So, How Do You Calibrate Culture?

So, How Do You Calibrate Culture?
By: Douglas Garner

I admit, I thoroughly enjoyed Joseph Paris’ article ..”It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint” and the inherent question… “how can a Lean program be sustained over time?”

Having spent a good portion of my career in the chemicals manufacturing industry and more specifically, in total quality management and process improvement activities, I must report more than a few flashbacks to conversations with operators, engineers, supervisors, managers and even staff (HR, Law, Environmental, etc.) that resembled his sample exchange between “Leadership” and “Deployment Professional”.

A lot of “trying”, “commitment” and even lots of effort only to fade into the attention to other “burning platforms”.

I was even a keen proponent of the training in  seven (or was it eight?) steps problem solving, statistical process control, brainstorming, fish boning, affinity diagrams, root cause analysis and even, “creative solution generation”.  It was only logical, in my mind, to assume that “give them the skills and they will move mountains”.

Ah, but if that were only true.

Well, I guess it was, on several occasions. I remember a group who was able to improve a process that reduced order to  product shipping/delivery cycle time to customers in Poland from nine months to ninety days. There was also the application to the safety system that generated a duration time without a loss time injury to well over 2,000,000 man-hours, using SPC techniques.

There were also a few examples of “people do what management measures” like the time we tracked “on-time shipments” only to discover the employees figured out a “work-around” that improved the measure but had no impact (maybe worse) on customer satisfaction, the whole point of tracking it from the beginning.

No, in the last ten years I have discovered a missing element of all the process improvement, quality circles, employee involvement, lean, customer centric, quality management or call it whatever you will, efforts in companies over the last fifty years.

With all due respect, Mr. Paris, the way to design, launch and sustain a Lean program requires more than the “Vision”, the “Roadmap”, ”the state of readiness”, “pace for engagement” and “re-assessing”.

More accurately, It goes back to Xonitek’s “manifesto” for Operational Excellence which you also wrote ….

“A state of being; where the corporate culture is dedicated to the continuous and deliberate improvement of company performance AND the circumstances of those who work there – to pursue ‘Operational Excellence by Design’ and not by coincidence.”

The challenge for all of these years has been measuring the dedication of the corporate culture, calculating “a state of being”. Up until now it has been largely impossible to differentiate people who are predisposed to deliberate improvement, intentional and ever-evolving change from those who merely “stay below the radar”.

Think about my previous examples and those efforts for process reengineering and improvement that you have witnessed.

What happened when “Leadership” pressure was not being applied?  Did the “Deployment Professionals” or the “Change Agents” say “wow, this is really good stuff,  I’ll keep working on this even if there is no reward (or external pressure) for me to continue.”?

Odds are they did not.

No, what I have discovered over the last ten years is a system (that’s been around for over thirty years just not well marketed) that can be applied to selecting those people who WILL say “Heck, this is good stuff, I’ll keep working on this even if there is no [external] reward (read; motivation) for me.”

Yes, imagine for a moment an entire workforce with the inherent personalities to want to do this simply because they see it as the only way to do work. Imagine a workforce who wakes up every morning and says to themselves “today, I am going to find a breakthrough, a step change, an inherently better way to do what we do and better serve our customers because I just know we can do it better, more efficiently, less expensively, faster, more colorfully, less toxically, more economically, more safely , etc. etc. etc.”

I only wish I had known about this when I was struggling to get senior management to invest unbudgeted capital in that new piece of equipment that the employees said would speed processing or when we attempted (against operator resistance) to install the technology that management had spent thousands of dollars to reduce as much as 10% of processing time.

No, now I have gray hair and understand that when you select the right people to begin with, they automatically do what is best for the customer, the company, their department, their boss or whoever matters to their own professional satisfaction. You see, it is more than the competencies, the capabilities, the “can do”.

What I have discovered is the system that allows management to measure a person’s “will do”. The tools to statistically predict which person will grab the bull by the horns and which one will grab the bull by the tail. (Did you get that? One’s leading the bull while the other is holding the bull back.)

Just because they “can do” something does not mean they “will do” that something for you, in your company, at your required pace or even with your paying their supervisors to “engage” them.

The key is matching the inherent personality (the “hard wired” characteristics for self-management) with those profiles of your best employees (the ones who have already proven they ‘get it’.)

First you identify those employees who naturally represent all that is good and successful in their performance for your organization.

Second, you assess  (with a statistically normative system) all of your candidates for similar or the same job and ..

Third, you hire or select those candidates who have the closest  match to the profile of your superior employees.

If an organization has enough examples of superior employee, then they can measure those people with a statistically normative system and create a statistically validated profile of their superior culture.

As Mr. Paris has previously stated, a company has to embrace a “continuous improvement” culture and what I have learned is management must be able to measure it and overlay this measurable standard to all potential members just like a step change requires recalibrating acceptable variance.  Therefore, all future employees, or team members, must inherently possess this “continuous improvement” psychology. They must have personalities matching the “will do” of the newly calculated standard.

And, for those (in the United States) who feel this “smack’s” of anti- diversity or illegal profiling, just know that a truly successful system is “color and gender blind”. A person’s membership to a “protected class” has no bearing on their statistically predictive willingness to put out effort for process improvement.  At least we have not seen any in our over 30 years of data gathering.  

The value of statistical psycho-metric modeling (with the right system) is that you are measuring those personality characteristics that you can prove to be bona-fide performance criteria. (The ‘gold standard’ for employee selection systems.)

Just as in the example of applying statistical process control to that safety system I mentioned from years ago, a company can now apply statistics to their talent hiring, selection, development, continuous improvement, lean, succession planning and career transition processes.

By applying statistical measures to a company’s talent management they can now create the culture with people who inherently want to continuously improve for that “deliberate” improvement of company performance.

For all of your Lean program efforts, you need to insure that you are selecting those employees who are “hard wired” for continuous improvement. However, I must caution you.

Keep in mind that they look like, they dress like, they even talk like all of your other employees.       

The difference is in their relative natural initiative, achievement motivation, independence potential and other personality characteristics that have measurably shown, for over thirty years, to predict performance and retention in other organizations and in other industries. For purposes of your Lean “journey”, you want employees who will naturally fit your proven profile aligned to your future Operational Excellence culture.

From my experience, this is the missing element of most all continuous improvement attempts I have witnessed. I suggest that with some reflection, and even some first hand experience with I have witnessed, you will come to a similar conclusion.

Douglas G. Garner
Partner, Smart Work | Network, Inc. and
Smart Work Assessments, LLC      



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