Despite the upheaval caused by COVID-19, the global pandemic has opened the door for manufacturers to improve one of the most untapped methods of increasing company performance: culture.
Watch the webinar here.
While executives tend to focus on more tangible aspects of a business, such as compensation and organizational structure, experts believe creating cultural engagement can improve financial performance as much as three-fold. With the nature of work in the manufacturing sector currently in flux due to COVID-19, these experts believe companies have an opportunity to make lasting cultural changes that could drive performance, innovation and resilience in the years to come.
“Culture is a strategic lever that is underutilized by most organizations,” said Ed Holinski, a Cultural Advisor at Shepherd Advisors. “It should be reframed as a strategic priority that is essential for short term and long-term performance. If you don’t get culture right, even if you get all the other things right, it’s not likely you’ll get the performance from the organization.”
Holinski was speaking during the third installment of the 2020 “Back to Manufacturing Basics” webinar series hosted by the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center – West and MiBiz. As part of the webinar, Holinski, along with Justine Burdette, Vice President of Technical Services at The Right Place, Inc. and Regional Director of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, spoke about the importance of understanding culture and its impacts on an organization.
Though a nebulous concept in some cases, culture encompasses the entirety of an organization, Burdette said. Culture is visible in everything from how an organization treats its interns, to how it uses its founding principals to navigate forward during uncertain times. While much of an organization’s culture is driven by its leadership, particularly in larger companies, each person has an impact on improving culture.
“It really doesn’t matter what your role is, you own a piece of culture and you actually have an ability to influence it,” Burdette said.
For Holinski, creating a resilient and innovative culture comes down to listening, openness and empathy – particularly in challenging times such as the current global pandemic.
“A lot of organizations are accustomed to one-way-communications,” he said. “They really want people to understand where the organization wants to go. They’re hopeful they understand the purpose and the mission… but they’ve taken less time in listening to employees in a meaningful way.”
Holinski stressed the importance of active listening as an essential building block of positive cultural shifts, noting that active listening goes far beyond calling on someone in a meeting just for the sake of it. Employees need to know they are heard and that their outlooks are validated and understood, even if those perspectives are not necessarily shared by company executives. Active and engaged listening will be particularly important as the current global pandemic subsides and more people return to work uncertain and potentially disgruntled about the path ahead, Holinski said.
Holinski also pointed to the importance of building psychological safety within the company by not allowing any ridicule, laughter or other negative behavior when people bring up concerns. He also emphasized the importance of creating positive two-way communication channels where all parties’ views are heard and respected.
“You only have to speak sternly and shut someone down once for that to have ripples through your organization,” he said. “If you want the best of your people and the best of your thinking, that’s probably not the best way to approach it.”
AN EMPHASIS ON EMPATHY
During the webinar, Holinski pointed to research conducted by Stanford University which found empathy was a hallmark characteristic of a successful leader.
Holinski noted empathetic leaders tended to yield an innovative and resilient organization, whereas a lack of empathy created an atmosphere with low employee satisfaction and high turnover.
“This crisis is certainly pressure testing leaders in a way they haven’t been tested before,” Holinski said. “It doesn’t mean that you need to puff your chest up and show how strong you are. Instead it means you need to be open and listen to people in a different way and connect with them.”
AN OPPORTUNITY FOR CHANGE
While grooming empathetic leaders and improving two-way communication are essential to building an innovative culture, Holinski noted those improvements formed the building blocks of a larger goal of establishing a resilient culture going forward.
Though the global COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted so many aspects of every-day business in the manufacturing sector, Holinski and Burdette both see the disruption as a perfect time to implement change. Manufacturers have an opportunity to “regenerate” their cultures on a foundation of communication and empathy, Holinski said.
“This is not going to be the last time that we get hit with a shock like this,” he said “We will get through it and there will be others that come in behind it. As opposed to snapping back into place to what we knew before this event, we’ll be much better served to say ‘we’ll be ready for the next one, even readier than we were for this one because we’re going to have an adaptable culture.’”