Expert Panel: What is one change you recommend making to enhance culture and productivity

There is a lot of noise about culture, productivity and building a productive workplace culture. However not too much information about what does that really mean? And how do organisations go about creating these types of optimised environments? 

It should be as easy as: you need to define what productivity means for your organisation, understand the cultural shifts required for it to thrive, and identify the steps needed to achieve it. Then, make it happen.

But in reality is takes a lot of time to prepare and to get the team on board and to go throug hte process. To help our readers think of such important aspects of business and organisation as culture and productivity we decided to reach out to the experts asking them to contribute to this Expert Panel and to answer the question: What is one change you recommend making to enhance culture and productivity.

Marieta Bencheva

Cofounder

In contemporary times we are no strangers to the fact that change drives innovation and that now more than ever it happens to be the lifeblood of many companies’ success. Culture many times equals growth and what better way to thrive than by functioning as an ecosystem? We are not static individuals, we are dynamic and with that trait, we can create motion as a collective of business professionals.

 Entrepreneurs and leaders are aware that company culture is not just another fancy phrase and that it remains one of the key factors when analysing which elements affect a company’s productivity indicators. However, acknowledging that an organization’s productivity is linked with its culture isn’t enough to improve either one. As a leader, you must understand and master their relationship.

 Promoting change within your company is about psychology and how to best tap into the needs and desires of your team, so that the change you are aiming to welcome into your organization stays consistent and survives as new challenges arise. 

Productivity is about igniting certain mental pathways that allow us to feel we belong to a bigger picture when developing tasks. Most of us don’t change unless we are the ones leading that transformation. This is why as subjects of this process your company won’t thrive unless your team does.

When creating a culture, effective communication is key. I believe that the first thing to do is to highlight the need to change. If I were you, that is where I would start. I also wouldn’t be too precious about “owning” it. The best way people will change is if they believe it was their idea. So while you may introduce it, let others take it forward.

Many companies remain unproductive due to the fact that scaling up or even starting a company can be frustrating and frustration more often than not leads to procrastination and again breaks any chances of being productive or introducing systems to boost productive outcomes. 

This is why you need to always keep in mind that your organizational culture impacts the way each member of your team views performance. High-performance cultures foster high-performing team members, by adopting positive peer pressure strategies. This is key when working in high-pressure environments.

Another thing to keep in mind is that culture impacts engagement, which drives productivity. When a company shows high levels of engagement, this means that employees are treating the company as if they were actual owners of the company, and this in-depth care about the results, makes them remarkable.

Collaborative culture enhances productivity and while competition drives performance when it comes to culture it hinders productivity. This is why cooperation and collaboration need to get encouraged over competition between individuals.

 Now that we have gone through the broader picture of culture building, let’s dive into the specifics, suggested by one of our consultants

  • Your first steps when creating or changing company culture should be reducing waste, reducing inflexibility, and reducing variability.
  • Check the reason for the variability: individual, skill, process (people, process, material, and information).
  • Create an SOP (standard operating procedure) for each process you do.
  • Once you have done that, you start tracking are there any improvements in the work?
  • When aiming to create change and identify weaknesses in your operations, without entering detailed considerations in terms of the different tasks of change management.

Another advisor suggests you would start the process with basic questions in order to sketch an appropriate overview:

  • What do I want to change?
  • Why do I want to change it?
  • When do I want it to change?
  • Who should be changing it with me?

A third consultant shares:

In my experience there are two main challenges in change management: the first one is related to the psychology of organizations, that is, the general behaviour of people when confronted with change and the second one is communication and the management of expectations due to the change itself.”

Besides the bookish remarks he also highlights something out of the personal experience:

It may be important to choose the right change agents, that is, individuals who possess certain skills such as emotional intelligence or proactivity BUT the factor X in the recipe, up to me, is to ensure that the chosen individuals, whoever they are, form a REAL network to drive change. As Andrew mentioned, it is indeed essential to make sure that keepers are part of the drive. One needs to avoid at any cost that change ends up being understood as “A taffy peddler does what he pleases”.

