Build A Lean, Innovative and Resilient Culture

A large factory had too many fatal accidents and was having trouble bringing the number down. Health and safety standards had been audited multiple times, procedures analyzed and improved over the years, and yet, fatalities were still occurring. The organization was highly committed to safety. The CEO rated his own commitment at 9 out of 10, and his direct reports at 8 or 9. It was pointed out that perhaps people were dying because of that. It sounds elementary, but while 9 is indeed very high, it is not the same as a 10.

After shifting his perspective, the CEO chose to be 100% committed to safety, and began showing up differently. He spent more time on the factory floor developing empathy for workers. When an elderly janitor twisted his ankle, the CEO personally drove him home and met with the man’s wife. Culture shifted. Fatalities stopped. No changes were needed in safety procedures, just a different way of being, starting from the top.

Another company adopted agile software development within their innovation team, but was not satisfied with their innovation progress. A quick survey of team members revealed some of the beliefs that were in the way. When individuals were asked to rate their boldness and customer empathy levels, 90% rated themselves at 5 or 6 out of 10, on both questions. This was surprising, because there is no link between boldness and customer empathy, other than the person declaring the rating. The ratings should not be identical. This demonstrated to participants that they were choosing to show up at 5 or 6 out of 10 in both areas. This also demonstrated that the organization was choosing a culture of mediocrity.

By looking at these results, team members could begin asking, “Why are we, as an organization, choosing mediocrity?” The answers were insightful: "We must not be too bold. Management supports us as long as we are being reasonable. Being too bold might turn people off. Developing customer empathy takes too much time. It is very hard to please everyone."


Culture Shifting - A Key Skill In The Age Of Disruption

In the past, during the industrial and information ages, organizational cultures valued analytical, logical, sequential, repetitive skills. These are sometimes called “left-brain” skills. Now we are starting to see a wave of new, disruptive products, services and business models from organizations that combine left-brain logic with right-brain attributes such as flexibility, creativity, curiosity, authenticity and empathy. From existing, known markets we are moving to new, unknown markets. From incremental change and innovation, we now have to grapple with radical change. From execution excellence, companies and individuals must now demonstrate learning excellence. The world is shifting from an information age culture based almost entirely on analytical skills, to a new age of disruption that requires far more creative talents. Organizations today are striving to become leaner and more agile, focused on identifying value from the customer’s perspective, less hierarchical, continually reorganizing.

Most of us are not ready. 67% of Asian company board directors view the impact of disruptive technologies as game changing, yet fewer than 10% feel that their organisations are well positioned to handle disruption. (Source: Accenture)

Over the past decade, tools and methodologies were invented for this new, fast paced world. Think agile development, Lean Startup and Lean Innovation. These methodologies produce great results in an organizational culture that values and rewards authenticity, flexibility, curiosity, empathy and boldness. Other organizations will need to shift their culture in order to get full value.

Culture shifting is first about being, believing and thinking differently. The doing comes later. In many cases, nothing new needs to be “done”, a shift in attitude alone can be very powerful. Culture shifting involves an increase in personal and organizational awareness. If the organizational culture is compared to an iceberg, the conscious culture being above the waterline, this work consists of lowering the waterline in order to reveal some of the subconscious beliefs that lie within the very big, submerged portion of the culture.

If you want to achieve breakthrough results, start by identifying limiting beliefs, shifting those beliefs, and only then implementing new processes, systems and organizations. This is why programs that focus on the "doing" and neglect the "being" often fail. Just look at the vast library of books on losing weight, describing countless ways of “doing” programs and plans. And yet, obesity is still a growing problem.


Culture Shock – Bringing The Whole Brain To The Office

The shift from an information age culture to a new age of creativity, innovation and intuition, can be as challenging as moving to another country where the language, beliefs and thought patterns are unfamiliar and disorienting. This is culture shock.

JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon exemplifies the current culture. He is worried about having his business stolen by tech startups, natives of the new culture. "There are hundreds of startups with a lot of brains and money working on alternatives to traditional banking.” says Dimon. "They all want to eat our lunch. Rest assured, we analyze our competitors in excruciating detail, so we can learn what they are doing and develop our own strategies accordingly." His is a very logical and analytical mindset that served us well during the Information Age. The startups that Jamie Dimon fears are operating under a very different mindset.

"When I was 23, I woke up from a vivid dream, thinking: what if we could download the whole web, and just keep the links … I grabbed a pen and started writing!” That’s Larry Page, describing how Google was invented. How in the world do you analyze a dream? Never mind the excruciating detail bit. Where do you even start?

Here is Steve Jobs: "Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That's had a big impact on my work." And Marc Benioff of "One of the most important things is to take a step back, clear your mind, make room for some new ideas, and get back to a beginner’s mind." And even Elon Musk: "Data informs the instinct. Generally I wait until the data and my instincts are in alignment. If either the data or my instincts are out of alignment, I keep working the issue.” Recently, Musk canceled a rocket launch because of a bad dream. The press release actually said that, and then added the following: "We are not aware of any issue with Falcon 9.... but have decided to review all potential failure modes and contingencies again."

