How are Great Work Systems and Culture Change Related?
In my 2006 book “You Can’t Win Indy in an Edsel – How To Develop a High Performance Work Culture”, I make a simple statement. Change systems to shift cultures. Organizational cultures develop over time. First, your existing work culture is shaped by the people your hiring process brings into the organization. Second, your work systems help reinforce daily work behaviors and beliefs.
You can’t simply ask, let alone order, people to change and shift a culture towards continuous improvement. You have change the systems that you use to measure performance. People need to be taught new skills. Leaders must consistently reinforce performance expectations. From forty years of work experience and 20-plus years of national Baldrige Examiner experience, I have been able to define ten key work systems that high performance organizations rely on. These work systems help drive consistent improvement in the results their work processes deliver over time.
EXPLORE MORE: Ten Ways to Change a Work Culture
How Do I Know If I Have Great Work Systems?
Measure and trend the performance of your work systems over time to begin your systems assessment. Without measures, and trends for those measures, you can’t begin to assess systems greatness. You also have to measure the right mix of things. Don’t just measure certain aspects of a system’s performance. For example, some supervisors only measure throughput, even though processes also generate quality, cost, safety, and people results.
LEARN MORE: How to Measure and Improve Your Measurement Work System
Effective work systems demonstrate consistent improvement over time, in all areas of importance. The mix of performance areas that exist (such as safety, quality, people, cost, and revenue generation) help define areas of importance. Also, importance areas include those departments, product types, and locations that produce results. How great are your work systems?
After you assess the degree that your work systems consistently improve over time in all areas of importance, you are in a position to assess true greatness. Compare the performance of your systems to others in your sector and outside of your work. The truly great organizations have work systems that produce results which are not only better than others in their line of work produce, but are also better than those in other lines of work produce. They are true role models.
How Can I Build Great Work Systems?
In order to build great work systems, you have to improve the processes that are part of each system. You also must improve the manner in which these processes interface with each other. To improve a process, you have to reduce process waste. This is the focus of most lean six sigma initiatives. Unfortunately, such improvement efforts contain two critical errors.
First of all, they fail to perform effective root cause analysis. Most commonly, we tend to assume that human error is the root cause. We don’t look for the systemic causes of repeat human error. Second, we write poor, and largely ineffective, corrective actions. We might not actually address the systemic root causes of a problem. In turn, we waste a lot of time and money. Frustration creeps into our work teams. Our problems continue to haunt us. We fail to make the transition from reactive work to proactive work.
DISCOVER MORE: Evaluating Root Cause Analysis Processes
Improve Each Process to Create Great Work Systems
To improve each process, minimize process waste and increase the level of customer value that the process delivers. Additionally, look at how one process depends on the results from other processes. Also ask, how do the process help determine the results of other processes? Too many organizations focus only on cost or waste reduction. They fail to also try to increase customer value. They fail to work with their internal or external customers to determine what types of process results are needed or are currently being obtained. For example, most organizations that pursue lean and six sigma initiatives only engage 10-15% of their employees in these efforts.
If you want different results, you have to change the systems that produce the results you do not like. That’s the theory, but how do you make this happen? Fortunately, you don’t have to blaze new trails by yourself. There is a small percentage of organizations that already have great work systems in place. I estimate this number at 5-10%. If you study these systems, you can redesign your own work systems to better mirror them and sustain better results.
LEARN MORE: How to Measure and Improve Your Training and Learning Work System