Regarding the second problem which is communication, it can be mitigated if you enforce an understanding of change management not as something that is happening in the organization, in the sense of “it is being done somehow like a continuous process, i.e. the BAU of some team lost somewhere in the building” BUT  as a project, i.e., an exceptional effort in the organization towards a given goal with a full-fledged project management strategy in place.

Next, I would like to give some advice on how to address different questions that may arise when considering all of the previously stated information.

 Do you have a framework that you currently use?

 You can create any framework as long as it contains the following boxes:

  • Understand deeply the technical aspects of the change (Subject Matter Experts will help you with that if you engage them);
  •  Plan for work and engagement with the 3 types of employees: early adopters, followers, and tradition keepers;
  •  Define the scope and budge
  • Plan
  • Establish governance and reporting

How should you approach the change in a company in order to make it happen?

 You need to be prepared that there will be initial optimism, drop to disillusionment, and then up again – back to normal. It is different with each organisation but it is important to work with SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) in your Change Program. SMEs need to be seconded during the Change Program and perceive it more like a developmental benefit to the individual and the organization, because of the different roles they are in.

Would you consider transparent communication around the change to be a good step or on the contrary?

Yes! I would definitely advise- if you have 5 or more people in the Change team- you need one person who will be doing only professional communication.

You always need (that can be somebody from marketing) to sense check the change program communication. And do not be shy- communicate every benefit and achievement.

While change can be costly, at Consulthon all the advisors booked in an on-demand advisory call can give you more in use value than the cash value of the 1-hour advisory call you pay for. Basically, we give to every client more than you take from you.

Let’s put it in a practical example: If the actions/ideas suggested during the call bring you thousands of £, you have not been wronged by us and the consultants who worked with you. Because we have given you a great use-value for a small cash value.

Consulthon is a UK Management Consulting expert network. Businesses can raise a Business Challenge and the network’s experts will brainstorm solutions. After selecting the answer they like the most, the business can book a paid one-hour advisory call and deep-dive session with that consultant. All the consultants are vetted by Consulthon and the platform offers businesses access to a wide range of skills, in a variety of sectors and countries.

Chris Keane

People Lead – Canda

Leadership regularly seeking feedback on a 1:1 basis from their teams has a direct impact – employees feel respected and appreciated, and are more likely to ask for feedback in return in the future. Many people struggle to deliver feedback; creating a culture where employees feel safe to have constructive conversations is a big step in helping them develop that skill and improve team communication. 

Kane Sterling

KS consultancy

Cross-team communication and clear roles and responsibilities with clear lines for accountability and boundaries for decision making.

Donnie MacNicol

Team Animation Ltd

The simple things are often the most challenging things to implement and I think this applies to what I would suggest. Make the effort to understand yourself (what motivates you, how you communicate, how you like to engage (or not) with people, etc) and then do the same with other people.

Only when you have these 2 ingredients can you start to bake a cake although it is likely better when you have a team and more ingredients to play with!

Just came up with that analogy and seems to work – get all of the ingredients working with, complementing and enhancing others and you end up with an amazing cake. If they don’t work together then…….well, I’m sure I dont need to describe what it can feel like when a team is dysfunctional and at worst toxic (and to take the analogy to the extreme, you just spit out the cake and leave). We all want to be part of a cake that you just stop yourself gorging on.

Gopal Rao

Partner, Infosys Consulting

  • Make sure that everyone knows what he/she is accountable for AND aware of what others are accountable for
  • Communicate transparently on a consistent and regular basis as a group over calls/in person rather than emails only
  • Follow up progress and actions on brief one on one catch up calls rather than email reminders
  • Finally, discuss any slip-ups at the time and move on. 

Ed Doherty

Principal Consultant, Conation Consulting Ltd

Shaping and fostering a strong yet flexible goal-directed group identity, finding the right contingent balance between collective responsibility and individual accountability.

