How Does an Engaged Work Culture Thrive for 25 Years?

Twenty-five years ago the ground broke in a cornfield in Indiana for an innovative new type of steel mill.  Nippon Steel of Japan and Inland Steel of the U.S. partnered with the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) to construct I/N Tek and I/N Kote.  The mill broke new ground both in its “technical” system, as well as in its “people” system.

After spending the recession years of the mid-80’s laboring in the Rustbelt and consulting with firms that were in bankruptcy, in danger of insolvency, or in general needing to “change or die,” the opportunity to work with a start-up company was a thrilling adventure early in my career.  As part of the renaissance of American steel, the company was going to be a radical departure from traditional, integrated mills of the past.  Instead it would be founded upon lean, continuous operations technologies.  To run the new type of “technical system,” union and management wanted a new type of “people system” – a new vision of partnership – a self-managed team approach.

During our design team meetings as the mill was built and commissioned, the dark joke was that “either I/N Tek and I/N Kote would be the shining light that would transform the autocratic, outmoded way ‘the old company’ [Inland Steel’s main integrated steel facility just a few miles away] would do business, or they will send troops to squelch the revolution in the cornfield.”  The design and implementation process was filled with excitement – and trepidation.

Last year the parent companies and union hosted a 25th Jubilee to celebrate their Silver Anniversary!  Twenty-five years of profit, productivity – and partnership.

Much has changed in over two decades.  The joint owners and the union has changed.  Nippon is now Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metals.  Inland Steel is now part of ArcelorMittal.  The USWA is now the USW.   And the steel landscape has changed.  Foreign competition.  Domestic competition.  Customers changing expectations and preferences for lighter metals, new alloys.

Through it all, I/N Tek and I/N Kote has not just survived, but thrived.  Through management changes, union changes, employee changes, technology change, industry changes – and on and on.

Why?
Of course, the company is founded upon still-innovative technology and a winning business model.  And, a major success factor is the soundness of its founding work culture principals:  a TRULY team-based work culture, with people at all levels, in all functions, working together toward a common goal.

Are there problems?  Of course.
Opportunities? Yes indeed. And that’s why they contacted me a year ago, to ask me to come back and partner with them once again to “renew the work culture.”

These steelworkers have the savvy to realize that you can’t operate the equipment without periodically shutting down, taking it apart, lubing it up, and sometimes retrofitting it with new and improved parts.  Similarly, a work culture needs period maintenance and renewal.

We all can relate to that just thinking about our bodies – which are systems too!  Twenty-five years ago, I could work 16 hour days, travel to a new client with little sleep, and do it again.  Now, in my second half-century, I need exercise beyond running to catch flights, to eat right, and get a reasonable amount of sleep per night.  As the graphic shows, the longer we or any system last, the more energy we need to expend just to maintain “steady state”

Work Culture Maintenance & Renewal

A company’s work culture is a living, evolving entity.  At least, it should be if you want to effectively meet the many challenges that your organization will no doubt face, regardless of your industry or business model or geography.

Change Intelligent leaders know they need to remain agile and continually adapt to stay relevant and prosper. As we learned from Jim Collins and his team in How the Might Fall: And Why Some Companies Don’t Give In, companies that succeed into the future – while their peers which are highly successful in the short-term fail – is the combination of:

• Constancy of purpose – focus on vision, mission, and values, and

• Flexibility of process – evolving technologies, tactics, and techniques

Indeed, when I revisited I/N Tek and I/N Kote after two decades, the vision, mission, and values statements we drafted in the early ‘90s were still posted on the wall, in the office areas, operations pulpits, and maintenance rooms, throughout the mill – constancy of purpose.  And, now there were employees who were children of the founding team members, upgraded technologies, and new business practices – flexibility of process.

As a leader, do you pay attention to your organization’s work culture?  Work culture can seem an amorphous concept, beyond our intentional control.  And yet, while not completely in our control, we can have a positive influence on our company culture, regardless of our position, tenure, or age.

Here are some questions to ask yourself, as a leader committed to helping your organization be nimble, agile, and Change Intelligent into the future:

• Does your organization have a vision, mission, or values statement?  If so, when is the last time you looked at it?  Mentioned it to your team?  Used it to guide decision-making and behaviors?

• Do you periodically take a pulse of your culture?  What is the level of engagement?  Teamwork up, down, and across the organization?  Commitment to strategic goals and objectives?

• In what areas can we do better – where does our lofty rhetoric not match the reality of what it’s like to work in our company on a day-to-day basis?  On what topics would we benefit from engaging in tough conversations to get ourselves back on track, and in line with our espoused beliefs?

Change Intelligent leaders look to the past to honor collective history, look to the future to progress toward new horizons, and foster collaborative cultures to empower people to partner on the journey together.

What Can Winston Churchill Teach Us about Leading Change?

While in London, I had the pleasure of visiting the Churchill Museum, an extremely well-preserved vista into the past, displaying the underground rooms where Churchill, his ministers, military advisors and staff led the effort to win the Battle of Britain and ultimately World War II.  It was amazing to see history frozen in time, and learn so many details of the life of this great man and the trials and tribulations of that great generation.

Leading change can so often feel like a war zone – devising plans and strategies, arming ourselves with tools and tactics, focusing on the mission and averting scope creep, engaging stakeholders both allies and enemies, overcoming resistance, striving for small wins during the many battles to win the war, avoiding land mines, juggling scarce resources, regrouping and redeploying, coping with stress and battle fatigue, negotiating terms and conditions – I could go on and on, the analogies are seemingly endless.

Visiting the museum caused me to ponder what we as change leaders can learn from Churchill and his stewardship of WWII.  Among many other talents, he was known for his wry wit and exception oratory prowess.  Here’s a sample relevant for all of us in the business of leading change:

  • “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” Churchill said this in response to criticisms about the fact that he changed political parties.  Indeed, this quote is the essence of Change Intelligence:  to lead change, we must start with ourselves first.  This is one way that great leaders are both courageous and vulnerable – they reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, and course correct – sometimes in very public ways – to ensure their behaviors match their values and goals, even when it’s not easy.
  • “Blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”  This quote reinforces the fact that change can be a long and arduous journey.  While most of us will never have to endure bombing raids or food rationing, we all need to cope with the emotional tribulations of letting go of the old and grappling with the new, and our own and others’ feelings of loss, confusion, and fear.
  • “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”  In this quote Churchill was praising the Royal Air Force, giving thanks for their heroism and sacrifice while fighting the Battle of Britain, during which Hitler’s Luftwaffe bombed the country relentlessly for months on end.  So often leading change can seem like a thankless job, and we can feel scarred and shell-shocked during the fight and for quite some time after it’s over.  Great change leaders acknowledge the hard work – both effort and outcomes – that helps us fight the good fight and prevail against what can seem like insurmountable odds.

One more footnote about Churchill:  he became Prime Minister in 1940, when he was 65 years old, and remained active in British and global politics long after the war ended, retiring at age 81.  Throughout the war and beyond, he is said to have outworked his staff.  I like to keep that in mind every time I get an invitation to join AARP in the mail!  We’re never too old to make world-changing contributions, and we benefit from the wisdom of our elders.

Enjoy living in peace and freedom today.

Leading Through Transition: 3 Powerful Tools to Equip Your Team

Dr. Bridges, a giant in the field of change management, shows us the distinction between “change” (what happens on the “outside” – be it a harrowing tsunami or a hostile take-over) and “transition” (what happens on the “inside” – our psychological and emotional reactions).

As Dr. Bridges demonstrates, transitioning from the old to the new happens in three stages; the Ending, the Neutral Zone, and New Beginnings. As leaders charged with supporting our people through major transitions, how can change intelligence help us as we endeavor to help others move through these phases?

