Cultivating Company Culture

July 1, 2001

Cultivating Company Culture

The key to improved job performance and satisfaction

By Richard Komarniski July 2001 When human factors training is facilitated in the maintenance department and supported by company management, there will be a culture change. This change will take place first as a behavioral one, then an attitude change will occur, which will affect the total culture of the maintenance department. However, these changes do not occur just because of a two- or three-day workshop. Management must be involved and support the training. They must support and endorse the changes that will take place in the work environment. The payback for everyone’s effort will be tremendous in that there will be better communication among employees and with management, fewer delays, less rework, and error reduction. Employees will experience improved job satisfaction and teamwork.

Great expectations
Job expectations begin with the basic premise that people want to do well. Whether or not people live up to those expectations has a lot to do with the corporate culture in which they operate. Trying to reduce human error in the maintenance department begins with a look inward at the corporate culture.
An experienced AMT working on a new model aircraft for two months made the error of setting off the fire bottle squibs when troubleshooting the fire detection relays. The company’s immediate reaction was to discipline the individual for creating this error and causing the aircraft to be delayed for two days until new fire bottles were installed. When this technician’s supervisor was questioned on this incident, the supervisor’s response was "He ignored everything we taught him. He didn’t do what we told him to do. He made an error that grounded the aircraft."

The supervisors’ statement is an example of trying to put the blame on individuals and absolving the corporate culture of any contribution to the incident. His comments reflect a corporate culture that illustrates a practice of "fixing the blame before fixing the problem." The causes of the task breakdown can be categorized as dysfunctional attitudes (both corporate and individual), skill deficiencies, inadequate knowledge levels and system design deficiencies.

Don’t train in vain
Attitudes can be changed and modified so that they become positive components to superior performance. Keep in mind that spending a large amount of time and money on training cannot fix bad attitudes by themselves. The environment at home or work must be conducive to behavioral change before results can be achieved.
Corporate culture deficiencies are an important ingredient in human performance breakdowns. Individual attitudes are an interaction between organizational, personal, and environmental factors. To minimize the frequency and occurrence of counterproductive attitudes in the maintenance department, it is essential to consider all of these factors. Recognizing the influence of the corporate culture and the individual attitudes as contributors in human performance breakdowns helps in assessing methods for fixing problems. When managers and leaders develop and nurture productive, positive attitudes, then safe, effective, and profitable performance is the result. Most current management and leadership gurus observe that attitudes and corporate cultures are a top-down phenomena. High quality leadership has immediate and profound impact on employee attitudes. Deficient or negative leadership cripples an organization in very short order.

Beware of apathy
Apathy on the part of upper management that views certain tasks, functions, or responsibilities as non-critical is easily seen and internalized by employees. People perceive that certain aspects of their work are not nearly as important, such as custodial or housekeeping tasks.
Corporate culture is quickly learned by observing the subtle messages management communicates that can detract from the importance of a job function. Lack of respect for organizational ethics spreads rapidly once it starts. What is and is not important is quickly picked up by the maintenance team members who then learn to ignore what is inconsequential to their organization. "It won’t matter" becomes pervasive, but eventually it will matter.

Careful with the rewards
There must be a structure for discipline and rewards. Sometimes, the top performers are assigned greater workloads because of their greater effectiveness and productivity. Giving high performers the tasks that have tight schedules and contain significant time pressures on them can serve as a penalty rather than a prize. Top performers are often asked to work more overtime or weekend or holiday schedules because of their high performance.
Upper management must provide a workable system that ensures positive reinforcement for all high performers and removes any rewards for low performers. Employees quickly pick up this corporate culture through observing management. Do they walk the talk? Are the company’s ethics based on good, solid values that are embraced by everyone?
Understanding why people make errors and putting in appropriate safety nets and making them part of the company values is essential and is how a positive corporate culture gets started and grows throughout the organization.