3 Qualities of High-Performance Culture
How to gain a competitive advantage? How to sustain it?
The advantage at your hand may be the result of a good idea that popped up, an opportunity wisely used, or a technology timely implemented. The tool that transforms this advantage to results is the way you do your business. Present ways and techniques lose their advantage immediately after a new one emerges. Then, what is the secret of having a sustainable competitive advantage?
The word “sustainable” reminds things that will not change, remain constant. If we find them, we should own and stick to them. Long story short, what will not change is the change itself. We need to adopt new technology when it starts to drive us away from the competitive advantage. The adaptation is not about only purchasing the latest technology, but it’s a process of learning and complementing it with your business practices at every point of your value chain. Complex ERP systems to follow-up shop floor problems, for example, provide nice reporting tools but may slow down frontline problem-solving as they are challenging to learn by workers. The same ineffectiveness is valid for Lean when its implementation responsibility is given only to production and not taken by other departments or by the management. The phrase “the strength of a chain is its weakest link” holds for value chains too.
From our standpoint in the value chain, we witness many problems flowing in front of us. We simply don’t take action to solve these problems, which are, in fact, solvable with minimum effort at this phase. Some reasons:
The culture promotes central decision making
Problem-solving responsibility is perceived as belonging to a different guy/department
Side effects of taking action is an unknown risk
We can multiply such reasons, and we actually do. The costs of problems grow as we keep reminding ourselves, “This is none of my business.” Behaviors that slows down an organization and reduce its effectiveness are not accidental. They are all shadows of the workplace culture.
3 Critical qualities of High-Performance Culture
Times change. Problems are becoming more sophisticated, and the time needed to solve them gets shorter, day by day. Complex problem-solving is a team activity for which we are not ready at all.
We can understand why collaborative problem-solving culture does not develop if we recall that the objective of our entire education was to improve our individual problem-solving skills. Most of the workplace training was about self-improvement. A lovely title, isn’t it?
I don’t have a problem with the contents of all these trainings; however, I have enough experience to understand that they simply don’t create teamwork. Paradoxically, even “teamwork training,” is served as a self-improvement training in today’s world.
The providers of self-improvement or personal development training define their purpose as “to improve your personal skills, competencies, talents, and knowledge to help you reach your personal and career goals.” Indeed, developing stronger egos certainly helps individuals to take practical actions (behaviors) to satisfy their personal needs.
Strong egos often accompany harmful energy. Smartly setting a common purpose like a threat outside the group not only directs the negative energy to outside but also strengthen collaboration behavior between group members. War is a good example. The risk of failure is another. Though you may find unethical, some result-oriented managers adopt such a strategy. Nevertheless, this strategy is not sustainable, as welcomed ego-centric behaviors will soon be directed towards others in the group. Then, everybody understands that even their basic needs, like respect and safety, are not satisfied.
Collaboration is not a zero-sum game. It is about defining a common purpose that satisfies the needs of all group members. A common sustainable goal should be about the well-being of all employees. Then, the most effective way of making an individual contribution to such a common objective would be to gain Collaborative Problem-Solving skills. Unsurprisingly, Problem Solving training in the market can’t help because only collaborative practice develops collaborative skills. Just like common purpose is not about well-articulated strategies but is about emotions, collaborative problem-solving is about understanding emotions and their effects on our judgment. Our Collaborative Problem Solving Workshop aims at developing collaboration behavior.
2. Speed / Agile
The word “Kaizen” is becoming more and more popular and is used to define process improvement. Although this definition is incorrect, I want to focus on the process improvement itself. A simple but common mistake I see in the industry is that maintaining the gains achieved is frequently given second or third priority as all the focus is on creating more value. The deficiency in the standardization of the works is the main reason why problems repeat in so many organizations I observed.
Undoubtedly, we have to protect standards to maintain the gains we achieve. On the other hand, the speed of the change alters the work conditions, and unexpected problems pop up every day. Still, some organizations improve the way they do their business and get better results.
I remember the old days. When we are to hit a ball (a problem), just like a golfer does, we had time to make a plan and choose the right putter. On top, we had time to consult our managers “This is what I will do, what do you think?” The game has changed a lot. Now, we have to hit the moving balls like in baseball. Additionally, the shots are coming one after the other, as thrown by a pitching machine.
There is no time for strategic thinking once the ball starts moving towards you. Your skills determine whether you will hit the ball in the right direction at the right speed. Developing a skill to a level where it becomes a reflex or the second nature requires the right strategy and determination.
“Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth” Mike Tyson
et’s imagine the workplace as a team of baseball hitters trying to hit balls serially thrown from lots of pitching machines. Balls represent problems, which are much more than the number of players. Teams that hit more balls accurately will win.
The responsibilities in classical workplace culture are given rather than the taken ones. On the other hand, responsibility taken depends on how the person perceives the responsibility assigned, and perceptions are different. Some employees aren’t interested in what goes on beyond their area of responsibility.
Before a problem gets bigger and causes severe losses, it passes in front of many employees who think “none of my business” and take no action. They are often criticized by not taking responsibility and ownership, and this does not help because the meaning of responsibility is also different among people. Therefore, we need a better word than responsibility in our workplaces.
The definition of accountability, according to Merriam-Webster, is “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” Once this definition is clear, then it becomes a choice to take no action under circumstances where a person can contribute to the problem-solving process. As all behaviors do, staying inactive has consequences. Weak cultures allow problems to grow due to cumulative ignorance, and the culture gives the privilege of not taking responsibility.
We all witnessed during Covid-19 pandemic, what happened with “social distancing. “The result is determined by those who did not behave accountable, even though they were very few in society.
1. losses increased
2. many people have been unnecessarily overloaded
3. Problem is getting bigger and more complicated
Neither responsibility avoidance nor its results are new. It was and will be existing in organizations. Some employees will continue to be overloaded as some others avoid accountability.
about feeling the importance of the role he/she has in the game.
the driving force for bringing a person’s potential into life.
accompanied by strong feelings like respect and trust; therefore, it is a prerequisite for collaboration and speed.
Workplace culture converges to high-performance culture as your employees accepts accountability for what they can do, collaborate, and make agile decisions. These behaviors are skills that can be developed only by using them. Basic requirements:
finding the “common purpose.”
a stable, safe workplace. (I mean emotionally. Dedication of the leaders to cultural development is the key.)
development of principle-based behaviors with continuous mentoring (Kata)
At LeanOpex, we provide analysis and mentoring services for high-performance culture development. Our approach conforms to Toyota Way principles and practices.