Apologies in advance for the length – I think you’ll find it worth the read 🙂
Two days ago I received an e-mail from Walter Werner a Deming Master who used to work for my father at Nashua Corporation.
The e-mail was in response to an on-going discussion we’ve been having on how to bring system thinking to organizations today.
The “ideal” approach to culture change is leadership driven. However, today just as it was in 1980, many leaders find it difficult to lead the transformation. It’s easy to “whine” about leadership not leading the transformation. However, I and the Innovation Engineering Movement have a strict no whining policy. Instead to phrase Admiral Peary, discoverer of the North Pole “we shall find a way or make a way.”
Walter’s note sets up the situation well. Following it – I outline our current best thinking on how to create cultural success in today’s world. With some gentle editing for length and context to the community…Walter wrote
This idea has rattled around in my head for a couple days now. I don’t know if it will help you or just give you something more to think about.
I am troubled by a trend that has been reported more than once: people aren’t taking their vacations any more. In fact they are taking more and more hours, more and more work home, and never leave the office when you consider electronic communication.
The core of this behavior started during the recession when no one wanted to say “NO!” to anything the boss might ask, suggest, request, or require. Nobody wanted to take the risk of losing their job in that market.
I bring this up since this climate of fear has become a new normal for many organizations. Deming/Juran/Crosby was a culture change with a bunch of tools added.
Many companies could not or would not make the culture change but loved the tools. Although Innovation Engineering is in the end a cultural change you don’t sell it that way. You introduce a series of tools, systems and education that can accelerate innovation projects somewhat painlessly. You then look at the long term cultural change as an evolution.
In a fear based culture you don’t do anything without permission. It’s not just fear of standing out but it’s fear that higher levels will think: IF THEY CAN FIND THE TIME AND RESOURCES TO DO THAT THEN THEY MUST HAVE MORE RESOURCES THAN THEY REALLY NEED–CUT THEM DOWN SOME MORE! Any trial no matter how small requires extra effort. People in a fear based organization know that any improvement will just be claimed by upper levels while work stress never improves.
Are some of your clients so far over on the excessive stress distribution that all hope is gone in their workforce? It took time to break this behavior at Aristech. US Steel is a fear based organization and they had driven that fear deep into our employees before they sold what would become Aristech.
The first couple years at one company I helped with our executives kept asking: “How far do we have to move before the employees move to join us?” The reality is AS FAR AS IT TAKES. In effect leadership has dug a credibility hole and only they can fill it back in.
Fortunately, our executives kept growing and things did change slowly and then much faster.
A well trained Marine or Navy SEAL unit will do incredible things under impossible conditions. A poorly trained unit of conscripts will sit and quake in fear after the first shots.
You can’t change a culture over night. Ask yourself about each client separately: “Are these Marine combat troops or hopeless refugees?”
In the back of your mind you understand Profound Knowledge, 14 Points and 10 Deadly Sins. I believe that many of your clients never read that chapter, skipped that class or just failed that course. Go on the internet and watch one of those stray dog rescue videos. In the beginning the poor animal cowers from any contact. It is only after time and repeated new human behavior that a happy animal appears. Why should employee animals be any different?
Hmmm! This feels different than most of my attempts to help you. I am not trying to give you an argument or tool to improve your situation. Instead I feel like I am taking you down the very human rabbit hole. Doctors can’t help patients that won’t take the medicine, stop smoking or maintain a healthy diet. Remember that Deming and Juran would refuse a client that they felt wasn’t ready. Are there times and places where you should do the same thing?
A good general wins battles. A great general knows when to retreat and when not to fight at all. I think you should define the conditions under which you will politely refuse to move forward with a potential client.
When I was sent to one company by an executive I had a conversation with some employees. They said: “How are you different? We worked with Juan. We worked with Crosby.”
I asked: “What happened when you worked with Dr. Juran?” “Oh he came in for a breakfast meeting. Then he looked at our executives and said: ‘You aren’t ready!’ Then he left.” Juran and Deming were great generals.
Now, I feel like I can ask, have I helped you?
Be safe my friend,
From my exchanges with Walter – and work with corporations – the following is our current best thinking on how to create a culture of innovation in the world of stress that exists…