Promoting a successful and innovative cultural environment often requires changes in current behaviors and attitudes. These seven behaviors, when adopted, will promote a sustainable and positive environment that is guaranteed to attract and keep top people.
Responding to new ideas with openness
Instead of immediately responding to a new idea with “no,” isn’t it better to say, “let’s look at it, why not?” Naysayers create an environment where no one wants to take chances. The famous statement attributed to Robert Kennedy, “Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” apply also to the ideas that your employees may have. If they are free to express them, you have created a culture that nurtures innovation. If you believe innovation is important, then openness to new ideas is a must. Without this cultural orientation, your company is at risk of passing by many ideas that could, if adopted, add to the growth and profitability of the business. By having a habit of saying no, you also run the risk of losing quality talent – talent that continues to grow impatient with corporate sluggishness and either leaves or becomes lethargic.
The old adage “no man is an island” is especially true within an organization because the talent of all is needed to pursue a common goal. Yet, lack of collaboration remains an important barrier to progress. Why is it that people prefer to work in silos instead of collaborating? There are many reasons. However, the root cause in our experience is the desire of each individual to apply his or her own solution toward the fulfillment of the common goal. The thinking goes something like this, “I know that my scheme works; I don’t understand the schemes proposed by others; I’ll do mine and prove it’s efficacy; I’ll convince others to follow my way.” But if everyone thinks this way, no scheme will have sufficient support to succeed. Cultural transformation requires a change in this behavior.
We have developed five laws necessary for collaboration: First, never make a command decision unless there is an emergency. Second, never take back responsibility after delegation unless the collaborator is incompetent and is being replaced. Third, never take a decision about your own area of responsibility without first getting the input of those who have indispensable influence on your success. Fourth, never take a decision that impacts the performance of a person on whom you have indispensable influence without first consulting with them. Fifth, if you are managing people who have indispensable influence on someone else’s results, never encourage them to take over from the person who is accountable. Their contribution should be only through influence and persuasion.
Responsibility / Accountability
What does taking responsibility mean and what do you do when you are responsible? A closely related question is accountability, what does it mean and what do you do when you are accountable? The answers to these questions are not clear in many organizations. When you ask managers in a company, who is responsible for sales? Everyone will come forward. When you ask, who is accountable for sales, everyone will come forward. Our response is that if everyone is accountable, then no one is. Accountability should be assigned to the person at the lowest appropriate level of the organization, to the person who logically has the scope to perform. In a sales organization, this person would be the sales person. Managers of sales people at upper levels of the organization don’t sell. They influence sales through their management influence. While they are responsible to be sure sales quotas are achieved, accountability for sales is at lower levels. Companies need to define accountabilities for all the key performance indicators in the company to the appropriate levels. Setting up a corporate rewards system that links performance to rewards is encouraged to motivate people to be more responsible and accountable.
Proactive Action Planning
Ideally, each manager in the organization should be held accountable for at most 5 main performance indicators. More than that would cause the person to lose focus. But, for the five indicators, proactive action planning is necessary. What do we mean by that? We mean the person should analyze what he or she can do to cause the indicator to improve. The analysis should determine the root causes that affect the indicator in the negative or positive fashion, and a proactive action plan for dealing with them must be developed. This is not an exercise you do one time. Rather, it is a habit you form to improve your performance on a day-to-day basis. The promotion of the action planning mentality along with applying the problem solving tools that enhance the quality of the action plans are important characteristics of cultural transformation we are proposing.
Naturally, following through with commitments that emerge from the action planning process is key to good execution. In many organizations, managers make commitments, but forget them as time passes without making sure that the commitments are done, or if they are not relevant, they are deleted or the deadline is moved. In one-on-one vertical meetings, collaborators review the commitments completed with managers and get approval. The cultural transformation we propose promotes the discipline of completing commitments on time and with proof of completion. We also propose incentives for follow through to be linked to compensation in order to strengthen this important element of the cultural transformation process.
Making decisions based on facts
Successful corporations and leaders make decisions based on facts and not emotions, biases or opinions. Fact-based decisions help mitigate our inherent cognitive biases. They reduce the chance of these standing in the way of rational decision making. The habit of making decisions based on facts requires looking for data to validate or eliminate conclusions. It is at the heart of the action planning process we discussed above. This habit presents a huge cultural change for many managers. Yet, it should not be taken to extremes as it could stifle valid conclusions that are based on intuition.
Reflecting on action and learning
Many people think without translating their thoughts into action, or act without a sound thinking prior to action. Many act, but don’t reflect after action to figure out what they could have done differently, what they learned, and what they would do differently going forward. The cultural transformation we propose encourages managers to constantly evaluate how things are progressing and what behaviors need to be adjusted to ensure meeting goals. The habit of planning, action and reflection is key to the learning culture that promotes innovation and moves the organization to greatness.
Employing these 7 habits will lead to more rewarding behaviors, and in turn to a great culture.