seeking the root cause. The problem this creates is that there may not be a root cause. If common cause variation is at work, it is a fruitless exercise.
Where a root cause analysis finds nothing, managers can assume that the investigation is flawed and demand more work to identify the root cause. At this point willing workers are perplexed, nothing they look at can explain what they have seen. Eventually, the pressure leads to the willing worker picking the most likely “cause” and ascribing the failure to this cause. Success! The manager is happy and “corrective action” is taken. The problem is that system tampering will increase the variability in the system, making failures more likely.
The danger is then clear, if we investigate common cause variation using special cause techniques, we can increase variation through system tampering.
What then of the reverse, chasing common cause corrections for special cause variation. The basic performance of the process is unlikely to change, and every time there is a perceived “breakthrough” in performance, as soon as the special cause happens again the process exhibits more variation. The process does not see an increase in variation however, neither is there any improvement in the variation.
The only way to determine if the process is in control, or if a significant process change has occurred is to look at the data in a control chart. Using a control chart we can see which variation should be investigated as a special cause, and where we should seek variation reduction. In this example, the only result that should be investigated is result 8. This is a special cause and will have a specific reason. Eliminate the root cause of that and the process is in normal control. Everything else appears to be in control. Analysing the process data in this way leads to a focused investigation. If after removal of the special cause the process limits are inconsistent with the customer specification, variation reduction efforts should focus on common cause variation.