Tag Archives: culture

Developing a Listening Culture

team_listening

In a previous post Leadership and a Trusting Culture   I talked about the importance of developing trust as a critical component of  managing change in any organization.

To build trust, leaders must first develop listening skills.

Team members must know that their ideas will be heard and given proper consideration. The synergies to be derived from team participation will never be realized if team members don’t trust that their leadership will listen and have a capacity to understand them.

Well intentioned leaders often “kill” ideas without even realizing that they are doing it. A large number of phrases have crept into our daily speech that result in immediate freezing of the desire to openly share ideas.  “We have tried that before”, ” that will never work”  are some examples of  idea killing phrases that will halt any creative cooperation. Being careful  to refrain from providing “knee jerk” negative feedback is an important skill to be acquired by all leaders.

It is a well established method in all types of brainstorming exercises to withhold criticism while ideas are being gathered.  The absence of criticism provides an atmosphere where creativity is uninhibited.  Once all ideas are vented, the leader and the team may engage in the critical evaluation of the benefits, costs, and general practicality of each solution to the problem at hand.

The “wild and crazy” ideas that appear impractical at first, often become the real problem solvers.  If  team members are free to think and express themselves they can often put a different “spin” on an impractical idea that overcomes the initial objections.  One idea may be the initial spark of creativity that can be used as a “springboard” by other team members.

When a leader criticizes prematurely, or places too many limits on the types of ideas that are welcomed, the results are predictably unproductive.  In a recent Dilbert comic strip, Scott Adams makes this point.

Tom Feltenstein  offers a hilarious and powerful video, titled “99 Idea Killers.”

Paul Williams advises teams to “pause before you pounce” on an idea.  He has developed  “Idea Killer Bingo Card” to help teams recognize their own use of reactive negative feedback.

I heard one of  QMA clients express disappointment with the results of their “suggestion box” recommendations.  In facilitating some of their team efforts it became evident to us that leaders, at all levels, were quick to criticize the ideas of others and find reasons why the solutions wouldn’t work.  They often assumed they knew the answers to the problems.

After privately confronting them with their negative attitudes towards the ideas of others, they made genuine efforts to improve the way they interacted with team members.  It turned out that many of their inefficiencies were easily eliminated once team members trusted their leaders to listen to them and became fully engaged in the organization’s continual improvement efforts.

What is the worst idea killing criticism you’ve witnessed?  Do you have a special technique to deal with negativity of  “idea killers”?  Please share your comments below.

Making ISO 9001 Part of Your Culture

Why make ISO 9001 part of your organization’s culture?

I have seen many companies registered to ISO 9001:2008 failing to take full advantage of the structure that this standard provides.  These organizations only see the marketing benefits of the certification while missing the opportunity to improve the quality of their products and services by testing their systems against their customer requirements.

ISO 9001 is a basic business process system that provides a solid structure for future improvements. In fact, this standard expects a continual improvement approach to quality and expects that organization fully understand and meet the customer requirements.

ISO provides an excellent roadmap for developing a culture that supports positive change. To maximize the benefits of ISO implementation, the ISO requirements need to become seamless with the workings of the organization.

Internal Audits need to be scheduled and conducted during the course of the year, not just before the external auditor is due to visit.  This helps to recognize and correct any nonconformity before any adverse consequences occur.

ISO requires that the organization establish systems for controlling documents, records, nonconforming products and changes in design.  These requirements are so basic that it is hard to imagine a company operating successfully without them.

Another ISO requirement, a robust Corrective and Preventive Action System is an invaluable tool for improvement. ISO expects that with every problem or potential problem, the organization will drill down to its root cause and develop a solution based on this investigation.  ISO’s emphasis on continual improvement is totally compatible and complementary to other systems and methods of business improvement and provides a platform for future evolution of the business in its journey towards excellence.

These very basic requirements need to be made part of your organization, not because they are ISO requirements, but because to succeed you need to make these part of your culture, that is, part of the way you do business.

Making Change Happen

Things never stay the same.  They get better or they get worse.

Left to their own devices, organizations will deteriorate.  To effect change and move an organization in a positive direction, leaders must plan, share, and act on those plans.

Sustainable change requires that the organizational culture be receptive to the desired change.  The culture itself may require change.  Rapid change is possible once a receptive culture is present, but cultural changes are evolutionary.

Cultural transformations take time, patience and perseverance.

In most organizations, overt and covert resistance needs to be overcome.  Such resistance is often due to a lack of trust that has developed over time and to regain the feeling of mutual trust will also take time.

The main ingredient of cultural change is trust.  Restoring or establishing trust requires a sincere effort that cannot be misjudged as manipulation.  You cannot effect trust by merely wishing it or dictating it. Trust must be built incrementally.

As organizational members start trusting leadership, and each other, other positive changes are possible.  Then, as improvements are made, they will be sustainable.

Once trust building is recognized as a necessary element of transformation, the leader is in a better position to envision and mold an organizational culture devoted to continuous and sustainable improvements.