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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


Communication depends on Identification

Question: What makes a problem hard?
(Answer at the bottom)

Having been involved in the manufacturing floor for over 30 years I think one of, if not the most challenging thing we face on the floor is the ability to clearly articulate the problem at hand. Because if we can’t clearly say it, how then will we fix it? It seems so “simple”, and most times it is – except for when everything goes wonky (or kerpluey).

When you see what appears to be a team working at cross purposes, there is a high probability that they each are working from their own framework (point of view) for the problem they are trying to address. If you see this happening, check and make sure they are working to the same problem statement.

Contrary to some, Six Sigma isn’t the root of all evil. We, on the manufacturing floor use the 5-whys tool for root causing production floor issues. Have you ever thought about what a valuable tool it would be to use for “knowledge worker processes”. Getting to know the real issue ensures a strong problem statement that the team can then address. Think about it. Everyone on your team sees the knowledge flow from a different perspective.

Once you’ve identified the root cause, realize it may uncover other problems that have to be addressed in order to get to the bigger issue at hand. I think it was Machiavelli who once said, “A small problem is hard to see but easy to fix whereas a big problem is easy to see but almost impossible to fix.”

Whichever end of the spectrum you find yourself on, taking the time to better understand the problem and clearly articulating the problem statement will put you and your team on the right course to solving your issue.

Here’s the answer to my opening question:
Knowing something is wrong, but not clearly defining it so you can communicate it

Be intentional,

This STAR has only four points


The dedicated men and women of NASA’s Mission Control as seen on my recent private tour.

I doubt anyone would argue with the fact that NASA takes training seriously. Whether it is for the astronaut in space, those running Mission Control, or those who are support staff, a high level of training is necessary.

Recently, I learned that it is not only hard skills but also soft skills that are trained. NASA realized early on that just knowing the technical answers wasn’t enough. Managing stress, interacting with a team, and collaboration all add up to either making or breaking a mission. When something goes wrong in space – failure really isn’t an option.

Last week I mentioned STAR (Stop Think Analyze React) in my post. It’s drilled into the Mission Control team. It’s not “maybe I’m sure” it’s more like “Let me think and give you a definitive answer”. In the business world, more specifically the manufacturing world, we all could use some STAR in our day.

Stop You can’t keep doing the same things the same way and expecting new results. Maybe there is need to panic given your situation but maybe there isn’t. Maybe you need to stop before making your next decision. Think of it as hitting the “pause” button ever so briefly.

Think If you are working on auto-pilot and rushing through the day – your own activity will prevent quality problem solving. What are the things that are amiss? Who needs to be part of the solution? Think about the problem. What are all of the touch points for the decision in front of you? Draw it out on a whiteboard if you have to – sometimes just seeing the “big picture” on a wall can help you find a hole in your logic.

Analyze If you’ve read my blog before you know I’m a proponent of Six Sigma because it works. Using tried and true problem solving tools can uncover paths forward. You also know I’m not a proponent of jumping to conclusions. Do you have the proverbial “80%” solution? Does it make sense for your team, your floor or your business unit? Then what are you going to do with this information?

React There is no such thing as a perfect solution. I would hypothesize that waiting for a perfect solution can waste valuable resources and in manufacturing – time is a valuable resource. Sometimes being 80% sure is enough to move forward to successfully meet the goal. Sometimes it is not. You have to make the hard call each and every time. I wish it was easier but this is the world those of us in manufacturing have chosen to live in.

Like space where mistakes can have fatal outcomes, the manufacturing world can be as brutal to a business unit. Please take a moment and think through your own STAR. Together with your team you can make better decisions.

Be intentional

Garbage In / Garbage Out (GI/GO)

I loved Star Trek. Still do. As a kid, my parents used to say, “Garbage in, Garbage out. (GI/GO). All that science fiction will stunt your imagination!” Ha, maybe that’s why I became an engineer. Too much Star Trek. Can you ever really have too much Star Trek? Nope.

GI/GO is also used regarding computers and the data streams surrounding us. Our computer systems have become very complex — they rely on perfect information (dates, quantities, etc.) to calculate Spock-like (had to throw in a Star Trek reference for you Trekkies) information. They can provide product analysis, financial roll-ups and even drive the pace of the manufacturing floor.

But have mercy should a data set be entered wrong. You’ve just created an information tsunami. It’s at that point the “humans” must intervene and restore order. This is time consuming and eventually could negate any productivity improvements the computer provided. Many times the root cause is found to be, “Garbage In”.

So how do we error proof our data sets?

First, you should considering treating the knowledge worker processes with the same rigor as you would the manufacturing process. Use your Six sigma, poka-yoke and other quality management processes to find the optimal data path. Be intentional. Don’t just let it happen. (Now before you go all engineering on your non-engineering teams, be nice. Remember – sharing is caring.)

Second, if something was Garbaged In – you need to trace the garbage back. Find the source. Was it a one time error or was it due to a process error? Use a systems approach to find the root cause. Yes, clean up the garbage out but find out the “why”. Whatever you choose to do – pull everyone into the solution. Here’s some questions to consider:

  • Are your reports too complex?
  • Are you measuring things you don’t need to?
  • Can you simplify your system?
  • What is it that you need to address to remove the GI?
  • Do you need to launch an initiative or was this a simple error?

Finally, the computer isn’t always right, software glitches do occur. People program computers, people are not perfect – thus computers can be wrong. Sometimes.

Where’s Spock when you need him?

Be Intentional,

Quality comes “Before the Floor”

Customer quality expectations are rising. When you buy a new TV, computer, iPad, (insert your shiny new gadget here) you expect it will work and be free of defect from the get go. You don’t want to take delivery and find a defect.

Let me say it again, customer quality expectations are rising. We’ve all been trained to expect “perfection”. This perfection is expected throughout the entire supply chain. If you took a typical supply chain at its most basic level and backward chain it, it would look like something like:  “End” Customer (retail or commercial) > Seller (retail or commercial) > OEM > Tier 1 Supplier > Tier 2 Supplier > Tier 3 Supplier…

At every point in the chain improved quality drives improved schedule, improved costs, improved RONA, and improved process efficiency. In lean lingo, defects/scrap are one of the 8 deadly wastes. Within each link, your customer needs your parts to be defect free in order for the manufacturing processes to be defect free. The end customer will thank you. (Or at least not write a negative review on Yelp.)

Quality starts and ends where everyone internalizes and participates in the quality cycle. Everyone. But where does all this “improved” begin? I’m inclined to think it starts “before the floor”. Before you go all chicken/egg on me… let me explain.

Nowadays we have enough computer models and “invisible” processes which are the norm in the manufacturing world. SO much so that we can take them for granted. I come from an era where Deming wasn’t always as popular as his legacy is today. But these invisible processes are foundational to the manufacturing floor. Quality inputs deliver quality outputs.

And just as the hard working folks on the floor assemble, mill, measure, or wire something to create an assembly, knowledge workers add, subtract, input and shape data to create and maintain the process(es). Any error in the data causes rework or “information scrap” in the form of time wasted.

Just as floor craftspeople strive to build it right the first time, knowledge workers strive to deliver the report, spreadsheet, system conversation, product design — “right the first time”. Surprisingly, lean concepts for the floor, such as poky-yoke, also work for the knowledge worker. Six sigma and black belts work for the floor and the office.

A culture of quality starts when each of us strive for less errors and more execution of excellence. No matter what our job is.

Be Intentional,