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NEWS November 2016 / ARGO news Nr. 24

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

Crafting a Culture of Excellence This is Part 2 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 is an associate partner at ARGO and works extensively with automotive, IT and manufacturing companies to develop cultures of operational excellence and continuous improvement.

Author: Matthew Strauss

Are your leaders cultivating habits of excellence in their people?


Summary of Part 1 In Part 1 of this article (Crafting a Culture of Excellence, ARGO News Nr. 23), we contrasted how professional sport teams pursue results with how most companies pursue results. We highlighted that good sport coaches focus continuously on the behaviors that bring results, while most managers simply harp on about the results they want, ignorant of what habits are needed to deliver the desired results. We also offered some guidance on how 1) to identify the behaviors you need, and 2) to cultivate these behaviors in your team or organization.

Foto: Olivier Le Moal / Fotolia

In Part 2, we will focus on the critical behaviors needed in any organization that hopes to develop and sustain excellence.

Some Hard Truths Before we go into the critical behaviors, let us take a look at some hard truths about the challenges we are facing:


„IT’S A VUCA WORLD”: The term VUCA was coined in the US Army War College to describe the post-Cold War geopolitical environment. VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. And it is a pretty good description of the business environment facing most of our client organizations! The question is: How can you even define the behaviors of excellence in such an environment? ENGAGEMENT CRISIS: According to Gallup’s most recent State of the World Workplace, only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work. Let us be clear: Excellence is not possible when 87% of our workers simply do not care.


IMPROVE OR ATROPHY: As we pointed out in Part 1, all systems tendtowards entropy. We must add positive energy into our systems, or they will degrade. The positive energy of process and operational excellence is continuous improvement. Ask yourself: What percentage of your people are continuously improving their processes and themselves?

The Good News The good news is that the core behaviors of excellence that we must cultivate in our company cultures can help us address all three of the challenges simultaneously. Below you can find a list of these core behaviors. It is important to note: 1) We are approaching these as behaviors, not values. You should be able to see these in action, and measure the frequency. 2) These behaviors feed off each other. You cannot develop them in isolation; rather, they work in conjunction to create a system of excellence.

Foto: Zffoto/ Fotolia

RESPECT FOR PEOPLE: If you have a look at almost any company’s website, you will probably find Respect listed as one of the company’s values. But talk is cheap, as they say. If you want to cultivate a culture of excellence, respect must be an observable behavior, especially regarding how leaders treat their front-line employees. Are your front-line people treated as the owners of their area, fully empowered to make decisions and recommend improvements? Are their ideas listened to? In a VUCA world, where we need information and agility, we must trust our people. After all, they are nearest the source. Without respect for our people, and trust in them, the other behaviors will not happen. EVERYBODY IMPROVING, ALL THE TIME: Continuous improvement does not belong to the Quality Department, the CI Team, or the Six Sigma Black-belts. Every single person in your company needs to be solving problems and looking for opportunities to improve their processes and themselves. Especially your front-line employees. Are your leaders consciously and consistently empowering your people with the right skills (e.g. problem-solving, root cause analysis, etc.), tools, ownership and authority to solve problems and improve their areas? How many documented improvement ideas have been generated this year by your front-line people?

NO BLAME: Mistakes are feedback on our processes, not our people. When managers say things such as “Our people lack accountability,” this tells us more about their leadership than about their people. The pursuit of excellence requires transparency of errors and problems, so we can fix them. If we blame our people, these problems will remain hidden. If we point fingers when our people fail, they will never grab opportunities to improve. PDCA IS LIVED AND BREATHED: This one is a litmus test for a culture of excellence. The more people in your organization who are practicing W. Edward Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle (or better, Plan-Do-Study-Act), the closer you are to a culture of excellence that will deliver the performance you want. Especially important (and most frequently lacking) is the Check/Study step. Are your people trained and encouraged to observe carefully the outcomes and consequences of their projects, actions, and behaviors? Are they coached to reflect on what can be learned from these observations? Are they coached to adjust their approaches based on the learnings? Are the new practices shared throughout the organization? COACHING: How much time do your managers spend developing the problem-solving and decision-making skills of your people? How much time do your managers spend supporting your people’s experiments to improve their areas, and helping them reflect on the outcomes of these experiments? In a VUCA world we need agile organizations; we need continuous experimentation, continuous learning, continuous adjustment, continuous improvement. And for these, we need continuous coaching. No coaching, no excellence. LEADERSHIP: Crafting a culture of excellence requires superb leadership. It demands that our leaders show respect to our people, trust them, involve them, empower them, develop them, coach them, encourage them to experiment and take risks. Leaders must cultivate an environment where these behaviors can flourish, where their people can shine. Leaders must see themselves as serving the needs of their people, so their people can serve the needs of the customers.

