Quickest Way to Change the Culture

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I am working in an environment where firefighting has been modus operandi for a number of years, and as a new manager in my area, I am hoping to define a new culture to break out of constant firefighting mode and into a more pro-active mode of operation. The organization is growing starting now and will continue to do so into Q2 of next year, so we are interviewing and hiring NOW.

Can you talk a little bit more about how to define an intentional culture in an organization, especially in one where an unintentional culture already exists and is deeply ingrained?

Response:
Your company is in typical go-go stage. There is adrenaline and excitement at every turn. Firefighting is the order of the day. The customer gets the product or service and is very happy, but as we look in the wake, we find body bags and other evidence of organizational friction. By the way, this is a normal and natural state in the lifecycle. And it’s fun, give me a high five.

We got the job done, but at what cost? This friction costs us efficiency and profitability. And at some point, in spite of our exuberance, we have to get down to business, we have to become efficient, we have to become profitable.

This is a natural move from S-II to S-III, from chaos to system. But you will fight it at every step because the culture is addicted to the juice of chaos. You want to move from reactive to proactive. You are correct, this will require a change in your culture. And the quickest way to change the culture is to change the people.

You are looking for someone to join your team with experience in process and systems. Here are some questions.

  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a project that seemed to be mired in chaos?
  • What was the project?
  • What was your role in the project?
  • What created the chaos?
  • How did you respond to the chaos?
  • How did your approach work?
  • What was the result on the project?

I am not looking for heroic responses. I am looking for calm, someone who took a step back, someone, who, in the midst of chaos, insisted on a plan. It might have been a quick plan, but a plan nonetheless.

Not what I want to hear –
I was working on the ABC project and the client was way behind schedule when we started. The client was about to lose their bank funding and we had to finish on time even if it meant that we had to take shortcuts. Or all would be lost. We took a risk. There were several steps in the process that we could omit. We sidestepped all the quality checks, hoping the project would hold together. We got lucky. Nothing broke. We finished the project on time. I call my team – the firefighters. Give us a firefight, we will win.

What I want to hear –
I was working on the ABC project and the client was way behind schedule when we started. The client was about to lose their bank funding and we had to finish on time even if it meant that we had to take shortcuts. I was the project leader. I had to put my foot down. There were several quality checks that slowed the project, but they were necessary. I put together a flow chart and a plan. I went with my client to their bank to present the plan. They gave us an extra 48 hours. We made it. The plan worked.

One thought on “Quickest Way to Change the Culture

  1. Dennis Dionne

    Another GREAT post! This describes our company to the TEE. We have plenty of time to fight fires but never any time to make a plan of attack and everyone pull their weight. We are a bunch of individuals doing our own “thing” without the total picture perspective. We are the “managers” in the business. But we don’t manage; we fight the next fire some times of our own creation. When other managers are not concerned with how their tactics affect the next process in line, the culture will not change. It’s a culture of now that my part is done, I wash my hands of the problem and pass it along to the next manager to deal with. No ownership of the problem so no solution that benefits everyone. How can the culture change when the people with the culture don’t want to change? The culture is the people. I am just putting up with it until I can find something else. I am done trying to change the culture/people.

    Reply

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