Goal, Strategy and Structure

In the introduction to this series of articles, I defined the a “winning culture” and said that building one requires a goal, a strategy for achieving the goal, a structure for executing the strategy and habit patterns where people tend to do the right things, even when there are no applicable guidelines and no one is watching.

In this article, I will describe the goal, the strategy and the structure – the “why”, the “what” and the “how” for the journey toward a winning culture. The goal needs to be inspiring enough to make people want to get better at what they do and to be willing to do things differently in order to get better.

The goal needs to call people to their highest purpose – something that will be deeply satisfying to them personally and professionally.  Amazon’s vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.  Disney has been successful for decades with the simple goal of making people happy.

As Simon Sinek says in his book Why, leaders have to “talk the talk” about the inspiring goal and their deepest beliefs about it in order to attract to them people who believe what they believe.  Leaders and their followers, who believe what they believe, must all “walk the talk” about the importance of the inspiring goal so that everyone else can see that the talk is not just talk.

You will need more than a charismatic leader with a lofty goal.  As an oil field worker in West Texas once told me after a presentation on a new safety program, “people are watching what you do more than what you say.”

In addition to commitment to an inspiring goal, you will need a strategy for achieving it.  The strategy must be clearly linked to the goal and focused enough to be achieved with the available resources.  Strategic objectives should be few (five at most – preferably three or less).  Companies that undertake 10 or more strategic objectives or major change efforts usually accomplish none of them within any reasonable time frame.

The strategy will be more readily accepted if it is supported with hard data.  For example, the International Helicopter Safety Team’s (IHST) strategy for preventing helicopter accidents is focused on safety management systems, training, systems & equipment and maintenance practices.

The IHSTs strategy is supported by the analysis of over 1,000 helicopter accidents by its regional teams around the world.  Go to www.ihst.org for more information on this example. The structure for executing the strategy should, in most cases, reflect the Shewart/Deming cycle of “plan, do, check, act” or other typical quality management approach.  This structure should typically include a documented and accessible management system with clear definition of objectives (e.g., mission and vision), core values, critical roles & responsibilities, key processes and procedures, including reporting and review, and a change management process.   Competent resources must be provided to carry out the critical activities.

To get everyone to appreciate the need for this management system, you must engage the entire workforce in evaluating risks and building the management system, starting with the biggest risks.  Risks to people, assets, the environment and your company’s reputation can arise from safety hazards, business and financial performance requirements, legal issues, political instability and other hazards.  Use the reporting and review processes to continuously improve.

Even with an inspiring goal, a clear and focused strategy and the key structural support for executing the strategy, the workplace culture can reject the change effort much like the human body rejects a mismatched organ transplant.

In the next article, we will explore how to overcome the natural human resistance to change.

Intro to Winning Culture

More and more people in all types of work are talking about how to improve workplace culture.  Discussions about culture are especially common when the aim is improved safety or customer service.

For more than 25 years I have been directly engaged in efforts by large and small companies to change their culture for one reason or another.  I have been to training courses, participated in workshops, worked in and led improvement projects, had executive coaches and read countless books on the subject.

In this introduction and the next posts to follow, I want to share with you what I have learned and point you to the best current references so that you can create a winning culture in your workplace.  I define a “winning culture” as one where all stakeholders (customers and suppliers) enjoy rewards and recognition for excellent performance – everybody is winning.

A winning culture is then, by definition, a sustainable, healthy culture because everyone is doing their best for themselves and everyone else.  The flip side of this definition is that there are no “losers” in a winning culture – no one is taking unfair advantage of anyone else.

I have seen many efforts to change workplace culture fail because they did not put in place all of the essential elements.  I have also seen efforts to change workplace culture fail because they took on too many changes at once.  I have learned that while doing just one thing won’t likely be sufficient, focusing on just one thing at a time is essential to be effective.  I will show that a system of four key elements is necessary and that to put that whole system in place requires focus on the critical few things that will do the most good with the least effort.   If you are among the many who already knew that, I also have some insights from recent research in neuroscience and psychology that can help you use what you already know more effectively.

The whole system for a winning culture requires a goal, a strategy for achieving the goal, a structure for executing the strategy and habit patterns where people tend to do the right things, no matter what the pressures and even when there are no applicable guidelines and no one is watching.  Done right, these four key elements are integral and feed off each other in a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement.

Read my next blog post (Part 1) to explore the goal, the strategy and the structure – the “why”, the “what” and the “how” for the journey toward a winning culture.