It Brings Down Planes and Organizations

The statement that culture eats strategy for lunch (or breakfast – depending on your source), has been attributed to the late, great Peter Drucker.

In Good to Great, Collins develops the analogy of an organizational fly wheel.  He writes about the amount of focus, time and effort that goes into getting the organizational fly wheel turning.  Now imagine that fly wheel as the culture of your organization.

How does this bring down planes?

In a cockpit, much coordination and communication is required.  The captain is dependent upon a first officer, cabin crew, and sometimes a navigator to make sure the plane reaches its intended destination safely.  If you have read any of the other Cirrus Business Group posts, you know how much emphasis we place on creating professional trust in the culture of an organization.  An airplane cockpit is an environment dependent upon trust – trust in the crew, the mechanics, the airframe, and the air traffic controllers.  It is impossible for the captain to see everything that is going on from all the necessary perspectives at any given time. To get the plane safely to the destination (the strategy) there must be a culture of trust and an appreciation for pointing out errors or new information among the flight crew and supporting parties.  In other words, although the captain has the ultimate say, the rest of the crew better feel that it is their duty to put the lives of the passengers above titles and egos and speak up.  The captain must be willing and grateful to receive this information.  The more dynamic the environment, the better this team must perform.

It will likely be some time (and we may never know) whether or not the high power distance culture of Korea caused the recent Asiana flight 214 crash, but let’s assume that the flight crew was not incompetent.  When I heard the news report, my mind immediate went back to the observations Malcolm Gladwell made about the 1997 Korean Air flight 801 crash.  In high power distance cultures, there is a general feeling that the person with authority or in control must be right regardless of your own perception or understanding because he or she is in charge.  It is considered a high insult to question authority in front of others.  Even questioning authority in private can have long-term ramifications.  So, subordinates keep quiet.  Even if it means the approach glide slope is too steep or will miss the end of the runway.

How does this bring down organizations?

You may already be ahead of me here because of my brilliant airplane analogy  but in the spirit of clarity here we go.  Most “leaders” take pride in saying that “they hire people smarter than themselves”.  However, these same leaders often create a culture that discourages those very people from raising difficult questions or pointing out inconvenient facts.

All of this undermines trust.

There is a reason there is more than one person in a cockpit and the support of air traffic control from the ground.  It takes a well functioning team to get an airplane to its destination safely.  Your organization is no different.

Have you been encouraging a high power-distance culture by undermining organizational trust?

When was the last time you had someone on your management team disagree with you…to your face?  How long has it been since you had a healthy, heated debate in a meeting?  What was your reaction?  If it was anything other than gratitude for the passion and debate, you are creating a high power distance culture.

I am not encouraging insubordination.  I am encouraging you to promote honest, passionate debate around issues, strategy, new team member hires, and the other things that have the potential to crash an organization.

If you have been guilty of undermining trust in your organization, you need to call your team together, acknowledge the issue, and ask their forgiveness.  You also need to ask them to hold you accountable going forward.

While they will likely receive the acknowledgement and conversation well, don’t expect the culture of trust to change in your organization overnight.  Culture has inertia.  However, if you will persist and your team sees consistent effort and reinforcement on your part, it can be done.

You hired them for their knowledge and insight.  Without a culture that reinforces trust, you are wasting your money.

Creating Accountability in Your Organization

Many organizations struggle with accountability.  Chris Reese shares some basic concepts from Patrick Lencioni and The Table Group that get to the true issues of creating accountability in an organization.

Click on the link below to view this video blog on our YouTube channel.

Creating Accountability

HR Needs to LEAN Up

Recently we’ve been working with organizations on implementing LEAN and Six Sigma. Now before you bail out on me, this blog won’t be about either of those topics…directly. As most of you know, Cirrus is all about helping organizations create shareholder value and become great places to work. One way that value is preserved is through organizational efficiency. That’s why I love the LEAN concepts. Here’s where this impacts HR.

Yes, you should work towards efficiency in all processes across the organization (including HR), but that’s not what I want to focus on here. One of the exercises you go through regularly as part of LEAN is to define the components of the customer value chain. This is a critical exercise, because it brings into sharp focus the features, functionality, and/or services that are truly adding value in the eyes of your consumer. The result is alignment.

Alignment is extremely powerful. Organizations need alignment as much as our bodies and machines. With alignment, efforts are multiplied as the organization begins resonating on the same frequency.

As an HR professional, one of your key functions should be facilitating organizational alignment based upon the culture and objectives of the organization. This alignment should permeate everything from job descriptions to the way performance reviews are conducted.  You should ask yourself how you can work with the rest of the executive team to multiply and reinforce their efforts in creating clarity around the behavioral expectations of your organization’s culture and the organizational objectives.

Compliance is important and critical, but it should not be the primary focus of your HR organization.  Employment laws and EEOC compliance simply define the rules of the game.  The primary role of HR leadership in an organization should be that of human capital optimization, talent development, and talent planning based upon the organization’s objectives, NOT the embedded arm of the EEOC or other labor agency.  You would not expect the CFO of an organization to focus exclusively on compliance with GAAP and tax law.  An effective CFO manages the financial aspects of the organization based upon the organizational objectives within the rules of GAAP and law.  GAAP and tax law  just define the rules of the game.  They affect strategy, but they are not the focus of strategy.  This concept is a major leap for most internal HR organizations, but a very important one.

You should also determine ways to quantify the effectiveness of various HR initiatives.  Put your MBA hat on for a moment.  It is important to measure the return on investment for your your department and any development, hiring, or other initiatives you are implementing to help create clarity and alignment in the organization. This will help you zero in on the initiatives that have the highest organizational impact. You should also be able to clearly state how those initiatives align with the current organizational objectives.

HR professionals, start thinking about how you can be a facilitator of alignment in your organization.  This is where you can add true value to your organization’s value chain.

It’s time for us to all to LEAN up.

6 Steps to Attract and Keep High Performers

findleadersWe hear it all the time at HR functions and from executives.  The number one challenge facing business owners is finding and keeping top talent.

Business owners, often say that they want high performers, but are they ready for them? Continue reading 6 Steps to Attract and Keep High Performers

Corporate Succession Planning – The Risk Isn’t Just at the Top

When most people think of succession planning, they usually think about what to do when a founder or other key executive moves on. However, all businesses have risk beyond just their senior personnel making an exit. What about

Continue reading Corporate Succession Planning – The Risk Isn’t Just at the Top

Succession Planning – The Risk Isn’t Just at the Top

When most people think of succession planning, they usually think about what to do when a founder or other key executive moves on. However, all businesses have risk beyond just their senior personnel making an exit. What about

Continue reading Succession Planning – The Risk Isn’t Just at the Top

What does a chiropractor have to do with organizational change?

As my chiropractor was explaining to me the process she uses to get the spine and upper cervical vertebre back into alignment, I started thinking about the similarities to creating sustainable change in organizational culture.  (yes, I’m an OB geek. I can’t help myself.)

In chiropractic medicine, the biggest challenges to the corrective process are Continue reading What does a chiropractor have to do with organizational change?

Root Cause Analysis Using Five Whys – NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement

Root Cause Analysis Using Five Whys – NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement.