A Business Technology Place

Making Respect Part of the Culture

The word respect is so common in company core values that I wonder if it’s become ubiquitous.  How do we define respect? Is it treating people kindly, helping those in need, and recognizing the contributions of others? Most certainly. But the challenge is, these are surface level behaviors and don’t create lasting impact for the organization or individuals. If something is a core value, I would expect to find it deeply embedded in the thinking, behaviors, and expectations for a company.

Giving respect to others is a key component for molding the culture of an organization. It requires more than periodic displays of kindness. Respect is way harder than that, but so much more powerful. Respect requires a willingness to change an opinion. It requires admitting others may have more knowledge about a situation. It requires collaboration.  Respect is sustained actions and involvement of employees in continuous improvement and problem solving.

Listen with an open mind

Employees on the front-line of work notice weaknesses in product and solution delivery. Why do we so often discredit them because of their position or because their thoughts don’t fit the corporate narrative? Listening to others with an open mind and not having predetermined answers shows respect because it creates meaningful dialogue. When we seek to understand the viewpoint of others, we risk opening our minds to alternate solutions. But we also show the other person that we care about understanding their view point. Respect is two-way communication.

I’ve have ongoing dialogue with employees about the work-from-home policy. I can tell you I have a different opinion than they do about the right balance of office and home days. But I’m trying to be open to dialogue that centers more around work output and uninterrupted flow. I know we’ll reach a better solution with common understanding and approach.

Participate together in problem solving

An ultimate sign of respect is to involve employees in solving problems. Jim Womack describes it this way in an article respect for people:

“Over time I’ve come to realize that this problem solving process is actually the highest form of respect. The manager is saying to the employees that the manager can’t solve the problem alone, because the manager isn’t close enough to the problem to know the facts. He or she truly respects the employees’ knowledge and their dedication to finding the best answer. But the employees can’t solve the problem alone either because they are often too close to the problem to see its context and they may refrain from asking tough questions about their own work. Only by showing mutual respect – each for the other and for each other’s role – is it possible to solve problems, make work more satisfying, and move organizational performance to an ever higher level. “

This is a great example of driving respect into the culture through sustained actions rather than kind gestures. It shows respect for employee’s insights and skills. It creates a framework for employees to directly impact their work cells and production output. When an employee and team are part of creating a solution they feel more pride and accomplishment.  

Accepting constructive feedback

What we do with feedback from others is an indicator for how we respect them. If we dismiss feedback we could be overlooking an opportunity for improvement. If we take feedback personally we are telling employees not to be honest. If we retaliate against feedback by taking actions against an employee, then we create distrust in the organization.

In my career, I’ve had a manager question my ability to make a decision after I told them I thought they were showing signs of micromanaging. I’ve had a manager tell me I wasn’t onboard with the corporate strategy after I cautioned about moving too fast without understanding risks to business disruption. In both cases, trust was broken between the manager and I and I believe a lack of respect was present. They chose not to engage in dialogue, but to dismiss my feedback as insubordinate.

Learn together  

True learning involves sharing results with employees and guiding them in processes to problem solve for additional improvements. Learning is completing a cycle of plan-do-check-act and acting upon the results. When a group of people realize that continuous improvement is really about becoming a learning organization, then a cultural transformation is underway.

On my team, one way we’ve been learning together is by establishing visual metrics that align to our mission. We review the metrics weekly and discuss impact to our service delivery. Over time, we’ve adjusted the metric or even created a new metric as we’ve learn more by examining results. Growing together creates strong culture. Everyone sees progress and everyone feels setbacks.

In summary I would say respect is more than this –

Rather it’s best characterized by this –


Onward and upward!

Root cause analysis for team building

Early in my career we used a process that loosely resembled a root cause analysis after a severity 1 production outage. The intent of the process was to determine why the severity outage occurred and then fix the problem so it didn’t happen again. No one liked process and the documents we produced were rarely used to influence process improvement. It was a checkbox and an exercise to fill-in-the-blanks to say we completed it. I always thought the name post-mortem was bit odd as well and we were certainly dead to the process. Looking back, I see post-mortem efforts can be valuable if championed and executed correctly. But there is a better way.

Twenty years later, we are learning to implement root cause analysis (RCA) into our recurring operational procedures. Like a post-mortem exercise, a RCA is typically done after an event has occurred with the intended benefit to prevent problems from recurring. If done correctly, this can reduce waste and downtime.

But a RCA is distinct with its own set of advantages. Our team is using lean A3 problem solving techniques as the backbone for RCAs.  It is apparent to me the RCA process, if supported and executed routinely, can shape a culture of continuous improvement. Here are a few practical ways:

  • The outputs can be used as a proactive measure to predict and prevent future failures. Problem solving focuses on examining why events occur coupled with action items and sustainment activities. This is a great way to identify potential future problems.

In one recent 5-why exercise about a database failure we identified a few weaknesses in a process in addition to the root-cause of a failure. Our corrective action plan addressed multiple weaknesses and has undoubtedly prevented some of the weaknesses from becoming service outages.

  • A systematic approach to RCA involves setting a recurring cadence for problem solving. RCAs require a wide range of knowledge to identify problems, compile documentation, and create sustainment activities. Individuals will struggle, but teams can thrive solving problems like this.

We post our RCAs on our department flow-and-performance board to make them visible, promote discussion, and to keep the process top of mind. Our standard is to perform one RCA per month. This reinforces that RCAs are part of the culture of the team.

  • Done correctly, RCA focuses on resolving process deficiencies instead of blaming people. It’s not always easy but we remind ourselves to focus on behaviors and results over individuals.

Onward and Upward!

Photo Credit: ResoluteSupportMedia via creative commons – https://flic.kr/p/88Kdgw