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Ripples in the Work Environment

Just as a stone hitting the water causes ripples, strategic decisions cause ripples in an organizational culture. I thought about that Monday night as my husband audibly gasped when Alabama brought in a true freshman quarterback to start the half. Really? The starting quarterback is 25-2. He’s proven himself. But yet the leader chose to throw a rather large stone into the pond.

Understanding the magnitude of the ripples and where they flow allows strong leaders to ensure the team and culture are prepared for the after effects of the decision. It might mean creating some safety nets for potential issues the decision may cause. Or, it could simply mean stepping up communication to ensure the team is prepared to address the next decisions coming their way. It is the responsibility of a leader to hone their decision-making skills to include addressing the potential of ripples.

Good leaders focus on making strong, well informed decisions that move the team in the direction to succeed with goals and objectives. Great leaders understand that current decisions always have ripples and work ahead of them by asking themselves these questions. Maybe that’s why Nick Saban has won 6 national championships.

  • What things will be influenced or changed by the decision? Is it the resources, culture, or maybe the manufacturing flexibility?
    • Develop a plan to address the challenges that will soon be coming so that the ripples do not overtake the team
  • What additional areas need attention to ensure the decision builds strength for the group?
    • Envision what things will look like in 6 months based on the decision. Start now to build the resources needed.
  • What other other groups or functions will be touched by the decision? Will their work load change or the actual task change? Will there be any “unintended consequences”?
    • Help them prepare so that the changes flow seamlessly.

Embrace the ripples and use them to your advantage. Don’t let them overtake and dampen your team. Hey, it worked in Monday night’s game.

Be intentional,

Risky business can be a risk.

Every day we have risks. Just the other day I was sitting in the passenger seat while my husband was driving through the windy twisty backroads in the outskirts of Nashville. Around the corner comes a car and it’s on our side of the road, the driver oblivious to the fact they were on our side (thanks to a cell phone in their hand held to the ear.) Fortunately we avoided meeting that person.

Risks are all around us. Risks could be a “low probability” such as getting hit by lightning. Yes, it could happen but your actual odds are low. It could be a risk that is easily planned for such as wearing your seat belt to prevent injury in a car accident. Or maybe the risk could be eliminated all together with a few process changes, like looking both ways before you cross the street. Or as I found out while in the UK, to look the opposite direction I was used to.

In business, risk assessments help teams ensure that the right focus is being applied and sufficient actions taken to protect the business operations. First, the potential risks have to be identified. The simplest approach is to think of potential risks by functional area, like supply chain, IT, or facilities. Once the team has identified all the potential risks to that functional area, the next step is ranking them.

  • Probability of the risk happening
  • Severity if the risk happens (from potential loss of life to loss of business)
  • How easy is it to detect if the risk is actually happening

Using these ratings, a risk value can be calculated. Each business is different in how much risk can be tolerated. Low risk values require no further action. High risk values require actions to lower the risk. Medium risk values could go either way and should be assessed individually on whether any action is required.

Lowering risk in business ensures the health of the company. Customers are protected, Shareholders are protected, Employees are protected. Being pro-active in the management of risk ensures initiatives can be prioritized and adequately resourced.

Take the time to think through your risks. It will save you, your team, and the company future grief.

Be intentional

Three building blocks of sustaining culture change

Shifting a culture is time consuming. Coming up with new ideas or new ways to behave –  is the easy part. Too many times, shiny new ideas become the “flavor of the month” or worse, over time turn into “pencil whipping” exercises.

So how do you ensure that behaviors are changing? How do you instill new habits? How do you ensure the change is sustainable and part of the team DNA? I propose there are at least three fundamental building blocks to setting the right tone and tenor for culture change:

Building Block 1

  • Maintain consistency in words and actions.

I had a boss in a meeting who said to a co-worker, “Your actions are speaking so loud, I can’t hear what you’re saying.” It made an impression on me that there needs to be a consistency between our words and our actions. They are inextricably linked.

Kinetic energy is a good example of how consistency works. In physics, the kinetic energy of an object is the energy that it possesses due to its motion. It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. Having gained this energy during its acceleration, the body maintains this kinetic energy unless its speed changes.¹ 

In your workplace – what’s your kinetic consistency energy (KCE)  between your words and your actions? Have you moved the body from a rest state into a stated velocity? Think about your approach.

Building Block 2

  • Create actions that are sustainable.