Mark McArthur-Christie

Managing Director, The Think Human Consultancy

Let people ask ‘why?’ And let them do it a LOT.

Asking “Why do we have that Monday morning meeting?” might reveal that it’s actually a monumental waste of an hour for everyone – or it might be the most useful hour of the week.

 “Why do we produce that weekly report for the Board – you know, the one they never read?” might show that directors don’t read it because it’s too long, but unless you ask why you won’t know.

The older, the more established, the more unquestioned the activity, process or policy is the more you should be asking ‘why?’

 

Gamiel Yafai

Diversity Marketplace Limited

Identify the hidden and shadow cultures experienced by minority groups (gender, disability, race and sexual orientation)

Graham Webb

MD, The Operations People

Leaders embody the behaviours that they get from their team, Lead from the front, be open to your team’s input, celebrate success, reflect on failures, empower your team. Be glass half full!

Deirdre Sheridan

Community & Content Manager, Blue Globe Innovation

As a 100% remote team that is continuing to grow well into the pandemic, Blue Globe Innovation is dedicated to fostering connections between team members that go beyond our Zoom boxes. 

This year, each member of our team was led through an activity to create a personal “Manual of Me” with important information about working with each other–from how to pronounce a colleague’s name to what they enjoy doing outside of work to when it’s okay to send a Slack message.

It’s been a great way to understand each other’s boundaries and working styles, even when we can’t connect in person. While this practice isn’t unique to Blue Globe – it’s used at large tech startups like Slack and Github–we still find it provides value to a small team and an overall rise in wellbeing and productivity amongst our colleagues.

Dan Welham

Director & Co-Founder at Crio Digital Ltd 

Company culture is something that is so important for Crio Digital. The business was born out of a mixture of good and bad experiences from both of the Directors. We have taken the good experiences and utilised them within the business and we have learnt from the bad to ensure that Crio employees never have the frustrations that we once had.

People are at the heart of everything we do so we listen to our team and treat them with respect. We involve the team in all key decisions and even get their thoughts on the smaller things. It’s important to us that we create an environment where people are happy, feel like they matter and know that they can really make a difference and enhance their career with us.

We provide our team the time, autonomy and freedom to produce their best work – stress free! We encourage our staff to take risks, try new things, do the things they wouldn’t normally dare to do, and ultimately produce work that’ll set you apart from the rest. By taking risks, making mistakes and learning from them and going outside of your comfort zone you can only ever better yourself and we completely support this.

The ongoing development of our employees is another thing that we pride ourselves on. We provide them with the time for training and ensure there are always opportunities to take on more responsibility and continuously learn. Whether someone wants to specialise in an area of expertise, lead teams or explore other areas of the business, we work closely with them to help them achieve their goals.

My final point is on having fun with what we do! Yes we are all here to do a job, but that doesn\’t have to be stressful, consume your life and send you in to depression! We want everyone to enjoy going to work each day. We promote a relaxed environment and encourage as much fun as possible whilst getting the job done. The majority of our meetings are held at the pub and we try our best do things socially as a team as often as possible. Really simple things, but things that are so often forgotten by leaders!

Sebastian Kirbach

Global Program Manager – Roche Pharmaceuticals

At Roche we have a strong move towards self-managed and empowered teams. Consequentially, the role of managers has shifted from being the decision maker to being the one that enables the teams to work as efficiently as possible.

 This is only possible if managers and governance bodies fundamentally change their mindset:

         In a command & control environment, the underlying management philosophy is basically “I am your boss because I know best. Therefore I will tell you what and how to do and I will control whether you have done so.”

         In a self-managed teams environment, the manager’s philosophy has to be different, namely: “You as the team know best what to do. Therefore I will do what I can to create and maintain the best possible working environment for you. I will also ensure that we are within the relevant strategic and organizational guard rails.”

My role is to implement this mindset and subsequent behaviour in the teams I am working with.  As a member of a department that has transitioned into a self-managed structure itself I also actively participate in building up & maintaining this structure.

