by Bob Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC

There has been quite a buzz in recent years about developing a corporate culture, especially pertaining to lean and continuous improvement. Whether you engage in lean principles or not, do you know some of the key attributes that enable you to assess your company culture? And, how often do you evaluate your progress? Some companies may conduct formal employee surveys to gain perspectives, while others don’t know where to start.

NWIRC recently engaged members of their Erie-based Lean Together™ working group for operational excellence in an exercise to self-assess specific characteristics of their company’s culture. Since Lean Together focuses on the concepts from the book, 2 Second Lean: How to Grow People and Build a Lean Culture, this was an important exercise to see where they have been and where they want to go. The session prompted insightful discussion involving each company sharing successes and challenges, providing an opportunity for them to learn from one another. I thought this exercise might be helpful for any company who wants to take a look within to evaluate and improve their own corporate culture.

Start by putting together a small multi-disciplinary team of employees and have them rate various characteristics of where the company is now and where they’d like to be. This will open dialogue for future changes to improve culture. Here are some characteristics to consider:

Transparency: Is there open communication; assessible company information; sharing of data, financials, sales stats?; Do your employees understand how their role affects the bigger picture?

Tearing Down Barriers: Are employees engaged with identifying problems and removing obstacles?; Do they feel everyone is working on the same team or is it “us vs them”?; Do they help find waste or is that management’s role?

Trust: Are employees empowered to make decisions?; Do they feel safe to speak openly with no retribution?; Is management leading by example?

Teaching: Is there ongoing education and coaching for employees?; Do employees understand what you are teaching them?

Tracking: Are you benchmarking improvements?; Do you have specific metrics tracked on a regular basis for all employees to see?

So, why go through this exercise and why is corporate culture important? The big three pertain to hiring, retention, and productivity. For many job seekers today, the work environment is critical to their decision to join a company. Once they are part of your team, it’s important they are treated with respect and understand how they contribute to the success of the company so they want to stick around. Empowering employees will drive their productivity, team work, and ultimately strengthen your company’s financial performance. 2 Second Lean is all about communication, fixing “what bugs you”, and making small incremental improvements as part of everyone’s job. Simply having a routine of asking your employees, “what bugs you?” on a regular basis, and allowing them to discover and implement no-cost/low-cost solutions, can have a significant impact on the company as a whole and on your valued employees.

How do you want your company culture to look in the future? What actions will you take to achieve your desired state? There is no time like the present to get started!