  1. During the Ending Stage, we need to let go of the past, say goodbye to “the way things have always been done.”  Change intelligent leaders start with the “heart,” connecting with people at an emotional level, dealing with feelings of loss (security, status, skills).  They then educate the “head,” clarifying the why and what of the change:  What is really ending, and why are these changes necessary?  What’s the business case, and what’s the implication for me?  Helping the “hands” by explaining the specific plan and sharing as much information as possible multiple times through multiple mechanisms lends comfort and some sense of control during this stressful time.
  2. The Neutral Zone finds us, just like the first ambitious flowers poking up through the still-falling snow here in my hometown near Chicago, hovering between two realities – often confused and feeling caught in “limbo.” In this phase, build on your heartfelt connection with others by sharing your vulnerability:  in what ways have you been unsure and even doubting yourself, and how have you overcome your anxiety and gotten back to effective action?  Exhibit patience with missed deadlines and off-target efforts – recognize this is a sign that you need to engage the brain by prioritizing new goals and actively listening to unearth barriers people are facing, both in the shifting workplace and within themselves.  Talk tactics with people.  Change intelligent leaders recognize that they may need to deploy temporary procedures.  Providing structure and “hand holding” from an involved, in-the-trenches leader can be invaluable to guide people on the new path.  Work alongside people to channel the chaos into creativity, so you can all move from stuck to back in momentum.
  3. New Beginnings come when the change finally starts to happen. People’s first efforts in a new style are delicate, fragile, and easily injured.  It is a leader’s responsibility to protect and nurture.  Recognizing small successes and behaviors supporting the new way of working both recognizes people’s efforts as well as clarifies the new expectations for others.  Remind people of the purpose of the change and demonstrate to them through anecdotal stories and hard statistical evidence corroborating the soundness of the rationale.  Be consistent in rolling out the change and relentless in identifying and remediating systems and actions blocking the transformation that must occur.  Involve people as partners in the process – you’ll get actionable feedback, higher quality solutions, and mutual accountability to the team and the change objectives.  By approaching the transition process in this way, change intelligence leaders inspire the heart, engage the head, and help the hands toward a brighter future. And, they remember that the three stages are iterative, overlapping, and happen at different times and manifest differently for different people and groups.

While we can’t foresee when the tsunamis of life will hit us, we can prepare ourselves and be of service to others by building our change intelligence, so when the inevitable comes, we’re as ready as we can be. That’s why the most effective change leaders have the self-awareness to adapt their styles to the unique demands of unique individuals and their unique transition experiences.

Ready to create powerful and lasting results for your team or organization? Discover your Change Intelligence here. 

 

4 Questions about Change Intelligence (so you can apply it today)

To help illustrate how CQ is relevant to change leaders like yourself, I thought I’d share with you some of the questions I’ve been asked about how to apply the principles of the book to your team or organization:

  1. With all the leadership books out there, why was it important for you to write this book? From my first day on the job, standing in front of a room full of all-male steelworkers all decades older than me, I lived firsthand how challenging the role of a change leader can be.  It can be pretty scary to be the one up front and center  and intimidating to realize that even the best education and training doesn’t always prepare you to lead the change.  It’s been my passion for the last 25 years to equip change leaders to successfully navigate and direct change even in the most complex and challenging situations.  When you know your CQ, you know what to do next even if it’s a situation you’ve never faced before.
  2. What type of leader would benefit from reading Change Intelligence? I wrote the book for at any level charged with implementing change.  So, whether you’re on the front lines or in the C-Suite, Change Intelligence can be applied directly to your situation.   That being said, the demands and dynamics of leading change can be very different at the CEO versus project manager versus front line supervisor levels, and I offer advice to guide each based on my decades of experience coaching up, down and across organizations.
  3. What types of change is the book relevant for? What industries? The book is full of real-life case studies of transformations from mergers to new technology implementations to process improvements in industries spanning healthcare to high tech, refineries to retail, and steel to sales teams.  This is critical, because as leaders, we are constantly on point to manage multiple changes at once, and the pace is increasing, and the scope becoming more complex every day.  What matters is less the specifics of the change or industry dynamics, and more that by knowing your CQ you are equipped to lead change even when you’re facing a challenge you’ve never experienced before.
  4. What’s the book’s key message – the bottom line – and how can I apply it today? The big “ah-ha” of the book is that it is possible to lead successful and sustainable change – if it’s led effectively.  And it is possible to lead change effectively – not necessarily by starting with “overcoming resistance by others” or applying a new tool or process – but rather, by looking inside, and starting with yourself as a change leader.  What are your strengths?  What are your blind spots?  What are you natural tendencies as a change leader?  The 15-minute Change Intelligence self-assessment ($97 Value) that comes free with every book helps you answer these questions quickly, and the customized report each reader receives contains simple, practical, and applicable coaching for how to bolster your CQ right now, on the job today.  When you know your CQ, you experience an immediate increase in your confidence and competence in leading successful and sustainable change.

Ready to create powerful and lasting results for your team or organization? Discover your Change Intelligence here.