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Increasing productivity demands a work culture of on-going continuous improvement, in which every individual is engaged in problem solving and making incremental improvements. The accumulation of everyone's incremental improvements becomes as significant as major step-change, but is less costly and much less risky. Experience shows that up to 40% of every employee's time is lost, due to waste and non-value adding activities. Yet often, continuous improvement stalls because people say they are too busy and have not got the time. Being busy is exactly why you need to do continuous improvement. Management's first priority is to ensure a culture of continuous improvement and higher productivity. 

Improving Productivity through Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement increases productivity by increasing output, lowering input costs and improving customer satisfaction. Lead times, inventory, rejects, rework, waste, space required and labour content can all be reduced by eliminating and reducing activities that are of no value to the customer and by reducing process variation. 

Continuous improvement requires never-ending effort to challenge the status quo and fine-tune processes. It requires information and the use of continuous improvement tools and techniques to discover and eliminate the root cause of problems. It demands a culture and mindset which is always asking: 

Can we do it better? 

Can we do it cheaper? 

Can we do it easier? 

Can we do it faster? 

Can we make it fool proof? 

How else can we do it? 

Why is a Productive Culture so Important?

It can be hard to define culture, but we all know it when we see it. "Culture" describes the behaviours and operating norms of a community, the common perceptions held by its members and a system of shared meaning. Culture is learned from behavioural interaction and is shaped by people's experiences and associations. Culture is years in the making and is influenced by the history and tradition of an organisation, its beliefs, values, norms, standards and the behaviour of its people. Most importantly culture determines how a group of people will behave. 

An organisation's culture is directly linked to its productivity, business performance, employee satisfaction and how employees interact with customers and stakeholders. Most organisations have a dominant culture and numerous sub cultures (which combine the values of the dominant culture with the unique values of the sub group). Organisations need a culture that promotes productivity and cohesiveness and is aligned with the organisations strategy, goals, and objectives. In a healthy workplace culture there is consensus about what the organisation does and why it is doing it, with people working together for their mutual benefit. 

Your organisation already has a culture, but it may not be what is needed. To find out you should compare your existing culture with the cultural attributes needed to achieve your strategic objectives. If the culture is negative, dysfunctional or does not support the company's objectives it needs to be changed. However, shifting a culture is a major undertaking. Some aspects are difficult to alter whereas others, such as behaviours and rhetoric, are more easily influenced. Culture cannot be ‘imposed' but it can be guided and shaped. Identify the aspects of your current culture that are good and should be carried forward and built upon. Also identify what needs to be eliminated or added. The cultural changes decided on must be carefully planned and their implementation supported by continuous effort and leadership, from the top and all levels in the organisation. 

How can you Build a Productive Work Culture?

Everyone needs a purpose and a compelling reason to come to work every day and strive toward the organisations goals. Leaders are responsible for providing this purpose and rationale and for creating an environment and culture for success. Leaders establish the direction and path, align people, motivate, inspire and produce change. 

How leaders behave, at all levels in an organisation, determines how its employees will behave. Employees watch management all the time, and management's behaviour and actual actions have much greater impact than what is written or said. Leaders demonstrate this through their values, actions, approaches, systems, measures and rewards. These need to be consistent, since they guide the behaviours and decisions of employees. What leaders reward, ignore, and punish sends strong messages about organisational values and influences culture. As do the people that leaders hire, retain, and promote. 

The emotional intelligence and self-awareness of leader's, to understand how they affect employee behaviour, is essential. Emotional intelligence endows leaders with the abilities to recruit capable people, be empathetic, coach, performance manage, develop employees, utilise talent, leverage diversity and develop job satisfaction. 

23 Actions that Build a Productive Work Culture
Practice good leadership at all levels
  • Create trust and respect
  • Be committed and persistence
  • Be patient and understanding
  • Be consistent
  • Allocate resources fairly & where needed
  • Explain the goals and reasons
Lead by example, by "walking your talk"
  • Role model desired behaviours
  • Coach, mentor and teach
Determine appropriate criteria for rewards, praise, and status
Select good people and supporters
  • Put individuals in the right roles
Practice open 2-way communication
  • Keep "doors always open"
Manage by walking around
  • Say hello to employees and be friendly
  • Get to know your employees
  • Use stories, rites, ceremonies, rituals, myths, legends, symbols, vocabulary, and gestures to communicate key messages
Develop and communicate values, behavioural expectations and norms
  • Continually promote and reinforce corporate values, vision, goals, objectives, strategic direction, critical success factors, values and behaviours
  • Deliver common and consistent messages and behaviours at all levels
Focus on the quality of relationships
  • Be respectful to people
Ensure the physical and emotional safety and well-being of employees
Ensure a good design and layout of the physical work environment
  • Provide fair and reasonable pay and conditions
  • Enable employees to have a say and to be heard
  • Listen to ideas and concerns and take appropriate action
Have fun
  • Let employees enjoy the rewards of their hard work
Foster openness to change
  • Help people to understand all the ways the change will be good for the organisation and also for them
Promote collaboration and cross-functional problem solving
Provide stability and consistency
  • Align organisation structure, systems, and procedures to your goals
  • Promote a culture of discipline
Promote creativity, innovation & learning
  • Encourage curiosity
  • Encourage networking and idea sharing
  • Display risk-tolerance and allowance for mistakes
  • Train people in creative thinking and problem solving tools
  • Recognise and reward creativity
  • Within boundaries remove obstacles and encourage rule breaking
Create personal responsibility for results
Provide employees with feedback
Create a sense of identity, ownership and pride of work
Provide development opportunities
  • Develop new skills and knowledge
Provide career opportunities
Provide challenges and challenging opportunities
Impose real-time consequences that matter
Be connected to your community
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