Based on this experience I can say that this had very positive effects on productivity:

  •          People’s motivation is increased, as they become “masters of their own fate”.
  •          The time the teams spent dealing with governance processes was reduced by 90% to the essential minimum:
  •          This essentially was time with middle management to obtain “buy-in and approval” before going to the actual decision-makers, the senior management. This means that people can spend their time more on activities that actually matter.
  •          Teams can react much faster to the changing environment as alignment loops are much shorter compared to before.
  •          On a company level prioritization of work and budget became much easier, as a consequence the yearly work and budget prioritization processes have been abolished.

Antonis Rousounelos

Product Manager, Blueground

In a digital product, we need to make sure that the whole product team is empowered and engaged in the whole process of discovering the product and bringing the best value to the business & its users. For that reason, we have adopted a continuous team-led product discovery process.

Paul Lemon

Director, BD at Performance Leader

Harness the power of the debrief (or After Action Review) to support a culture of continuous improvement for your people, projects and clients. 

A debrief is a structured conversation to review a project or team task. It considers what was supposed to happen (objectives), what actually happened (outcomes), why (explanation), and what should happen next time (learning). It can be applied to projects at specific intervals, which are usually milestones or at the project end. 

The debrief – used consistently by organisations with open, honest feedback cultures (E.g Military, Healthcare, NGO’s) – is largely overlooked by many firms and has the capacity to draw out and share lessons learned among the whole team. It is a much better tactic than relying on water cooler conversations and a systematic means of making implicit knowledge explicit. 

For juniors, it’s an opportunity to tap into expert knowledge. 

For senior professionals, it’s an opportunity to capture and share wisdom and experience. 

For the organisation, it’s an opportunity to create a high performance, learning culture – one that retains knowledge, even when talent is lost – a key challenge during the current war for talent.

Andy Lopata

Author, Podcaster and Speaker on Professional Relationships

I see far too much competition than collaboration between colleagues in many large organisations, and even in a fair proportion of smaller enterprises. Bonus schemes and recognition of other types gets in the way of people going out of their way to support co-workers. Besides, why should they help someone else just because they work for the same company if it’s not going to help them achieve their targets? They are hard-pressed as it is.

The best way to inspire people to support each other and collaborate is to encourage strong professional relationships across the organisation. A culture where teams share with each other, learn together and from each other and understand what other parts of the organisation are trying to achieve and how it fits into the overall picture is more likely to lead to collaboration.

Learning programmes internally should be shaped to increase co-working and collaboration across team boundaries. Make them interactive, fully engaged and practical, with people working with others whose paths they don’t cross frequently and helping each other find solutions.

Co-mentoring, masterminding and action learning sets across the organisation are other ways to break down those barriers and build trusted relationships between colleagues.

Instead of team building events, focus on ‘cross-team’ building.

Why do people help others who are not part of the same team and where their objectives are not aligned? The answer is simple, it’s because they like each other and want to see each other succeed. Building those strong relationships and collaboration will win the day.

Jérôme Selva

Global Managing Director – Pegasystems

When leading thousands of people at IBM, I was perceived as a respectful integrator of talents emanating human-centricity and global cultural awareness in the roots of my engagement to create outcomes-first experiences. 

How I did it and how I continue to do it? 

It’s lost in the paradox of being an introvert who deeply cares to have a positive impact in the quest of constant equilibrium, timeless value, selflessness and happiness.  One cannot help and lead others if one cannot start the journey from within. Introspection and interconnection are essential to help create the space to succeed together! 

Extreme ownership is equally important to address inadequate behaviours and attitudes timely and visibly. Intent and perception can easily drive unintended impacts, hence the power of clear and authenticated communication.

Diversity is a powerful ally to create a smarter and more collaborative world. I trust having lived on four continents and on islands in the Pacific Ocean, having been an officer in the French Army helped shape the way I think, adapt and act.

 

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