Sometimes, when we work with the leadership in our client organizations, they express surprise at the behaviors listed here, as if these behaviors represent a new approach. But this is not at all a new approach. We might call this approach Lean Leadership, and Lean and the Toyota Production System are of course not new. All of these behaviors Toyota demonstrated in the 1980s when they transformed the worst auto plant in the US, GM’s Fremont Plant, into one of the very best, the NUMMI Plant, in 2 years.


The Challenge for the West

November 2016 / ARGO news Nr.24

Our consultants and also our office faced many personnel changes this year and all of us have to navigate through turbulent, unknown waters in times like these. In line with our corporate motto “We practice what we preach!” we took account of the situation and invited Bernhard Neuböck and his team of outdoor specialists to plan a team training for the ARGOnauts – challenge included!

But we in the West have all too frequently adopted only a technical understanding of Lean, without looking at the spirit and philosophy of Lean. We continue to see Lean as a set of tools, whereas Lean is first and foremost a cultural phenomenon. If you would like to learn more about how to assess, design and deliver a culture of excellence, feel free to contact us at

On October 20th, Barbara Thoma gave a talk at the „Round Table der Gessellschaft für Prozessmanagement“ at WU Vienna on “Verhalten verändern – Orientierungshilfe auf 6 Ebenen” During the event useful tips and advice on the following topics was analyzed, discussed and applied:

3. Why can I not let go of stupid habits?

He kept his promise; well-known exercises on various extension levels, that didn’t allow us to lay back, and new exercises that put our ability to cooperate to test achieved their goal: To meet on unfamiliar territory, does not only raise awareness and change perception, it also brings lots of fun and shared memories.

If you are interested, we will be glad to send you documents:

Go ahead and ask the ARGOnauts how we “walk the talk”.

1. Why does it happen so often that even really efficient changes aren’t implemented? 2. How should I deal with absurd statements popping up?


With end of August Maria Arzberger, Office Manager with ARGO since 2007, left the company at her own request. Fascinating, new worlds – also in other working areas – are waiting to be explored by her. With her wonderful personality and competent style, we are convinced she will master everything that is waiting for her. Maria influenced the spirit and culture of ARGO for many years and will be deeply missed. Thank you & good luck from all ARGOnauts! However, every cloud has a silver lining: Looking for a successor for the Office Manager position we were to meet Nicole Hotzy. With her own pleasant and competent style she easily managed to get used to the new surrounding and complex ARGOworld. She runs the home port of the ARGOnauts with a steady hand and provides assistance to our clients and us. With Bea Kubalek and Carina Graf, being on maternity leave, Kerstin Pozarek (Seminar Organization) and Nicole Tichy (Finance) support her actively. Sara Haberl completes the team. There is a further change aboard ARGO: Christian Rumpler, trainer & consultant with ARGO since 2009, now became a partner. We are very pleased to welcome him to our partner team.


• From November 23rd-24th, 2016 the 14th Prozessmanagement Summit will take place at an especially beautiful location, the Orangerie Schönbrunn. As usual ARGO will be part of it and contribute to the schedule with: A talk on “Vortrefflichkeit ist keine Handlung, sondern eine Gewohnheit”. Dieter Bernold & Matthew Strauss picked this saying from Aristotle, transferred it to the field of operational excellence and show ways to develop an organizational structure based on that. A talk on “High Performance Teams auf- und ausbauen” by Oliver Bender & Patrick Thom. Both will show tools and techniques to reflect and develop performance-oriented team cooperation. We hope to see many of you at the summit and will continue our tradition to give away 10 tickets among you! • The 4th ARGObreakfast will be held on February 16th, 2017 at 9 am. Stimulating discussions, interesting conversational partners, and a good cup of coffee will be the perfect frame for Christian Rumpler to highlight the main points of “Agilität – wie Mensch und Organisation in der VUCA Welt erfolgreich ist”. imprint Barbara Thoma ARGO Personalentwicklung GmbH Heiligenstädterstraße 31/ Stiege 1/ Top 602 1190 Vienna tel +43-1-369 77 00 mail:


I look forward to your feedback!

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