Breakthrough Cultural Change

March 20, 2008
Once initiatives are off and running companies need to make sure that they are going to stick, and that they are going to become a permanent part of the day-to-day activities of the organization. This means changing the way that the company does business, and it is one of the key areas where reliability initiatives continue to fall over! This means changing the workforce culture! Great! Got it! The last five consultants I spoke to told me the same thing. So… what’s culture? Culture can be identified as the way that a company, as an entity, thinks thus driving how it acts. Le ...
Once initiatives are off and running companies need to make sure that they are going to stick, and that they are going to become a permanent part of the day-to-day activities of the organization. This means changing the way that the company does business, and it is one of the key areas where reliability initiatives continue to fall over! This means changing the workforce culture! Great! Got it! The last five consultants I spoke to told me the same thing. So… what’s culture? Culture can be identified as the way that a company, as an entity, thinks thus driving how it acts. Lets look at that in some more detail. When one person thinks a certain way this is referred to as a mindset, his or her way of looking at things and of interpreting the world. When a group of people think in the same way then it becomes a paradigm, and the culture of any organization is made up of the paradigms of its people. One of John Moubrays’ more regular quotes was “if you want to change the way that people act, you have to change the way that they think.” If we tie this in with the paragraph above then it becomes a powerful tool for changing workplace culture. So, to put this into practice we need to change the mindsets that make up the paradigms of an organization. You are probably thinking, that’s easy for you to say, harder for us to implement! And I would agree with you 100% on that! How then can you go about implementing some advanced technique, method or tool, and ensure that it is both effective and permanent? The rest of this short article focuses on some of the techniques that I have used a lot in my working life every day. As a consultant, managing through change is what I have been doing for the last 12 – 15 years and I would like to share with you some of the lessons that I have learned in a way that makes them a lot more painless for you to learn, than they were for me to discover. This is not what I think this is what I do! So these are road tested to the extreme! Breakthrough cultural change tip #1: Create a new belief system As we have looked at earlier, changing culture requires a change in thinking. So we need to begin at the beginning. What are the new paradigms that your organization needs to have? How do they differ from what “we” think today? And most importantly, how can we introduce these to the workforce in a way that will get them to understand and buy into them? These are the first questions you need to ask yourself. Define what it is you ultimately want to achieve then look at the thinking that will be needed to support that. Adult learning is different from learning in infancy. Adults are smarter, (mostly), more experienced, more cynical, and generally less willing to believe things that they are told. So you don’t tell them, you show them! Adult learning needs to be delivered in such a way so as to ensure that the people on the course, seminar, or training event, build their own conclusions supported by logic, fact and their inherent ability to reason. In all my time consulting I have yet to come across a single person who did not respond positively to something that agreed with their internal logic! Sub-tip: Elements of adult learning To be effective, any adult learning program, whether it be developed in house or delivered by an external provider, needs to contain the following elements in order to be effective in challenging long held belief systems: Socratic teaching. This is often referred to as teaching through questioning. As the title suggests it comes from methods Socrates used to teach his students. (As opposed to didactic teaching) So it has stood the test of time I would say! Socratic teaching is about being inclusive, continually getting the course participants to respond to questions and to drive the lesson forward. The trick, and it is a practiced technique, is to get them to arrive at a point where the limits of what they know, or the errors of how they think, becomes immediately obvious to them. This sounds difficult and the first couple of times that you deliver this sort of a lesson it will need to be very carefully structured and focussed. After a while it becomes an almost instinctive method of teaching key learning points. Why is this so powerful a technique? Because they participants arrive at the conclusions themselves, through their own reasoning abilities. You didn’t tell them anything just pointed them at something! And if they thought of it, rather than you telling them, then they are more likely to believe it and remember it. (Don’t ask me why, I don’t know why. I just know it works) Participative learning. If you do something you are far more likely to remember it than if you are told it. Think about it in your own life, if you learned a craft, the theory side of things was only interesting once you got into the field and did it for real. If you learned an engineering discipline, then it was only once you got into the real world and put it into practice that the reality of it became obvious. Most modern training courses have an element of interactive exercises and practice sessions. However, sometimes these are unrelated to what’s actually being taught and can often just be something to fill the time. In worst case scenarios exercises are the unimaginative kind that say “Now make a list of the high priority items in your plant”. Wow! What’s to learn here? If exercises are going to be effective they need to challenge those doing them. Argument, in these situations, is not a bad thing at all. In fact it is a good thing and shows that people are thinking, being