NEWS January 2016 / ARGO news Nr. 23
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle
Crafting a Culture of Excellence Are your leaders cultivating habits of excellence in their people?
This is Part 1 of a two-part article in which ARGO will share with our readers some of what we have learned in helping companies develop excellence during lean and operational excellence transformations.
Author: Matthew Strauss
Excellence is a habit Excellence – as Aristotle says – is not an act. Neither is excellence a result. Excellence is a habit. Culture is nothing more than observable, repeated behaviors – in other words, habits. If you want to know if you have a culture of excellence, look at the behaviors people show day in, day out.
Photo: Olivier Le Moal
We cannot judge excellence from results alone Enron had spectacular results and was named “America’s Most Innovative Company” for six consecutive years, right up until December 2001, when it became the then-largest bankruptcy in US history and a symbol of corruption and accountancy fraud. Lehman Brothers had achieved fantastic profits, right up until its collapse in 2008, becoming a victim of its own questionable practices and the new largest bankruptcy filing in US history. Results are what leaders are paid for, but you cannot manage results. You manage activities – or in
other words – behaviors. Too many managers focus exclusively on results, and pay too little attention to what behaviors have delivered these results. Consequently, these managers have no idea whether the results are sustainable. Only consistency in excellence of behaviors (i.e. a culture of excellence) will deliver sustainable excellence in results. As Peter Drucker wrote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
Process Optimization: Easy come, easy go How often have you witnessed the following scenario? A company invests in lean/operational excellence consultancy. Almost immediately, the consultants deliver remarkable savings as they lean out systems and processes. However, once the contract ends and the consultants leave, it does not take long for the optimized processes to start to degrade and for waste to creep back into the systems. After all the shakeup and stress of the change, things return to pretty much the way they were before, and everybody is left with a bad taste. This scenario is so common that for some people the term “lean” now has, unfortunately, a negative connotation.
Why does this happen? There are several, linked reasons: 1
The operational consultants are paid for rapid results, and they do not have the time to develop the habits necessary to sustain the changes. The “hard” technical changes are the easy stuff; it is the “soft” stuff of behaviors and culture that is the hard stuff. Neither the hard consultants nor the leadership in the client organization actually know what the ideal target behaviors are. Neither the hard consultants nor the leadership have the skills to cultivate the necessary target behaviors. Technical transformations can be done quickly and easily; changing behaviors requires consistency of focus and discipline over the longer term; few organizations are prepared for this longer-term change. Unless positive energy is added to any system, the system will naturally degrade. Once the hard consultants leave, most of the necessary positive energy leaves with them.
Getting the fundamentals right For both inspiration and guidance, we might look to successful sports coaches for the recipe for excellence. Sports coaches are obviously required to deliver results; if they do not deliver the wins, they are soon out of a job. Yet the best coaches rarely talk about winning and losing. The do however talk about behaviors. When the team isn’t delivering the results, it is common to hear coaches talk about “getting back to the basics” or “getting the fundamentals right”. What are the basics, and what the fundamentals? They are behaviors. Passing, dribbling, shooting, tackling, executing a play or formation – all behaviors. The entire infrastructure of a professional team is designed to generate the behaviors that deliver results, from the scout who looks for the talent to perform the behaviors to the physical strength coach who tones the muscles to perform the behaviors to the skills coaches who drill the correct behaviors again and again and again. They practice, practice, practice – until the ideal behaviors become habit.
There is no such thing as sustainability You do not sustain excellence. You either improve, or you degrade. Let’s go back to our sport coaches. How often do you hear a coach talk about sustaining the level the team is currently at? Never. They always push for more, faster, better. Of course they do. We all know that this is how athletes and their coaches work. We all know that if they “rest on their laurels” their performance will rapidly begin to degrade. The constant push for better ensures that the athlete maintains the habits and discipline of the champion. But what is obvious in sport is for some reason not obvious in business. Nevertheless, the same rules apply: either you are constantly improving your operations and your people, or your performance will decline and your results decrease.
Cultivating excellence in our organizations So how can you apply this to your environment to get the results you want? 1. Identify the results you want to achieve. 2. Identify the behaviors that deliver those results (study carefully what your best performers do, learn from your competitors, hire experts, research the literature, etc.) 3. Ensure that processes, training, reward mechanisms, tools and resources, standard operating procedures, job aids, and so forth are all aligned towards fostering these ideal behaviors. Make sure there are no hidden “punishments” that will block the desired behaviors. 4. Constantly engage your people in improving their own behaviors and processes (i.e. performance). In a constantly shifting environment, best practices rapidly become outdated. 5. Coach your people. Without continuous improvement, there is no excellence. As has been said, “Take care of your people and processes; the results will take care of themselves.”
In Part 2 of this article, we will “get back to the basics”. While customers, goals and businesses differ, there are some fundamentals of excellence that apply across industries and businesses. We will take a closer look at these.
January 2016 / ARGO news Nr.23
The art of getting quality at a high standard in little time”, we generated many applicable ideas. As always, we had a wonderful, inspiring day. Thank you again to all the talktimers!
Process Management Summit
In October 2015, ARGO held its 10th panel discussion for HR experts. With the theme, “Put it in a nutshell! – Photo: Lukas Dostal
Photo: Tina Herzl
Nothing dominated the news towards the end of 2015 than the refugee issue. Ute Bock and her team have helped refugees from all over the world for more than a decade with the “Association Refugee Project Ute Bock.” As in previous years, this year again the ARGOnauts decided to make the 2015 ARGO Christmas donation on behalf of our clients to this organization. We know that it is in good hands there!
In November, ARGO held a seminar on the topic of “Changing attitudes” at the Process Management Summit 2015. Thanks to all participants for the excellent seminar ratings! We will be happy to provide information on these events and as well as on the topics and dates for 2016!
After many exciting years together, Dr. Antonius Greiner and Mag. Markus Kernmayer have decided to leave us to move on to new challenges in other areas and industries. We wish both of them a lot of success. They know they will always have a special place on board of ARGO and are always welcome as former ARGOnauts. We welcome business psychologist Mag. Lucas Unger as our new consultant. He is coming to us from his former role as a strategic consultant at an advertising agency. With his special know-how in strategic communication, along with his foundation in psychology, he will perfectly complement our team and our work on many projects. In addition, our new apprentice, Sara Haberl , has been supporting us in the office since December.
Photo: Manfred Weis
• On February 10th, we will host an ARGO breakfast in our seminar room. Managing Partner Dieter Bernold will present some interesting insights on the topic “Brainy Changes – change in the context of neurobiology”. We look forward to some lively discussions and coffee and pastries to start the workday!
• ARGO too has to face changes now and again. We are pleased to have developed a new, future-oriented internal structure for ARGO, and we are excited to offer you a significant expansion of our business activities through new partners coming on board at the start of our 2016 business year. Read more about it in the next NEWS!
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