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Applying Six Sigma and Kaizen Methodologies to Improve Company Culture

employees leaving

Summary. When a company is faced with the dilemma of how to improve its culture, applying Six Sigma’s DMAIC process coupled with Kaizen methodolgies can produce significant and measurable results. Proper application of the process provides deep insights into the root causes of a toxic culture and provides a pathway for generating high-impact solutions to even the most complex problems.

Remember the time when some employers believed that parking ping pong tables in break areas would improve company culture?

After all, it supported the “we’re fun to work with” message nearly all employers used (and still use) to attract new employees.

But as the days, the weeks, and the months went by with no improvement to culture, in came the grandiose, four-figure coffee stations offering multi-flavored, double-shotted, dairy-free caffeinated drinks.

And when the coffee stations did nothing to improve culture (or when culture continued to decline), these employers began to understand that a healthy, vibrant, productive, continuous improvement-driven culture is not something you can buy. Rather, it requires a process of identifying the root cause of the toxic culture, directing the necessary resources toward eliminating the cause, and starting anew.

What is culture?

Culture is the social construct of a group of people driven by shared beliefs, behaviors and values.

Contrary to what many people believe, culture is not the “soft” stuff.

A well-defined and healthy culture is one that is deliberate, strategic, and measurable. It is carefully thought through and designed to achieve large-scale corporate objectives. 

As Peter Drucker has famously said so many times, Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

And the reason is obvious: Culture has a direct impact on metrics such as productivity, quality, internal and external customer satisfaction, morale, the ability to retain and attract people, and many more…

If you’re struggling to improve the culture at your company, but don’t know how or where to start, consider the following step-by-step process aligned with the core elements of Six Sigma and Kaizen.  

STEP 1: A CULTURE ASSESSMENT OR RE-ASSESSMENT     

If you’ve done any sort of culture assessment in the past eight months, you’ll need to determine if you have enough insight to itemize and prioritize necessary culture improvement initiatives. If you haven’t, you’ll need to do one, giving employees and management an opportunity to provide specific insights into those areas that impact culture and organizational performance, including (note the suggested question formats):

  • perceived internal strengths and weaknesses (open-ended)
  • most desirable/undesirable workplace attributes (rating scale)
  • quality of relationships with coworkers and leadership (rating scale and open-ended)
  • leadership effectiveness (rating scale and open-ended)
  • engagement (rating scale)
  • ability to attract and retain talent (rating scale and open-ended)
  • morale (rating scale and open-ended)
  • other objectives specific to your company (rating scale and open-ended)

This assessment will be administered through an online survey application, such as surveymonkey.com or checkbox.com. Ideally, you will also arrange for one-on-one or small group interviews to get a deeper level of engagement and understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your culture. Interviews strengthen employer/employee bonds, and you’ll have the benefit of reading non-verbal communication cues – body language and tone – which account for 55% and 38% of communication, respectively.

A successful assessment will require three elements: 1) A strong call-to-action and incentive to complete the assessment, 2) asking a fair number of open-ended questions, as suggested above, and 3) ensuring that the assessment is anonymous so that people will be candid and honest in their responses.    

Your objective is to obtain a score for the many elements of your culture to help you measure the effectiveness of your improvement initiatives.

(If you recently did a culture assessment but did not follow through on employee feedback, your people may have little motivation to take the time to complete another. You’ll need to approach them with a different message along with an incentive to complete. Contact us for detailed information and ideas.)       

STEP 2: CREATE AND PRIORITIZE YOUR TO-DO LIST

The core purpose of the culture assessment is to have your people identify what is and is not working well within your organization. Assuming you asked a fair number of open-ended questions as suggested, your people will tell you exactly what you need to know to improve your company’s culture.

Look for frequencies and consistencies of responses to your open-ended questions to determine how serious or pressing some of the issues are. For example, if 25% of the respondents reported that their manager doesn’t hold under-performers accountable, it should be given more weight than if only mentioned by 5% of respondents.

As you go through this process, you’ll easily be able to itemize and prioritize matters requiring your attention. 

STEP 3: EMPLOY SIX SIGMA’S PROCESS IMPROVEMENT METHODOLOGY – Define | Measure | Analyze | Improve | Control

Now that you have your to-do list in hand, be sure to only take on one or two initiatives at a time; even small changes can potentially overwhelm and distract people enough to interrupt operations, compromising productivity and quality. Also keep in mind that many employees become nervous and anxious when confronted with change. This is where a Kaizen approach will be helpful: it is an approach where small steps are taken, one at a time, that over time will yield significant, measurable results.

Define the problem in molecular detail. (There’s a lot to be said about Charles Kettering’s pronouncement that a problem well stated is a problem half solved.) For the sake of example, let’s assume you’ve discovered that most of the people who provided negative reviews of your culture, and were the greatest flight risk, worked for a long-tenured employee who was promoted into a management position seven months ago. And let’s also assume that three employees resigned under the manager’s leadership. Articulate all the facts and knowledge you have about the employee, what specifically caused three people to resign, and how things will worsen if no action is taken.

To fix the problem, you’ll need to…

Measure by establishing a benchmark. How did your people score the many elements of your culture? Compare that information to how you’d like to see specific elements of your culture scored in your next assessment. Additionally… 

  • How many people left under this person’s leadership over what period of time?
  • How many positions need to be filled in his or her department?
  • How metrics such as productivity, engagement, morale, errors and mistakes, and absenteeism have changed since the employee has assumed a management position?

Analyze all feedback provided by employees specific to the manager responsible for the attrition. (If you followed the suggestion of numerically ranking and using open-ended questions to gather specific feedback, you will be able to assign a numerical value to use as a baseline for measurement.) Use this data to brainstorm and analyze different ideas and possible solutions to remedy the problem. Consider adopting a 5-Whys approach. 

Improve though implementing the solution identified in the Analyze phase. It could be as simple as providing leadership training, assuming the person wants to be an effective leader. Alternatively, you may discover through 5-Whys that the person may no longer want to be a manager, preferring to go back to his or her former position or to assume another role at your company. Whatever the case, you’ll have clarity on what needs to improve, and how to improve.

Control is the final phase where you standardize a process. In this scenario, it may lead to reformulating the process your company uses to identify employees eligible for promotions, and what steps (such as training) would be necessary to ensure success. 

STEP 4: MEASURE RESULTS

Approximately six to twelve months after implementing your solution and standardizing your new process, repeat the culture assessment to compare and measure changes in how people respond to the survey questions. You’ll know if you made the right decision.

Be sure to contact us if you believe your culture could be healthier, more vibrant or more productive.

 

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