challenged, and are going through the pain of changing the way that they think. Participative learning can be group driven, or individual. It can be focussed on an adult learning game, a set exercise, a group discussion, or any other range of variables. In designing your exercises, don’t make the mistake of revealing everything at the beginning. Structure it so that they reveal things to themselves, or with your guidance, during the process. Apply the techniques to their day-to-day activities. This is a key element that is often overlooked. It is overlooked because it can often throw up things that are weird, out of the ordinary, extremely difficult to deal with and sometimes controversial. Why? Because no matter who you are, it is likely that they know their plant a lot better than you will ever be able to! So, if you are going to include a session where they apply the techniques to their own equipment then you need to be 100% sure that you understand your subject matter thoroughly. If so then you can deal with the curve balls that will come at you once people start to apply it to their own situation. Thinking on your feet is not a nice-to-have ability for asset management trainers it is a must-have! Why is this so powerful? Because it combines the elements of the other two steps. Socratic learning through questioning current practices and using their new found logic and understanding to solve them, and doing rather than hearing about, so they can learn from the results. As a quick warning, unless you are looking at something very simple, don’t think that you are going to get a fantastic result that you can use in the plant immediately. Take the pressure off everybody and let him or her learn through making mistakes. So this is the basis of changing culture. Why do we need to do anything else? We have changed the way they think. Right? Wrong! We have only just begun. After the workshop or training session they are going to go out into the workforce with a range of people who think nothing like the way that they now do. And these people are not going to “get it” just from a passing conversation. If you don’t follow up immediately then the results will be, changes to thinking 0% - 20%, changes to the way they do work 0%-15%, changes to the way the company works 0%! Breakthrough tip #2: Prove it! This is key to success. As a consultant it is my job to continually be backed up by a successful track record. In my business, having a scorched earth policy will only lead to reducing levels of business and ultimately a forced career change! If you are going to put in place a successful change program you need to think like a consultant. Think end of life, not end of project. How will this go on to be a fantastic reference for you within your company and beyond? Through its success! So, to prove it you need to get the course participants to apply it to their areas of activity almost immediately after the training! Get them to apply the principles of what they have learned, under your expert guidance, to an area of their daily work. Using their logic and new understanding of a particular area, get them to reason through a problem or issue Arrive at a result, and then go about putting the result into practice. Through it all, make sure you remind them, and yourself, of what you have achieved. This means tracking the benefits. Make sure that they are aware of how their efforts translate into an impact on the corporation. Either through increased productivity, profitability, reduced risk or any of the other key areas that your company is focussing on. Why is this a powerful cultural change tool? Because they see that what you have taught them actually works! It is not just theory, whiteboard magic or “slide-ware”. It is a real, practical method that they can apply to change their situation. At this point we start to get into some of the myths surrounding cultural change. Most people are afraid of changing their current situation. This much is true. But, people do want to contribute, they do want to make things better, and they do want to improve the way that their company works. (And often want to better themselves personally in the process. Nothing wrong with that!) Despite what you may hear, it has been my experience that this is the “what’s in it for me” factor. Breakthrough tip #3: Check it! Put in place a monitoring regime to ensure that what we said we would do, we actually did. Place some form of scorecard or performance monitoring regime around the asset, department or whatever it was that you applied the techniques to. Learning about new ways of doing things will challenge their belief system and allow them to look at accept that there are better ways of doing things. Putting it into practice will enable them to see that it really does work and is not just some theoretical program of the month! But, seeing for real that it did work, monitoring the metrics in place to watch the benefits they said would appear become reality. That’s a sealer! And it drives home all of the things that they have learned, in a number of different ways, up to this point. Breakthrough tip #4: Re-apply it! As things go on, changes to the way that the company operates, changes to the quality of data available, changes to the way that the workforce is structured and any number of other variables could mean that what you wanted to achieve didn’t come about. Or what you wanted to achieve has been affected by changes in the environment. At this point there is a need to revisit the exercise, re-apply the techniques with the benefit of new knowledge and hindsight, and begin the process of monitoring it all over again. This is the essence of continual improvement. A workforce, now thinking along the lines that we set out to achieve at the beginning, monitoring and adjusting processes and other tools to ensure maximum performance to what the company requires at all times. Steps three and four become the core of the day-to-day application of the new culture, and the company has successfully changed an element of the workforce culture in a way that will drive it further along the road to breakthrough performance.

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