SOURCE: Kay Sever | August 4, 2019
Last month we celebrated the 4th of July holiday. On that date in 1776 the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence (written by Thomas Jefferson). The Declaration documented the “abuses and usurpations” committed by the British against the colonies and justified the actions taken by the colonies to separate from the British and do something different… rule themselves. It also unified the colonies and clarified their purpose and mission.
The founding fathers and colonists had two choices… they could decide to endure the oppressive actions of the British government as other British colonies had done or they could choose a new future that they could chart and control, one where they could determine their destiny with a new kind of government, a government where they could define their “line in the sand” for what they were willing to tolerate and could remove procedure and policy barriers that suppressed freedoms and reduced the wealth of the country.
What do the 4th of July, the founding fathers and the Declaration of Independence have to do with making more money, having a better corporate culture, changing faster, or achieving higher ROIs on projects and optimization? In Part 2 of this article, let’s explore another case study about a step that is often missed in change management work… setting a management team “free from their past” so they can solve more problems and make new choices build a strong team and make more money…
Several years ago I was asked to help improve the culture/working relationship between operations and maintenance at a large mining operation. One plant was managed by a superintendent who believed that employees should wait to be told what to do. He used disrespectful and slanderous remarks and made people afraid to speak up about his words and about problems that they recognized. Being sent to this plant to work was almost “viewed as a punishment similar to being sent to a remote Siberian labor camp”… these are not my words… employees on site told me this. Daily communications were ineffective and problem solving was almost impossible. Employees were in a bad place in their beliefs about themselves, their self-worth and what they could accomplish. They did not know how to work together to solve problems and did not take responsibility for their work because they had been “taught” not to.
When I arrived on site, the offending superintendent had retired. Morale was the worst I had seen in my career. I was asked to help new management overcome the aftermath and change the culture. We defined a scope of work that would rebuild confidence and trust, delegate responsibility and hold people accountable. Employees liked what they heard about the change but had trouble believing it would happen or be sustained. No one could blame them for not trusting the new workplace they were beginning to experience… there were still too many bad feelings about the past.
It was important to acknowledge how bad things had been before we could make a giant leap into a new culture based on trust and follow-through. We scheduled an interactive workshop with new management, supervisors and crews where there was lots of open communication and interactive exercises. Plant management led some of the activities. These activities helped people at every level “escape the past” and make new choices about solving problems and working together. There were new rules for responsibility and accountability, and sharing of the dynamics that makes a management team weak or strong. By the end of the day, everyone knew their role, understood what was at stake, and knew the financial and cultural cost of letting the team down. After the exercises, we formally “declared” that it was their “Independence Day”!
That declaration was much like the Declaration of Independence… acknowledging the past and helping people leave it behind so they can make new courageous choices that deliver value. This plant’s “Independence Day” was designed to help its people step out of an ugly past, shift from an oppressive and stagnant work environment to a proactive environment full of energy, enthusiasm and trust. A few months later, this plant became a top performer. The change was so dramatic and positive that employees from other plants requested transfers so they could be a part of the action.
Most management teams NEVER do the work to formally escape a negative past. They may hope that a change initiative will deliver them from it, but this seldom happens. An ugly culture has tentacles that are hard to remove; without a dedicated effort to separate a management team from an ugly past, sustainable culture change within the team and across a site IS NOT POSSIBLE!
Is your management team being held back by a negative culture or ugly past within the management team or across a site? How much money are you losing because of mistrust? How many problems go unsolved for years because people don’t know how to work together to solve them? How much money do you add to project contingencies to compensate for a weak culture that generates problems?
Thought for the month: Declaring your company’s independence from your past is empowering, especially during the change process. However, DON’T DO IT unless your leadership team is ready to abandon old choices that shaped the old culture. Otherwise, you will be making promises that you cannot keep and no real change will occur.
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Kay Sever is a leading expert in reducing financial losses caused by corporate cultures, optimization and change barriers. She has developed a management training system called MiningOpportunity which is based on her 20 years of experience working with mines and plants to reduce the losses they never measure… losses linked to corporate culture, hidden excess capacity and change barriers. MiningOpportunity modules teach executives and management teams how to find and quantify their losses and apply strategies and tactics that stop them. Unique insights from Kay’s 3-year study of management’s barriers to change and optimization are included in the content. See MiningOpportunity.com for her contact information and several training options for your team, including the NEW “Spend a Day with Kay” option.