Every person and process can be improved. However, superior leaders know that the keys to success are attitude and approach. When greeting any new situation, we of course must be engaged and confident enough to believe we have the right solutions. But it’s critical to also enter with a mindset of humility, possibility and progress. Perhaps most importantly, the desire to learn and develop a team spirit enables leaders to deliver results. A leader’s attitude and approach can either fertilize or poison the soil, producing beautiful flowers or noxious weeds.
Not long ago, I had the opportunity to take on the role of manager at a Moen distribution center (DC) in Las Vegas. My team and I were tasked with improving safety, reducing costs through optimized material movement and raising employee satisfaction scores via improved work systems.
As I reflect on our six-year journey, the one distinctive characteristic that propelled our success time and again was the organizational culture we were creating. It enabled our work, fueled our achievements, and unlocked the potential of our associates — both individually and collectively.
Specifically, in the most important area of employee safety, our DC experienced three perfect safety years with zero U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration recordable incidents as a result of the initiative. Throughout the entire period, we had zero lost-time incidents — not a single associate missed a day of work because of injury. Secondly, we reduced cost per carton — the primary corporate cost metric for DCs — by 30%. This represented a substantial cost savings for Moen. Finally, in the area of employee satisfaction, survey scores went up by 34% and were among the highest in the company.
In the end, our DC was recognized with two prestigious honors: the Global Operations Excellence Award and the President’s Achievement Award, Moen’s highest recognition.
Following are the key philosophies and values we employed, which influenced our approach, priorities and decision-making:
- People are the most important resource; treat them as such. Respect others as individuals, develop trust and respect, and be kind.
- Use passion to fuel focus on customer service and achievement.
- To cultivate mindsets of ownership and accountability, ensure performance metrics are in place.
- Use a process focus to establish consistency and repeatability. This is vital to continuous improvement efforts.
- Make plans, and go forward. Don’t let the pursuit of perfection prevent progress, but never be reckless.
- Personal excellence has a team emphasis. A star player should make the team better, not resentful.
At the beginning of this transformation, we used a pyramid to visualize key performance indicators (KPIs). The measures were safety, process, quality and output. (See Figure 1.) However, it wasn’t long before we reconsidered our pyramid’s foundation. We came to realize that all aspects of performance are affected by employee relations — in other words, culture. It is the prevailing force that supports and, ideally, boosts every other metric. Therefore, we redesigned the pyramid with culture at its base.
An annual company-wide survey evaluated our team’s culture. We assessed responses across 11 categories. The first year of our journey, we scored a 59 out of 100. To address concerns identified in the survey, individual feedback was given, and focus groups were conducted. Then, our leadership team took action. By the project’s end, the score was 79 — a 34% increase and 22% above the company average.
A focus on culture yields benefits in both soft and hard performance metrics. It creates an environment in which employees enjoy coming to work. This, in turn, brings about improved safety, quality and productivity levels.
FLOODING THE CULTURE POOLS
Leaders must be just as diligent when furthering culture as they are when furthering other performance metrics. They should infuse culture considerations into every decision and initiative. The greatest leaders know how to leverage culture in order to unleash the kind of improvements that come naturally and freely from an energized team.
To motivate an organization, leaders first must inspire the people. Here, it’s all about how they present and implement ideas. This starts by always keeping in mind that we are all equal; we just have different roles. With this mentality, it’s easy for a leader to demonstrate genuine care and concern for people’s well-being. The single most important pursuit is to create an authentic connection with associates.
A major tenet is the concept of a touchpoint. At Moen, our leadership team talked a lot about how, with every encounter and interaction, we can have either a positive or negative impact. Leaders must look for and generate opportunities to have personal, positive interactions with associates. A touchpoint can be a simple action, such as greeting others with a smile and a friendly hello or calling associates by name. Offer a sincere thank you, send a handwritten note, or share a meal together. Give the gift of yourself, your uniqueness and your talents. Show your humanity and personality.
Another central aspect of culture development is adopting a servant-leadership mindset. Listen to associates, and act on their feedback. Keep their interests in mind, and think about ways you can make their lives better. Water is siphoned from the culture reservoir when associates see leaders who just work for the next promotion or strive for command and control by dictating, mandating and micromanaging.
A final consideration is knowing when to do things personally. Leaders must not delegate key activities, as these often are vital opportunities to interact with associates. Always seek opportunities to create moments and memories with others.
HOW WE DID IT
First and foremost, our teams focused on safety. As part of the safety program, all leadership team members were required to complete a certain number of safety audits each month. To set the example, I held myself to the same standards. Sometimes people would say, “Don’t you have more important things to do?” I would always answer, “I am doing the most important thing — safety first!” Our desire to keep everyone safe signified that we really care about our associates.
Next, we created vision statements, slogans and mottos to foster team spirit. Our quality slogan became “Moen’s Last Touch,” indicating that we were the final Moen associates to handle customer orders, so we needed to get it right. We even had an internal design contest to create our logo and awarded a prize for the winning submission. A championship banner was produced to memorialize every notable five Ss project. Pretty soon, we had a rainbow of pennants hanging from the rafters.
We implemented skill-based competency and pay-for- performance programs that offered career progression and monetary incentives for heightened productivity and quality. Most advances came from ideas shared by associates. This was highly encouraged. After all, these are the people who know better than anyone else what really is happening and how to make improvements. In the main hallway of the DC, we created a wall of fame with associates’ pictures and the levels achieved.
Quarterly leadership meetings were followed by team dinners, and monthly leadership luncheons were held for warehouse frontline leaders. There is power in sharing a meal together. Kevin Kniffin, professor of economics at Cornell University, puts it well: “Eating together has a long, primal tradition as a kind of social glue.”
In addition to the traditional top-down recognition pattern, associates were encouraged to acknowledge their peers and engage in random acts of recognition. We had lively monthly recognition parties, and once a year an associate who exemplified teamwork and a positive attitude would receive the Golden Link award.
In truth, we were constantly looking for things to celebrate because honoring achievements leads to positive motivation and continued success. We reveled in costper-carton reductions, quality enhancements, corporate feedback and any other notable news. My team enjoyed bowling outings, pie-eating contests, mariachi band performances, a holiday luncheon with big prizes and much more. During these celebrations, the leadership team mingled with associates and helped with planning, setup and cleanup.
Since the transformation, our team continues to excel, with two additional perfect safety years, another Moen President’s Achievement Award and ongoing improvement in survey scores. Looking back, I have landed on the following lessons learned and recommendations for rising your own company’s cultural tides: First, make culture a KPI. Second, ensure associates enjoy working for your direct reports — and that your direct reports are obsessed with improving company culture. If they need coaching, provide it. Similarly, employ people with culture development expertise. It should be an essential factor in hiring decisions. And, as a final piece of advice, ask yourself, “In what ways do I cause the tides to ebb and flow?” Then, figure out what you can do to make sure culture floods your entire organization.