When I first met Sean (General Manager) and Wade (Operations Manager) at CSF Industries they struck me as focused non nonsense kind of guys that were at their tolerance limit with one of their teams. In fact one of the first things they said was “were pretty sure that we’ve got the wrong people in the team and we think we’ve only got one option and that is to get rid of them all and start again”.
I was referred to them as by a business strategist who called me and said “you really need to help these guys, they’ve got a fantastic business but they are having trouble getting through to one of their teams. They are engineers and not so great with the “people work” and that’s where you can help”.
The background meeting
At out first meeting I found out a few things about the company and that helped to create the right strategy for their business.
- They’d tried everything they could with the team but had no improvement in performance
- They were willing to learn how they could improve and how they influence the performance of the staff working for them
- They could see some strengths in each of the staff, some whom they had promoted off the shop floor. But could not understand why they could not just get on with it and do a good job.
- They told me they didn’t think I could change things but would give it a go
Then it was time to hear from the staff
My next stop was to meet with the team and ask them about how they felt things were working out. My goal was to understand their levels of engagement, what was frustrating and what was stopping them from performing at their best. I knew that by the end of the meeting I would have an idea on whether or not we could change things for the better. After the first 10 minutes with the team they were showing signs that they had the energy and talent to improve.
Just like the many discussions I’ve had with teams in all sorts of businesses, this team started out with all the things that we giving them the s##ts. They vented for a good half an hour and I could see the relief when they finished –they had finally got it all out their system. I ’ve come to learn unless I hear out the complaints and show them that I will discuss what needs to change with their leaders the staff wont move to the next step – getting their performance back on track.
I then asked them some questions about what was working well and what could be done better and we ended up with a list of ideas for improvement to talk with management about.
Management wasn’t happy at first
I wrapped up the discussion into a neat report with graphs demonstrating areas of disengagement and some treatment options for the areas that really make a difference to work performance not just gripes. I sent the report through and got some colourful emails over the weekend from Sean and Wade.
As I drove up to meet with them on the following Tuesday I had half convinced myself that they were going to say
“sorry this isn’t working for us” and that would be the end of my working with them.
Producing this report is the most challenging steps in the culture change process because many managers don’t like to hear their staff expressing negative opinions – often they mistakenly think the staff are being disloyal, lying or at worst untrustworthy making the report invalid.
The reality is that it’s the facilitator, in this case me needs to work very hard to sort out the meaningful information from the general gripes or as I call it the noise.
As I walked into Sean’s office and before I had even sat down, Wade started talking, he said he was pissed off and didn’t believe the content of the report. He said he felt that I was not seeing both sides of the story and told me he had stewed over it all weekend. I mentally prepared myself to leave. But then he said “after I calmed down and looked at the suggestions for change I realised that there were some good ideas” and he went on to talk about could how things would improve if they had better communication practices and made them more of a supporting team.
I call this realisation the break through – Wade and Sean came to understand that there were ways that the business was operating that was holding the staff back from performing.
This doesn’t mean the staff were off the hook – they needed to be held accountable and take responsibility for they part too, but that came later in the program.
It was then over to Wade to work with the team to remove the frustrations and to demonstrate to the staff that their opinions matter. Wade implemented some work changes within the team and made sure he communicated with the team every step of the way.
I received a call from Sean a few weeks later saying that the team had started to step up, Wade was leading more not just managing. So far so good I thought.
Drawing a line in the sand and starting afresh
With the problems that were holding performance back being sorted we were free to get on with building better expectations for the team.
We soon realised that we needed the focus the team “to get the fundamentals right and the rest would follow”. Every organisation I work with has a different overarching goal like this – the key it to choose the right one for the business. I call them an internal mission – what we are going to heavily focus on over the next 6 or 12 months.
We worked on settings some new priorities for the team that were part goal based and mostly addresses the behaviours they needed to demonstrate to be more successful in their jobs. Things like making sure the staff were managing their priorities well, that they were less resistant to the constant change that was a big part of the building industry. We explained that to be great in their jobs they needed to be solutions finders and see obstacles as challenges and that they needed to more aware of the impact they were having on others.
We then wrote up some simple performance plans to ensure each team member was given guidance on what it takes to be successful in their role at this company and they told what they were doing and well and what they needed to work on.
While all this was happening…
Right from the start it became pretty clear to me that we needed to get the Wade and Sean up to speed with modern leadership so the rest of the work we were doing would succeed. So while we did the work with the team and drew up goal sand plans etc, I was also meeting regularly with the leaders to mentor them and build their leadership capability.
I coached them through what was working for them and what was holding them back and we focused on two crucial learning’s. Firstly, understanding the impact their words, actions and behaviours were having on others and learning to make a better choice to get a better outcome. And understanding that successful modern leaders ask themselves “how can I help me people to succeed” not what can I get from my staff.
4 months later
In four short months many things changed for the better.
For a start the team performance had improved significantly. They were working at much higher standard and resolving problems for themselves instead of expecting the managers to fix it and saying it’s not my job.
They were also working better as a team, they were helping each other out and caring more about the impact they were having on the rest of the business and the clients.
The managers felt more confident at leading and taking on difficult issues with their staff. Instead of getting frustrated by something they learnt to work more as mentors and started teaching their staff how to do a good job for them.
The performance plans gave the mangers clear objective information on which they could properly assess how the staff were going. This gave everyone a fair and clear expectations and added to the trust within he team and with management.
The managers also said that they no longer thought that they had to get rid of the staff and saw how they were causing some frustrations and decided to regularly catch up to make sure the frustrations didn’t negatively impact on work performance in the future.
On a lighter note Wade learnt that people at work had feelings and that being too rational meant that he was not bringing out the best in his staff who were just people with needs. Sean was happy that he could spend so much less time worrying about those staff and could get on with growing his business.
What changed as a result of our work together?
At my last catch up with Sean and Wade I asked them how they thought the program went and they said it was ‘brilliant’, “much better than expected” and things were “100% better than they were before”.
On a practical level they not only saw an improvement in the performance of the team, they also felt that the staff were happier and much easier to get along with. They were offering their ideas for improvements, taking responsibility and even putting their hand up when they needed a hand. There was much less negativity. Fewer complaints for clients and their change was having a positive impact on the rest of the staff in the business.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that changing workplace culture is too hard, takes years and is not going to deliver a financial return for the effort involved.
I can say, after having worked to improve the culture with many organisations from 15 employees right up to 1000 that improving workplace culture drives improved business results.
Changing your culture will mean facing up to some tough stuff happening in your organisation. It’s an ongoing activity that needs to be monitored and adjusted like any other metric in a business. However, if you are willing to change, to get up to speed on modern workplace practices and you are ready to hold staff accountable – the benefits are enormous
Imagine your organisation being supported by a team of happier, more engaged, better performing people – that’s what People Strong delivers.