Dwight Eisenhower famously said that "Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it." With over 26 years of work in corporate and organizational cultures, KL&P is familiar with the complex dynamics required for enhanced employee performance. Optimal safety practices are integral to quality and productivity metrics. Engagement is the common thread, as well as a management suite of tools that allows for use of leading indicators, rather than lagging metrics.
We like to think of a corporate culture as a kind of broth in which all other ingredients cook in. If the broth is rancid, even the freshest ingredients won't save it. KL&P has been working with corporate cultures for over 25 years. There are many common definitions for corporate cultures, and chief among them is "the way we do things around here". Or, in a healthy safety culture, people do it the safe way even when "no one's looking". In fact, a culture is a very complex system with a multitude of interrelated processes and mechanisms being operated by complex humans who may or may not communicate through each process.
THE POWER OF PEERS
At the risk of torturing the food analogy, consider culture change through the eyes of behavioral researchers looking at kids’ eating habits. In the late 1970s, University of Illinois researcher Leann Lipps Birch conducted a series of experiments on children to see what would get them to eat vegetables they disliked. This is a high bar. We're not talking about simply eating more vegetables. We're talking about eating specific vegetables, the ones they didn't like.
You could tell the children that you expect them to eat their vegetables. And reward them with ice cream if they did. You could explain all the reasons why eating their vegetables is good for them. And you could eat your own vegetables as a good role model. Those things might help.
But Birch found one thing that worked predictably. She put a child who didn't like peas at a table with several other children who did. Within a meal or two, the pea-hater was eating peas like the pea-lovers.
We tend to conform to the behavior of the people around us. Which is what makes culture change particularly challenging because everyone is conforming to the current culture. Sometimes though, the problem contains the solution.
6 ELEMENTS OF A CULTURE
There are six distinct elements in every culture, whether it be the Army, or a small squadron, a large gang like the Bloods or the Crips, a local Alcoholics Anonymous fellowship, your son's high school, or the very company in which you go to work at every day. One of these elements is storytelling. The stories told and the resulting facts and myths distinguish one culture (or sub-culture) from another.
Suppose that a new hire is only hearing stories that support how the seasoned professionals get the job done, no matter what the "safety bureaucrats" say. At KL&P we work with a major utility that suffers a typical dynamic in most industries. The master technician, the guy who becomes amazingly competent at what he or she does gets promoted to a managerial position. As such, he’s often called out on emergencies, in the rain and wind, to help crews get power back online. Stories circulated about how one old foreman with over 30 years of pole-climbing experience became frustrated with all the "newbies" standing around while a line dangled from above. Without putting on proper protective gear or rigging equipment, the old lineman-turned-supervisor climbed up that wet pole and secured the loose wire in a few minutes. He survived the cowboy act and stories circulated about the brave hero who saved the night. Of course, that one demonstration served to role back the safety progress in that company by many years. It simply changed the culture, and continued to change it every time the story was told. Protective gear? Why bother. Rigging? For amateurs. We'll leave out the gruesome details about how this climate claimed the hands of another lineman in the crew who also had a cowboy urge.
There are many ways to start changing your culture, and one way is to change the stories that are told. For a while there will be a disconnect between the new stories and the entrenched systems promoting the old culture. And that disconnect will create tension. Tension that can be harnessed to create mechanisms to support the new stories.
We live by stories. We tell them, repeat them, listen to them carefully, and act in accordance with them. Nordstrom is famous for it's culture of empowered sales associates. The company motto seems to be "Respond to Unreasonable Customer Requests" and the more outrageous the better. Heroes are born out of these stories. Which bring us to another essential element found in all cultures: Heroes or Role Models.
The other elements are Rituals, Leadership, Symbols, and Values, all filling out the picture of the organization's culture. When out of balance, with some elements being overshadowed by others, we see cultures that thrive and cultures that wither. Sales Managers take notice. If your weekly conference calls (rituals) are boring, or punitive, you set the stage for a rancid broth. All of the great new incentives and robust sales training can be rendered useless if the corporate culture is tainted with cynicism and dread for the upcoming weekly communication ritual.
KL&P is uniquely qualified to speak with you about how to improve your organization's culture. One element at a time. Converting clock-punching employees into engaged systems-thinkers. Foremen and supervisors become coaches. And management learns how to use leading indicators, not just lagging metrics. With Culture Management Systems, KL&P can help you boost engagement levels and develop a management dashboard giving you a view of what's really happening in real-time. Contact us today and let’s have a conversation about it.