Leadership is a critical element of a problem solving culture and rightly is emphasized in frameworks like the Baldridge or standards like ISO 9001:2015. Leadership is best looked at as the process for determining a possible future state that does not yet exist. As we strive to build excellence we need a passion for this work and to believe it to be truly important. Sharing that enthusiasm is motivating for all people involved and is a way to leverage greater success.
Time after time, internal documents and interviews with company insiders show, Amazon officials have ignored or overlooked signs that the company was overloading its fast-growing delivery network while eschewing the expansive sort of training and oversight provided by a legacy carrier like UPS.
Great reporting on the purposeful decisions that led to an unsafe culture. I recommend everyone reading this.
“Those interviews, as well as internal documents, reveal how executives at a company that prides itself on starting every meeting with a safety tip repeatedly quashed or delayed safety initiatives out of concern that they could jeopardize its mission of satisfying customers with ever-faster delivery.”
It all starts with leaders walking-the-walk and paying more than lip service to principles. “delighting the customer” is a great goal, but there are other stakeholders, and employee safety is a higher principle.
This article really reinforces my opinion that while there may be useful tools we can learn from FAANG companies, by-and-large their cultures do not appear ones truly dedicated to safety, quality and excellence.
It bears repeating. If we made pharmaceuticals the same way Amazon or Facebook operated, we’d all be dead. Every-time I read about Alphabet getting involved in healthcare I become petrified. One only has to look at the safety record of Tesla (both in the factory and the safety of it’s automobile) to start feeling worried on what happens when you take the bad culture from Silicon Valley and apply it to other endeavors..
What do we mean when we discuss culture, which is sort of an all-encompassing word that seems difficult to pin down, or can be a rather nebulous way to refer to something bigger than any one individual or team.
Many definitions are available to describe culture. Formally, culture can be defined as “the [predominant] beliefs, values, attitudes, behaviors, and practices that are characteristic of a group of people” (Warrick, 2015). Culture can usually be described as the symbols, power structures, organisational structures, control systems, rituals & routines, and stories of a group.
Why does culture matter, well for starts let’s look at some differences between high and low performing cultures.
High Performance Cultures
Low Performance Cultures
Leaders are skilled, admired, and build organizations that excel at results and at taking excellent care of their people and their customers
Leaders provide minimal leadership, are not trusted and admired, and do little to engage and involve their people
Clear and compelling vision, mission, goals, and strategy
Vision, mission, goals, and strategy are unclear, not compelling, not used, or do not exist
Core values drive the culture and are used in decision making
Core values are unclear, not compelling, not used, or do not exist
Guarded communication, reluctance to be open and straightforward, and consequences for saying things leaders do not want to hear
Teamwork, collaboration, and involvement are the norm
Top-down decision making with minimal teamwork, collaboration, and involvement
Emphasis on constant improvement and state-of-the-art knowledge and practices
Slow to make needed improvements and behind times in knowledge and practices
Willingness to change, adapt, learn from successes and mistakes, take reasonable risk, and try new things
Poorly planned change, resistance to change, minimal learning from successes and mistakes, and either risk averse or risk foolish
Culture can either be built in a purposeful way or left to chance. As we strive for excellence we need to be methodical about building and sustaining cultures we want to drive excellence. A few guidelines then:
Make strategy and culture important leadership priorities
Develop a clear understanding of the present culture
Identify, communicate, educate, and engage employees in the cultural ideals
Role model desired behaviors
Recruit and develop for culture
Align for consistency between strategy and culture
Recognize and reward desired behaviors and practices
Use symbols, ceremonies, socialization, and stories to reinforce culture
Appoint a culture team
Monitor and manage the culture
What most of struggle with is how to actually do that. Of the many papers and articles I’ve read on the subject, my favorite might be from the International Society of Pharmaceutical engineers (ISPE).
The ISPE in 2015 introduced a cultural excellence framework which was expanded on in their 2017 Cultural Excellence Report. I’ve returned to this report again and again and continue to mine it for ideas for continual improvement and change in my organization.
The six dimensions to build and maintain cultural excellence are:
Leadership and vision: Leaders establish and engender the vision for the organization. Their thoughts, words, and actions about quality are critical in establishing and maintaining a culture of operational excellence. Leadership and vision, therefore, play a key role in establishing the culture, either within a local manufacturing site or across the company.
Mindset and attitudes: These play a key role in driving cultural performance, although they can be difficult to define, observe, and measure. Leaders can assess, monitor, and develop the desired cultural excellence mindset and attitudes within their organizations, using the practical and powerful approaches outlined in this report.
Gemba walks: Management engagement on the floor is a powerful way to demonstrate quality commitment to all members of the organization. Gemba walks allow site leaders to communicate clear messages using open and honest dialogue, and provide a real indication of progress toward desired behaviors at all levels. Gemba walks also empower front-line employees by recognizing their contributions to site results and involving them in problem-solving and continuous improvement.
Leading quality indicators and triggers: There are inherent links between culture, behavior, and leading quality indicators (LQIs) that drive desired patient-focused behaviors. Monitoring and surveillance of key triggers and the design of LQIs are highly recommended practices to help shape cultural excellence.
Oversight and review: Management oversight and review practices that engage both management and employees support a healthy quality culture because they demonstrate transparency, facilitate dialogue, bring attention to issues so they can be addressed, and highlight best practices so they can be replicated.
Structural enablers: These support the desired behaviors, help speed the pace of change, and improve performance over time. They include: –– Develop a learning organization –– Establish learning teams –– Influence and recognize organizational change –– Solve problems proactively –– Identify true root cause
R.D. Day. Leading and Managing People in the Dynamic Organization. Psychology Press, London, UK (2014)
ISPE. Cultural Excellence Report. ISPE, Bethesda (2017)
R.N. Lussier, C.F. Achua. Leadership: Theory, application, and skill development (6th ed.), Cengage Learning, Boston (2016)
D.D. Warrick, J. Mueller (Eds.), Lessons in changing cultures: Learning from real world cases, RossiSmith Academic Publishing, Oxford, UK (2015)