Work recently with highly motivated cross-functional process improvement teams reminded me of the importance of corporate culture to gaining improvement in performance.
Leadership had picked great team members; bright, committed, hard working. The two groups blazed through the tasks of documenting problems with the current processes, identifying innovative breakthrough strategies and then designing a detailed process that employed the strategies and were capable of vastly superior performance. For the two days, they moved along smartly, caught up in the joy of being productive and creative.
But they shared with us the dark reality of the environment they face in implementing the new processes. It’s a corporate culture that tolerates low or no performance and brings down high performance and teamwork. Employee groups have been successful in getting the overall performance of their group reduced to the lowest common denominator.
Normally, the next challenge is to get leadership to support the designs of the teams and the needed changes and resources required for successful implementation. But, the challenge here will be much greater. Stated simply, unless leadership undertakes an aggressive strategy to turn around the corporate culture, these process improvement teams won’t have a prayer of successfully implementing their innovative solutions.
Think of it as planting seeds in soil devoid of fertilizer and water. No plants will ever see the light of day.
It was leadership’s hope that these teams could create pockets of coordination between functional units within the organization and thereby improve performance. But without additional leadership action that sends a strong signal re. accountability for performance, the aspirations of these teams will likely be crushed.
It is common practice for leadership to look down into the organization for a solution to operational problems. But, in conditions where the soil for success is not fertile, without some clear signal from management that recognizes/rewards high performance and shows less tolerance for poor performance, solutions can’t be realized. In short, before looking down, you have to look yourself in the mirror. It is true that performance improves upon the intention and backs of those in the trenches. It’s a choice that they make once given the tools. But there must also be an honest assessment of whether the preconditions for their success are present.
As always, I’m interested in your questions and experience/thoughts you have on culture. Please e-mail us.