Jul 09 2013

Just as the soaring heat from the sun can scorch and damage your skin, the culture of your organisation can destroy the value created by your staff. I suppose this is nothing new, everybody knows this. I just wonder how many people actually spend enough time “in” their organisation to understand the true culture. In this case I am referring to a culture where we try to hold people to account (read discipline) for doing what they do every day and then things going awry. Sure, the standard practice/routine may be a poor one, quite often not in accordance with the agreed process, but without regular observation, engagement & active involvement in the day to day practices, management soon lose sight of reality. In Lean we call this Process Confirmation. It’s as much about ensuring the process is being followed as it is about looking for opportunities to improve the process.

The problem comes when people do things day in & day out & nobody gets hurt and nothing gets damaged. Certain things become custom & practice and without that regular contact management soon fail to realise these things are happening. Then one day it goes wrong, somebody gets hurt, something gets damaged and the management want to blame the person who acted as they do normally as if this is a terrible act.

The reality is, that management were not doing their job! They should have been out on the shop floor, in with the troops, understanding what the actual situation was long before it came to this. What we walk by today becomes the norm tomorrow and no front line troop should hold the blame for standards not being enforced and short cuts being allowed to take place if the culture of the organisation suggests this is the norm – which in many cases it is. Even worse, how many times have the management been informed of the problem, ignored it & then acted as if they knew nothing about it when things go wrong?

Culture can not be determined by an annual survey, a few discussions with management or with the entire workforce en masse. There are many layers of culture and I won’t get into that aspect of it but to me, the true culture comes out when things are going wrong, when people make mistakes or people are caught doing something they shouldn’t. Sure we can get a sense of it by engaging with the front line regularly and having open & honest discussions, and this should be part of every managers day. Sadly too few seem to understand the value that this can bring both in improving a culture, but also in getting a true understanding of the reality of it.

The true test, is when the dark sticky stuff hits the fan, when things go wrong, when something bad happens, our true selves comes out, & the real culture of an organisation comes out too. What happens in your organisation?

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