Problem-Solving Cultures: People Seeing, Sharing, Setting, and Accepting Best Practices

Eric Pope ,VP Operations, US Synthetic
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Eric Pope ,VP Operations, US Synthetic

How does a leader align and motivate people within an organization to move in the same direction? This is the age-old question that every organization struggles with. How do we ensure that what we work on everyday is the right thing? How does an employee know what the right things are? And, how do we prioritize our limited resources to make the biggest impact? These questions are at the root of various business systems and practices today. These are the questions that strategic planning, strategic goal deployment, x matrices, Hoshin Kanri, true north, policy deployment, and goal deployment attempt to answer.

Most companies realize the power of aligning the organization to common objectives; and, as a result, most perform one or more of these activities. However, strategic improvement activities alone are generally not sufficient to fully align and engage the full human capacity of the organization. Traditionally, strategic improvement activities spread from leader to leader—defined by what each leader must deliver to the organization. Unfortunately, these types of disjointed activities don’t spread deep enough into the organization to affect lasting change, but instead reside at the leadership level waiting for the leader to drive the quick fix or siloed improvement.

  As newly improved value-creation activities are discovered, they must be shared and set within the organization 

Aligning Goals

But, what about those deep within the organization? Do they need this information? What about shop floor employees? What is their role in strategy? How can an organization navigate change and align the behaviors of every individual to improve enterprise-wide results? How can an organization create a culture where every person is continuously improving the things that matter most?

The Value Improvement Process (VIP) aligns the hearts, minds, behaviors, and choices of people within the organization to the things that matter most. This process creates a culture of repeated ideal behaviors—creating a circumstance where every employee makes aligned business choices each day. The process begins with vision or purpose.

Vision is an organization’s true north or anchoring ideal state. It is the ultimate purpose and reason for the organization’s existence. Vision illustrates perfection, providing endless guidance for daily work and improvement decisions. An organization’s vision must include a compelling story to provide the necessary motivation and inspiration to align and motivate people to collaborate and work through the problems the business faces. This vision provides a framework where all choices, behaviors, and activities must align. Vision provides the big picture “why,” giving every employee a reason to change, align, try or even care. Any attempt to execute a new strategy or initiative without establishing this “why” will ultimately fail; or, at least, not reach its full potential. It always begins with “why.”

A Deeper Understanding

Once vision is established, activity or strategy can be chosen to move toward that vision. Strategy becomes a simple process of establishing clarity in the minds of every employee—helping everyone understand who the customer is and what they ultimately value. Then, the work becomes creating key systems, processes, and activities that deliver to that value, enabling a sustainable competitive advantage. Every employee must understand their connection to those key value systems and how they are performing. Because they can now understand the purpose of the organization, they can then see where they can make a difference. With this improved understanding, they will then choose (within their own unique environment) how to best serve the customer.

Strategic activities or work can then be chosen though a common problem-solving process. The PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Adjust) process, rooted in the scientific method, helps every employee see value and performance gaps— identifying root cause, innovating and executing counter measures, and then checking to see if these activities had the desired impact on the business. Based on the results seen, employees can then make adjustments if the activities did not result in the desired outcome. Each employee must be able to see business gaps in their area and have the skills to think scientifically about improvement. The output of the PDCA problem-solving cycle is improved value creation activities or work. Each employee is engaged in doing and improving their value-creation work.

As newly improved value-creation activities are discovered, they must be shared and set within the organization to fully leverage the discovery. The process of sharing and setting is the process of going from the old way of working to the new way. It requires behavioral change. Each time employees share and set new activities, culture is changed. This new culture is an improved way of doing business and a step closer to fulfilling the vision.

How Culture Affects Vision and Strategy

The output of this process is culture or repeated behaviors to create value in an improved way. Culture is an organization’s actual strategy. What employees do every day is the foundation for organizational results. Today’s leaders often talk about “vision” and “strategy,” but these talking points are nothing until they become culturally embedded in the way employees work. Vision and strategy are the idea of a better business; culture is the reality of business success. The VIP process is the methodology of taking the vision, strategy or ideas of a better business and building it into a cultural way for employees to act everyday.

The heart of the VIP process is people. People establish, believe, and hold vision in their minds. People choose and execute strategy. People see and solve problems, innovating in better ways to deliver value. People share, set, and accept best practices. People act and behave in the best-known way to sustain value delivery and ensure vision fulfillment. People are the key.

The VIP process is the way to create a high-performance culture. It creates a circumstance where every individual within the organization can and will make great choices every day. It is a continuous improvement process that—through repeated cycles—establishes an added measure of improved behaviors that continuously moves the organization closer to its vision. Again, the importance of people cannot be overstated. Empowered people are the lifeblood of a successful business. Leaders can either magnify or minimize that power. Great leaders empower and enable great employees to make great choices. The sum of these choices defines an organization’s business results, which defines an organization’s culture. Culture is the business and the VIP process drives that culture.

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