Although these are essential systems to be put in place people in an organisation have to have the right mind set

This is the third and final article in a series of three articles on getting the management of a business to be pro-active. The previous article covered a series of ‘mechanisms’ which would form a procedure or system of events leading to formalized pro-activity. In addition to this, of course people will probably need to behave and think differently in their day to day formal and informal interactions. This article covers what I think are the most important ‘soft’ issues and gives suggestions for briefings.

Before that, I would like to explain the diagram below, illustrating how the process of change works. It is very important to understand that change takes a while to happen even if you do every thing perfectly in the training and communications programme. If you are to change a culture from reactive to pro-active, your programme must take this into account. The diagram below refers to Learning and the Acceptance of Change








It is said that knowledge only comes in through an open door and if invited. Learning cannot happen unless someone wants to learn. “The reason it took so long to discover……that the earth was round…..(wrote Daniel J Boorstin)  was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge”. In other words it was not that we didn’t know it was round, but we knew it was flat, so we did not question it for centuries. As soon as we did question it, we found it was round.

Once we start to question things we can begin to learn and to accept change, because that is what launches learning…. the acceptance of change, the opening of the door.

The important point about the above diagram is the degree of internalization, or ‘buy-in’ or the degree to which the learning has been taken on board. We need managers to believe passionately in pro-activity, not just to be pro-active because they are told to become so. The diagram is directly relevant.

There are three levels of acceptance.

  • The first level, which you may describe as the shallowest is when you are instructed physically to do some things differently. You may do it physically when instructed but have not accepted it logically. That is not good enough to get a culture change. You may not understand the reason or may not agree with it.
  • So we explain things to people in a training room so that it is logical to them on an intellectual level. This is deeper and is more likely to move some people to some extent. Understanding or logical acceptance can be achieved in a number of hours, but does that mean that they will do things differently from then on…. apparently not.
  • The third level is emotional acceptance. People who have this degree of acceptance don’t have to think about the logic, they just know it works because they have seen it or done it before. We need our managers to get to this level, because they become passionate about it and are likely to ‘sell the concept’ to others with their belief, enthusiasm and optimism. They can then be called ‘champions’ or ‘leaders’. This process takes up to three months to work through in an individual. It is vital therefore to be patient with people when introducing a new regime of measurement and review. You tell them that performance can be improved by 10% to 25% (and it probably can) but they will not believe it until they begin to see it happening. Structure a programme of communication accordingly, identifying the key things consistently and repeatedly and dealing in facts as much as possible to enhance belief in those who are suspicious.

The concepts we have to sell to people are the set of behaviours we want, together with the motivational and business rewards which we promise will come about.

What behaviours do we need to encourage?

1. The ability to talk about errors, waste and failures without any hang-ups. Criticism is a double sided coin. On the one side is the ‘wrong done in the past’ and on the other is the opportunity to gain in the future. You cannot have one without the other.

2. People who jointly own a process have a vested interest in improving it. Managers must not feel that they are being personally criticized and become defensive, they must recognize that their job is to improve the process and therefore they need to know where this can be done. When reaching decisions managers should be interested in the best option for the whole organisation. Although a manager may feel responsible for his or her process working imperfectly, they will benefit from looking at what is wrong and tackling it with their colleagues

3. All one team. Where people are predominantly concerned with their own standing, position, or are working to an agenda which furthers them, even at the expense of the organisation or others in the team, they are said to be ‘political’, seeking power. It is not a problem for people to be personally ambitious to do well, but it must not be at the expense of the team. This attitude will make it much easier for people to see and accept the whole picture, as opposed to thinking and behaving in cylinders. It must be that there is a willingness to put in effort to a part in order to benefit the whole. People are naturally motivated by being apart of a winning tem. This puts the onus on top management to communicate well and foster the team approach. The individual or the sub-groups can get pride by being the ones who are experts in performing their tasks for the whole team. This ‘all one team’ attitude will show up very much in meetings, particularly problem solving meetings or improvement projects.

4. Consensus decision making most of the time. The team attempts to consult as much as possible horizontally across the organisation and consider lots of viewpoints before arriving at an approach which all agree to adopt. They have no problem trailing potential solutions. They recognize that it may not be possible to get all to agree but all should be prepared to give it a shot. If the team’s solution does not work, nobody will lose credibility and they will all have no hang up about trying another way. The team will take longer to reach these ‘consensus decisions’ (as they are termed) but it has been proven many times over that more thorough decisions make for smoother implementation. Team decisions also commit the team to trying to make them work, because they will all benefit. This goes hand in hand with the next point.

5. Professionalism honesty, integrity and discipline as individuals. People must be prepared when dealing with process improvement to take on actions and to do those actions when they promise to do so. This means being realistic in what they are able to commit to as well as being prompt in delivery, even if it means extra hours or effort. Time management becomes very important because the day-time job still has to be done. The team concept reinforces this, reliability and discipline because people do not want to let their colleagues down and recognize that they too will reap the benefit of others’ extra work effort.

6. Recognition and reward for good effort made by managers and their people is vital. Thanking people when they put in effort is the right way. You could say it is their job to help each other but if they are thanked, the effect is so much more powerful in the reward stakes. It becomes personally rewarding and ‘real’

Remember that people do things for their own reasons. The reasons could be rewards, a sense of achievement or recognition by their colleagues. That is the natural law of human motivation.Good human relations is therefore being able to think of others. “People will usually act quicker to remove pain than to gain pleasure”. In a work situation where it is difficult to get a group of front line people to improve processes, think of asking them about the things that frustrate them and stop them doing a good job…. these things cause the pain and it should be easier to mobilize them to remove them. Usually this will lead to performance improvements.

It is clear from the above that top management have to lead this culture and be completely unequivocal about communicating the behaviours they want, like the ones above.