Meditation has suddenly gone mainstream, filling up workshops at Davos and Wisdom 2.0 conferences around the world and appearing on the covers of Time and National Geographic. Google has a highly successful “Search Inside Yourself” mindfulness program that has been released to the public in the model of open source software. What used to be a quirky California cultural oddity is now seen as the actual source of the creativity and intuition driving the startups that cause established traditional organizations to worry about their lunch.

How can enterprises make the transition? Left-brain analytical innovation is often incremental, getting better at what you already do. Right brain innovation feels like walking on a tight rope without a net. How can we challenge conventional wisdom to come up with new ideas? We want to disrupt the competition, but we don't want to risk our own business at the same time. Or do we? What are the beliefs that are limiting our potential? How can we encourage robust, authentic and controversial discussions without falling into unproductive conflict? Startups address these questions every day.

When people complain of having trouble with work-life balance, this is often a sign that they are compartmentalising, bringing only their left brain to work, and feeling unfulfilled. By creating a cultural environment that also values right-brain activities, your organization will benefit from the increased productivity and individuals will feel more fulfilled. Exactly the benefits of working at a startup.


Key Attributes - Authenticity And Vulnerability

Think of the people you respect the most. They are likely to be honest, courageous, resilient, real. These qualities have always been key to great leadership. They are increasingly in demand across the organization, as we navigate through uncertainty and change. A startup culture is often one in which team members at all levels display qualities of an authentic leader. Successful startup entrepreneurs often acquire these behavioral traits naturally. Fortunately, they are learnable skills. Any organization can develop them.

I often start a corporate workshop with an exercise called “authentic introductions”. Participants take turns introducing themselves by standing in front of the room and answering a set of questions about their life (something few people know about me, ways in which my job is a calling, what I am most afraid of, etc.). They receive immediate, structured feedback from all other participants on how authentically they appear to others. That feedback causes people to adjust their way of presenting themselves in order to experiment showing up differently. With a group of 20 or 30 people, the exercise quickly goes into levels of authenticity and vulnerability that many people are not used to. The process can be scary and liberating at the same time. People discover that when they are at their most vulnerable, revealing their most authentic selves, respect, trust and personal strength go up exponentially. They learn that this gives them the ability to communicate in a direct manner, dramatically reducing the need to sugar coat. They also discover that others are far more willing to follow them.

From this starting point, it becomes possible to work on resilience, courage, creativity, flexibility, responsibility, boldness and other ways of being that are crucial to building a Lean Culture.

We can also begin to explore looking at our organizations in very different ways. When established companies want to be innovative, but find themselves stuck being conventional, sometimes it might simply be because of how they are looking at themselves. For example, a business might be “doing” much the same things as high profile Silicon Valley tech companies, but see themselves as a traditional organization. They might be saying something like this: “We are a (choose one of the following: transportation, hospitality, logistics, printing …) business, and we do tech.” Without changing anything they are doing, these companies could benefit by shifting how they see themselves: “We are a tech business, and we do (choose one of the following: transportation, hospitality, logistics, printing …).”


Key Skill - Learning To Listen

Being able to adapt to changing circumstances requires us to learn to listen deeply, read between the lines and develop active listening skills. Learn to recognize feedback in many different forms, most of which are unspoken. The fastest way to develop these skills is often to begin with a loved one. A telco CFO wanted to develop her empathy skills at work. She decided to begin at home with her 24 year old son struggling with depression. She asked her son for feedback on how she was showing up. He said, "You're my mom, I can't rate you as a mother. But if you ask me to rate you as a cook, I'd give you a zero." He said this jokingly but she decided to listen between the lines. Soon, they were preparing dinners together and inviting his friends over. The depression was gone and the CFO discovered a wealth of empathy skills that transferred over into her work.

Another way to listen is to look at our results as a way to understand and correct the beliefs that might be in our way. This takes practice. There are times when what we say we want, is not really what we want. Sometimes it’s because our subconscious mind wants something else. Think of a friend who says he wants a relationship, but is forever single. Maybe he has deep beliefs causing him to want to remain single. The simplest way to see one’s intention is to look at one's results. Based on results, this friend’s true intention is to remain single, in spite of what he says. A brittle mind will stubbornly insist on wanting to be in a relationship, without recognising the powerful subconscious beliefs that are in the way. A resilient mind will resist jumping to answers too quickly. Take a step back, examine results, and ask, “Why is it that I seem to want to remain single? What can I do to override my subconscious beliefs?" 

And it's not just personal. Imagine a company whose management wants to innovate, but has produced nothing substantially new in years. Based on results, the organization has a greater desire to remain conventional. What powerful beliefs are in the way? Maybe beliefs about risk and failure. Or beliefs about customers and markets. Perhaps even beliefs about who we are and what is even possible.

Looking at results without judgement, listening deeply, staying open to questions that are difficult to answer, makes it easier to adjust our beliefs and make real breakthroughs. This takes courage, rigor and the ability for team members to communicate authentically with each other. Wisdom comes from staying with questions longer. Let answers come through serendipity, the surprises that happen when we are present, open and curious to see what ideas and solutions will appear next.