What differentiates your company from your competitors? What will cause your team to pull together to solve complicated problems? What brings your people to work every day with a sense of purpose and a desire to compete? Answer: Your corporate culture.
For a business to be successful, it must have a competitive edge. In the book, All In, authors Gostick and Elton make their point that, if your company wants to compete, you must understand your culture. I’ll go further — if you want to be successful, you must not only understand your culture, you must be able to build culture willing to respond to change.
In 2003, APM Terminals President, Tony Scioscia assembled a team which I became part of to bring the safest and most efficient operations to the maritime ports industry. At that time, the culture both on the waterfront and at corporate headquarters was that we were in an inherently dangerous business and injuries and accidents were a cost of doing business. Our Lost Time Incident rate was above 22. By all industrial standards, this was horrible and costly to personnel and profits. Tony knew we had to change the culture.
As we began this effort, all levels of APM Terminals leadership came to an understanding that our culture would have to shift. Not accepting any equipment damage or even the slightest personnel injury became the new standard. We adopted the attitude that safety was operations done correctly. We began reviewing all our procedures and accepting nothing but the proper performance of those procedures. Accountability moved up on our priority list. We then began working closely with union leaders to gain their trust and establish a partnership with safety at the center.
Building and changing culture is not an easy task. It cannot be done on a whim, a top-down mandate, or overnight. It’s a many faceted journey for the whole team.
On the Battleship North Carolina, I demonstrate this to teams of leaders by starting in the pilot house and turning the ship’s steering wheel with just a simple movement of the wrist. If it were moving through the water, the battleship would be able to turn rapidly and steady up in a new direction. Then I take the group to the machinery equipment room in the other part of the ship above the rudder and show them what exactly happens mechanically when a course change is required by leadership in the pilot house. Thousands of pounds of hydraulic pressure builds up by electric motors and cylinders. Next, it is transferred to tons of steel ram equipment that turns the more than 50-ton rudders. All of this is out of sight of the officers located in the pilot house control space who are directing the change.
All businesses confront the same challenge — how do you execute seemingly simple changes which in actuality require so much effort? You do it with a solid corporate culture that commits to change, examines their present culture, plans on a new path, then prepares the team to adapt to change. This takes time, but is certainly worth the effort and the wait.
What does a corporate culture get you? By 2008, at APM Terminals, we had reduced our incident rate to nearly 1.0 and APM Terminals was regarded as having the best safety record among domestic port operators. But perhaps the most rewarding aspect was in a 2007 business presentation where I was asked to explain APM Terminals’ focus on safety as we discussed a potential deal with an Asian shipping company. When I stood up to make my presentation about safety, the customer’s team lead waved me off and announced to the room, “We already know what your safety culture is, that’s why we are here.”
Know your culture, be prepared to develop a competitive culture, don’t be adverse to change.
Ron works with emerging leaders, execs, entrepreneurs and managers who want to sharpen their leadership skills and inspire their teams to achieve a level of performance beyond their imagination. He does this by providing high-impact, energizing programs that give the participants an opportunity to learn and practice the guiding principles of leadership that are crucial to establishing a success-oriented environment. You already know a lot about leadership, Ron helps you to amp it up and put it all together so that you use your abilities in a disciplined fashion every day to achieve results! His course participants are unanimous in their feedback, "I wish I had attended earlier in my career." He has also brought his Leadership Excellence Course to the Battleship North Carolina, where participants learn in a most inspiring environment how to motivate people, the power of integrity, the reasons for good feedback and many other defining leadership principles that help leaders and teams get to the next level and achieve results. You can check out some other course opportunities at AcademyLeadership.com. Look in the Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte and Wilmington areas.
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