Building a 'great to outstanding' culture
COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio () - June 29, 2009 - 12:00am

In business, agility determines who will stick out and rise above the bevy of companies who have successfully moved from good to great.  But how do you create an agile culture? Julius Ordoñez, managing director of Benchmark Consulting, a group of expert trainers and coaches, says, “The process of building a culture of agility is a mix of science and art. Hence, there is no exact formula for executing it. It’s not rocket science, either. The framework or model to be used differs from one company to another.” In his experience helping organizations build an agile culture, he has seen practices common to those who have made it happen. He calls these the “must-ingredients,” which he delightedly shares with Philippine STAR readers.

Must-ingredient No. 1: A clear understanding of the concept. Agility needs to be clearly defined and this definition must be shared within the organization. A comprehensible description of what agile means and what it looks like must be amplified. Characterizing agility entails identifying specific behaviors and ways of doing things that manifest it. For example, it is serving a customer in half the standard turnaround time. This definition explicitly says that if the standard turnaround time is one hour, the customer must be served within 30 minutes. So how this should manifest in terms of employees’ behavior and company’s processes must be carefully identified. When these are crystal-clear, everyone in the organization gets to fully understand what agility is. And the likelihood that people will embrace the culture-building process definitely becomes higher.

Must-ingredient No. 2: A self-actualization program component. Understanding what agility is and how it translates or impacts on people’s behavior and ways of doing things is not enough. The desired tangible outcomes must be apparent, and how they frame and eventually capture them are true measures of success. To trigger a focused grasp of it, these questions must be answered: What’s the value of creating a culture of agility? How will it benefit customers, the total business operation and the warm bodies that move it?

In naming the outcomes, however, there is a huge tendency among business leaders to emphasize only the financial gains the employer and employee can reap in the end. We are reminded that they are not the be-all. While financial bottom line may be imperative for any business, it is not the sole motivator. It must be underscored that fiscal gains are not enough to get people’s sincere and enthusiastic buy-in of the processes being pushed. It is advisable to equally focus on the results that can bring each and every individual in the organization to self-actualization.

These upshots can serve as fuel to an authentic appreciation of one’s persona — the self-fulfillment derived from making a customer happy, the great feeling generated from making a difference in other people’s lives, the self-actualization acquired from constantly bringing the fullest potential of every corporate player, the limitless opportunities produced as a result of stretching their abilities to deliver, and the feeling of success obtained from continuously transforming themselves as they sharpen their capabilities.

Must-ingredient No. 3: A corporate policy that develops and nurtures high-velocity workers. Creating a culture that requires a sense of urgency and speed is more people-driven than technology-driven. Hence, it heavily relies on people’s decision to scale up and expand their knowledge and skills and align their respective attitudes. This means going beyond what you currently have — your competencies, skill sets, knowledge, thinking methods, which requires full ownership, which, unfortunately cannot be imposed upon people. Thus, the directive approach and telling or dictating style will not work if you want people to go beyond their limits. Helping people think, find solutions and strategies on their own allows people to stretch their talents and potentials.

How can this be done? Business leaders must change the nature of their conversations with their people from being directive to non-directive. Dialogues in the workplace must shift from an ineffective and non-interactive one-way to an efficient and engaging two-way communication. Imbibing the art and science of coaching, a powerful tool that draws out the innermost potential of people through non-directive conversations, is therefore critical.

Must-ingredient No. 4: A coaching mindset. Just like in any organizational initiative, leadership at all levels is key. Leaders must drive the whole process. They must model agility, and enable, support, inspire, challenge and rally the people. All these demand that they be equipped with the necessary tools and skill sets in coaching, training, mentoring and other essential enablers critical to the change process. On top of these, they must be able to demonstrate passion and a do-what-it-takes stance, plus the consistency and flexibility in achieving the desired consequences.

Ordoñez explains the difference between mentoring and coaching, which to many seem to be interchangeable terminologies. Mentoring, he says, “is imparting the wisdom and expertise of the mentor based on the mentor’s journey. The mentor is the content expert.” Coaching, on the other hand, “is a conversation or a dialogue within a productive and result-oriented context. It latches on asking the right questions rather than providing the right answers. The coach is the process expert.”

Great coaching depends largely on the ability to listen and listen well. It centers on two elements — attention (awareness of what we receive through your senses) and impact (the quality of our listening skill). Listening has three levels — internal (our own thoughts, opinions, judgment, feelings and conclusions), focused listening (directed at coachee as we watch out for words, expressions, emotions, and non-verbals) and global listening (a 360-degree awareness of what we see, hear, smell and feel). Great coaching also provides organizational shepherds the distinct opportunity to believe in someone, but as they believe, they should take actions to help people be the best that they can be. As Ordoñez urges, “stop managing, start coaching,” adhering to the principle that we can’t change people, we coach them.”

Must-ingredient No. 5: A tightly knit pack operation whose members work as partners. Lack of trust and openness slows down work, decisions, and output. Real teamwork and collaboration is a must in building a culture of agility. This is when people openly and objectively discuss issues that get in the way and when they put aside their personal agenda to promote the common good. This is a culture where people affirm outstanding performance and call each other’s attention to non-performance. It is where people turn diversity into competence.

Must-ingredient No. 6: A mechanism to measure progress and celebrate accomplishments. Identify who is “in” and who is “out.” Affirm and acknowledge those who contribute. Do not tolerate mediocrity. Excite and challenge those lagging behind. If the misaligned choose not to align, they must be eased out. These must-ingredients are carefully woven to form a step-by-step process or roadmap, which Ordoñez’s team uses to build an agile culture. This roadmap is always a combination of training and non-training initiatives and the implementation lasts up to six months or more depending on the size of the organization.

Seeing how hundreds of organizations have transformed the way they do things all these years, Ordoñez is convinced that the ability of companies to accelerate everything they do and could possibly become is one distinction. Agility is power. It goes beyond greatness. It makes you stand out.

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E-mail or for comments, questions or suggestions. Thank you for communicating.  Benchmark Consulting has helped organizations build a culture of agility. They can be reached at tel. nos. 812-7177 and 812-2282.

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