Wednesday, August 19, 2015

ABC of Culture – Attitude, Behavior, and Commitment

You would have read a lot about culture and performance. Much of this very philosophical and borders on abstract. Want to read something crisp and practical? Read what ASQ Influential Voice James Lawther had to say on Creating a Performance Culture at ASQ’s blog. James gives a practical list of six behaviors that companies see with respect to a performance culture.  

What is my view on performance and culture? While I can’t define culture very accurately I am convinced it leads to performance. Over a period of time. Time is a very important factor when judging the impact of culture on performance. A whip by the minute culture can deliver superior performance in the short term but will not sustain. Similarly, a very trusting and open culture may take time for people to respond and deliver superior performance.

I will make my point with two examples that I have seen in my career. Judge for yourself.

Talking of Culture I am reminded of a textiles company I assessed over a decade ago. I was then a consultant conducting assessments for organizations using the Malcolm Baldrige Criteria and a model we had developed called the International Quality Maturity Model (IQMM). This client was clearly desperate for some glory. And in a hurry. While the production facilities looked fine, I was intrigued by a pattern I saw in senior management attrition. Some enquiry revealed that CEO of this company would hire select staff from marquee companies and offer outrageous salaries. Many of these professionals would jump and join. What followed was hell! The CEO would drive these professionals mad with crazy targets and very unprofessional behavior. Snapping at senior professionals in public, talking rudely, etc were only the norm on a normal day. Result? Most of these professionals would leave within six months and the company floundered. Classic case of money can’t buy culture.

I have also assessed some companies of the Tata group. A sharp contrast to the company and CEO I talked about above, the culture at Tata group is one of mutual respect. Having met several of its senior leaders I have seen a pattern. It’s as if all are cast by the same die. While more of the same is boring but not when it’s about establishing a culture. Results are for all to see. All companies of the Tata group do really well. You will not see unnecessary shouting and ranting. You will see fair and just treatment of all. When the Taj Hotel in Mumbai was attacked by terrorists a few years back the Tata culture was there for all to see. The Chairman of the group Ratan Tata stood near the iconic hotel and personally enquired about his staff. The then GM of the hotel had his own family up in the hotel but ensured that guests were rescued. The group then announced relief for all staff and anyone else affected (even people at the nearby railway station). Entire staff was retained for the one year it took to redo the hotel. Who would not want to perform for such a group?

So how does culture develop? From what I have seen, culture develops from repeated execution of habits. Behavior becomes the norm. The pattern. The culture. The way to work on culture is to work on behavior.

Dr J M Juran was once asked about changing behaviors and he answered with ABC. A is for Attitude, B for Behavior, and C is for Commitments. His view was that we waste a lot of time trying to change Attitude. It’s better to focus on getting small commitments. These commitments over a period become a pattern and become behavior. And in my view, this leads to culture.

Let’s see how this pans out in real life. Many of us want to get fitter. Having a fitness culture is important we will say. How does this happen. You can try changing this through attitude or any other means but it has limited result. Finally, it boils down to making small commitments and keeping them. That 1 mile run or 15 pushups or taking the stairs. With enough repetitions this will become our habit and over a period of time we adopt this fitness culture. Culture change, like most good things, is not overnight.