Thinking of actions is the easy part. I would be willing to bet we’ve all been in blue sky brainstorming sessions where the team white boards a really creative approach to solving a problem. But when that very idea is put to work it causes an unintended consequence which no one saw coming.

The next time you and your team are investigating a new way to do something – take the time to also think through what they could look like in a year’s time. Vet the sustainability of the action being used to drive cultural shifts.

Building Block 3

  • Assess if the actions are driving the culture shift you are wanting.

There are two types of evaluation, summative and formative. Summative evaluation focuses on the outcome of a program whereas Formative evaluation focuses on the in-process at a particular moment in time. Both are needed if you are really looking to change culture.

One caveat to evaluation is the willingness to change based on new data. Your initial plans may need adjusting or maybe, heaven forbid, even scrapped. Are you willing to go where the data tells you to go? Sometimes this is harder than you’ll ever imagine. Don’t start culture change unless you are willing to have some level of flexibility in the plan/vision.

Cultural changes are made up of attitude changes. If it was just a list of “go dos”, cultural changes would be easy. Driving change into a team’s DNA takes time and consistency. Start the journey – just realize it is a journey.

Be intentional


Working “diagonally” in your organization

There are many business articles on building networks in business. Mostly regarding networking with “like” professionals who aren’t necessarily folks within your organization. Would it be heresy for me to encourage you to also build a network within your company? And while you’re at it, may I also propose that your internal network may be more important?

What would it look like if you worked on multi-divisional programs where you’d meet folks “diagonally” on cross-platform teams? Would that increase your range and reach? Would it make you more efficient? Would it allow you to cut through some of the natural silos that occur in business?

Whether it is knowing the right person to help with an IT issue, getting something on the agenda for a meeting outside your team, or just having someone to act as a sounding board – building a network within a company has many benefits such as:

  • Realizing your company is made up of people, not just functional names
  • Having the ability to reach out for help and support
  • Your ability to help your network (Reciprocal)
  • Finding Subject Matter Experts and being able to tap into that resource
  • Reducing time and energy if you know who to call and when

Networking inside a company is much easier than outside or across an industry. Like reaching out and getting to know your neighbors, all you have to do is take a moment get to know the person down the hall or at another location.

Be intentional

The gray middle ground of a business slogan

Slogans can do much to rally a team or help you remember a concept. They can also be code words for a greater initiative or objective such as, Safety First, Quality is Number One or On time, Every time.

Dr. Deming, often called the “Father of the third wave of the industrial revolution”, hated slogans. He felt that actions always spoke louder than words. (Your actions are speaking so loud, I can’t hear what you’re saying…) Therefore, hanging a banner with a few trite words could destroy a culture shift of embracing the changes needed in the processes to achieve the vision.

Not to disagree with Dr. D, I’d like to think that there is probably some middle ground between having slogans and not having any. Words can rally the team but only as far as the leader’s actions support the words. Once the team senses hollowness of the words due to a lack of authenticity, the words lose their luster. And as BB King says, the thrill is gone and the team can lose its motivation to be better.

What actions, as leaders, are we taking day-to-day to support the words we say and the slogans we use? Before creating the next great slogan, ask yourself, what “Safety First” looks like in your culture. From correct posture at the computer to wearing your hearing protection on the floor. Walk your office. Walk your floor. What is your goal? How does the slogan support the actual work?

In our complex world and in our complex businesses, it is difficult to ensure all words are understood. It is difficult to ensure all actions hit the mark. However, it all starts with ensuring that our motives are aligned: That we care about our actions more than our words. And that is the middle ground.

Be intentional

The two-sided coin of Innovation and Continuous Improvement

Innovation and continuous improvement are closely linked, though different. I tend to view them as two sides of the same coin. Encouraging both ensures your team or your company, is in a better competitive position.

So what are some of the main differences?

Innovation can be thought of as:

  • Achieving improvement through a completely different “mouse trap”
  • Seeing a need and finding a solution
  • Challenging the status quo with a process/idea that has never been done

Continuous Improvement can be viewed as:

  • Improving the current “mouse trap” to perform better
  • Looking at current solution sets and fine tuning them
  • Questioning the status quo with recommendations to improve current processes

Finally, the key to beating the competition is constantly performing better – quality, speed, costs, etc. No matter what you call it, encourage your teams to find a better way.

Be intentional,
Melissa Holobach