Updated: May 15
It’s a sickening feeling to observe someone being bullied. It’s an even worse feeling to observe an entire organization (with the exception of a select few) being bullied on a daily basis. As business experts who specialize in People, Processes and Performance, it is our job to work with businesses to create strong infrastructure; a clear organizational strategy, solid and meaningful goals, intentional daily routines, clarity on how work gets done and how problems get resolved…always with the objective of delivering a great customer experience and – most importantly – a workplace where employees find joy at work.
This requires multiple critical success factors.
Our success requires that organizational leadership is aligned with business improvement efforts and supports the changes that need to be made to realize a true transformation. Similar to the TV show “My 600 Pound Life”, the doctor is a critical player there to provide specialized expertise, make technical and complex decisions, lead the team, teach the patient, provide guidance and support. But the patient ultimately decides to create the life that they truly desire. Transforming a collection of “600 Pound Processes” to be agile, robust, scalable and sustainable demands alignment and active support from leadership. There are very rare exceptions.
In a recent engagement, my partner and I were working with an exhilarating team in a hyper-growth scenario with dynamite key players. And they realized that they needed our particular expertise to work closely with their leadership to create agile, robust, scalable and sustainable processes. Our objective as consultants is to get in, fix the issues and get to results rapidly. And then, when the goals have been achieved, we leave the organization better and stronger with employees who are significantly more competent and engaged than before.
What we found upon entering the organization
When we arrived at this organization, it was a culture deeply rooted in fear. Leadership gave contradictory direction, rewarded poor behavior and ignored – or worse – punished good behavior. As leaders had demonstrated their lack of alignment, the fear in the organization grew to epic proportions. On a daily basis, people were being bullied; they were admonished and humiliated for processes that were not of their design, for errors that were inherent in the system and not of their own doing. People were working harder than ever and yet, every week, more and more good people were being terminated - the rest lived in fear of losing their jobs at any moment. This is what happens when there are poor processes that leave people set up for failure. This is what happens when leaders and employees are not aligned on what a good job looks like…on meaningful performance metrics. We spend 1/3 of our lives at work; what a horrible way to spend 1/3 of your life in an environment driven by fear.
In almost all organizations, there are processes that fall short of being able to handle all the different scenarios that exist. The result is predictably some kind of serious waste (quality issues, delays, excessive costs, rework and frustrations…). It’s rarely that the people are doing things “wrong” – it’s almost always the process that is not up to the actual customer demands and challenges. This is what we found here. In addition, there were repeated talking-to’s to staff about failed targets without any structure or method to improve. As an employee, if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of constant pressure to meet goals without a method to get there, you know that is one of the most ineffective methods of leadership. It is demoralizing to even the most committed employee. But, without a strong foundation and without leaders aligned around a method to improve, many leaders fall into this damaging pattern.
With this particular organization, we were given great latitude to identify issues (also known as opportunities) and to create a plan of action. We were working directly with the people doing the work and they wanted nothing more than to improve their work because it was a mess and their daily work was exceptionally stressful and thankless. Whether they had a good or bad day, whether they provided a quality and timely service was random and unpredictable and they worked extraordinarily hard for quite mediocre results at best. This organization excited us; but that is not a bad thing, because it is supposed to excite people like us.
We eagerly and skillfully identified gaps and opportunities, created a plan, executed the plan and gained a great amount of support from the people in the process. The people put an incredible amount of trust in us and we had earned that trust in a short amount of time. There are two factors that create trust and we had those to a high degree; those factors are:
#1…People need to believe that we knew what we were doing…that we’re competent. We had demonstrated that.
#2…People need to believe that that we had their best interests in mind - that we had their backs – and we did. Their success was our end goal and they knew that.
In gorgeous collaboration mode, together with the people who do the work, we developed solid processes where there were none, we created performance metrics and KPIs which did not exist before. We clarified expectations and implemented daily routines; you can’t achieve a successful change – create a better outcome - if you don’t change the daily routine…the secret to success is found in all of the daily routines, which is where we focused. Employees learned to celebrate - not hide mistakes and errors that resulted from inadequate processes so that they could be fixed. Employee engagement and performance results started to change in a great way.
Creating clarity of processes and performance metrics, allowed the organization to clearly identify corporate-level targets that were predictable with a clear strategy on how these ambitious goals would be achieved. Leaders now had the ability to clearly identify gaps in competence and to create clarity or adjust roles and responsibilities to maximize the contributions of employees. Daily routines consisted of Visual Management of Processes and KPIs, problem-solving at the source, cross-functional collaboration and consistent methods on how to design new functions and processes demanded for hyper-growth.
As businesses get confronted with significant challenges and changes – which will happen in any business – it can be counterintuitive to pause to assess if all the critical foundational elements are there to support a successful change as those inside the organization are constantly scrambling to get through each day. The chaos and firefighting that results from major challenges can be addictive but can create permanent and damaging behaviors and a horrible corporate culture. Understanding when and how to pause and adjust is one of the most important qualities of a leader who has the responsibility of creating an exceptional customer and employee experience. And this is the most rewarding aspect of our work… partnerships that rapidly deliver results - and most importantly - create an environment of highly engaged and highly competent employees.