Leveraging culture to drive high performance
Today, with the rise in prominence of technology companies and their laissez-faire attitude towards office comportment, culture is at risk of being mistaken for visible, but superficial workplace artefacts, such as snacks, loud music, table tennis tables and casual workwear. In actual fact, a workplace culture is no less than ‘the way things are done around here’ and is regarded as one of the most important topics for business leaders, requiring CEO-level commitment.
As the glue that holds an organisation together, culture fit is critical for hiring and retaining the best employees[i]. It is also what enables a team, united by shared attitudes and behaviours, to deliver a positive experience to customers. Consider these numbers:
- An effective culture has been shown to account for up to half of the differential in performance between organisations in the same business[ii];
- Four in five (82%) business leaders believe that culture is a potential competitive advantage[iii];
Crucially, for businesses with an extended team seeking high performance in the market they must look not just inwardly but must also consider the ‘cultural fit’ of their trusted external partners as well.
More than words on a page
Underpinning any culture is a set of values. There doesn’t need to be many of them, but they must be strongly held to have an impact. That is to say, people will hold one another accountable when their behaviour is out of line with the values.
For many companies, however, values are simply words on a page. Enron, which went bankrupt from fraud and whose leaders went to jail, had the following values displayed in their lobby: Integrity, Communication, Respect Excellence[iv]. The words mean little. How tightly held they are means a lot.
You can tell which values are tightly held by what behaviour gets rewarded and what gets disciplined. For example:
- “Most employees stay at the office until 8pm.”
- “Most employees print in black and white and double-sided.”
- “Most employees take the stairs when moving between adjacent levels.”
- “Most employees don’t eat at their desks.”
Lessons from Toyota
One extraordinary example of the potential of culture is the General Motors-Toyota Joint Venture at the New United Motors Manufacturing Incorporated (NUMMI) plant in Fremont, California. This facility was originally one of the worst-performing plants in GM. Daily absenteeism reached 18 percent[v]. Workers engaged in illegal behaviour onsite[vi]. Some would even sabotage vehicles, planting loose bolts inside the door panels[vii]. With workers protected by the union, GM closed the facility in 1982.
In a surprising move, the plant reopened the following year in a joint venture between GM and Toyota. More than 85 per cent of the original labour force was rehired, still represented by the union. Despite the odds, under the tutelage of Toyota, the joint venture experienced a staggering turnaround. By 1987, absenteeism had plummeted to 2 percent[viii] and the average time to produce a car was reduced from 41 hours to 21 hours[ix].
Core to the remarkable business improvement was the transformation in workplace culture[x]. Toyota instilled in workers a sense of belonging, respect and the satisfaction of ongoing improvement. It was in stark contrast to the adversarial culture at GM.
Workers’ changed attitudes towards a thin nylon rope that hung above the assembly line was emblematic of the broader cultural change. At GM, workers were prohibited from touching the cord, which when pulled, would bring the line to a halt. Faulty cars were instead pushed downstream to be repaired at high cost later. At Toyota and at NUMMI, it was different. Not only could workers stop the line if they noticed a defect, they had the obligation to stop it.
Culture to support business strategy
Every business has an overarching objective and a strategy that outlines the activities across the breadth of the business that are required to achieve it. At Toyota and NUMMI, their objective is to efficiently and quickly produce vehicles that fully satisfy customer requirements[xi]. They achieve this by ensuring that every action by every team member adds value to the production process and increases productivity[xii].
Similarly, at efm, our objective is to deliver our customers an unmatched logistics experience. This promise is underpinned by our values that guide our every action:
Every day’s a game day
We turn up every day on time, present, focused and invested. We step up for every challenge and work smart, with purpose. We find a way to get the right outcomes, and when we succeed, we celebrate the wins together.
Together we make a difference
We treat each other fairly and with respect. We ask questions and help each other, always challenging one another to do better every day. We’re a team in every sense of the word, and we work together to share the load and have each other’s back.
Near enough isn’t good enough
We don’t cut corners. We pour 100% of our energy into everything we do and deliver what we promise. If we make a mistake, we own it, and we learn from it. We communicate effectively and we’re always on the front foot to find the best solutions for our customers.
Relationships that last
We are genuine, reliable and dependable. Our relationships with one another, with customers and with carriers are win/win and built on trust and respect. We connect with all levels and go the extra mile, earning our seat at the table.
Values deliver an unmatched logistics experience
Unlike Enron, our values are much more than words on a page. With our team members across the business, we collaboratively and purposefully defined our values with example behaviours to drive alignment between the two.
We live and breathe these values every day. We hire for them and reward and reinforce employee performance that exemplifies them, whether it be in ‘shout-outs’ in our team newsletter, our employee awards program, performance reviews or informal feedback. We verify that customers are experiencing our values through an annual customer engagement survey and frequent pulse checks. And we are touched every month when our customers provide us with positive written feedback thanking us for going above and beyond, citing our actions that exemplify our values.
Unmatched logistics experience
Often all four of our values come together in a demonstration of our commitment to delivering an unmatched logistics experience. For example, when fires raged across southern New South Wales in the week before Christmas 2019, a long-standing automotive customer faced a logistical nightmare. With more than half a dozen fire trucks off the road for servicing, they needed to get parts from Melbourne to Nowra, fast.
Normally getting the right parts to the right place would mean flying them out for next-day delivery but the smoke haze engulfing much of the state made that impossible. Instead we had employees across multiple teams micromanaging freight from 5am every day as it was trucked into Sydney and then delivered to the regions. Without our long-standing carrier relationships, rapid internal and external coordination and desire to go above and beyond, the challenge would have been impossible.
A guiding light to excellence
Culture guides discretionary behaviour. In a fast-moving environment, whether it be the assembly line of an auto factory or the office of a fourth party logistics provider, employees take hundreds of actions every day, and faults or exceptions arise for which responses are not detailed in any handbook. They require the intuitive response of team members guided by ingrained cultural values and a commitment to a shared purpose.
Our response to the scenario above is typical of the values-led experience customers expect from us. Whether it be helping to unload freight for a retail customer in-store during the busiest time of year or hand-writing consignment notes when a customer’s IT system is down, it is in our DNA to go the extra mile to deliver an unmatched logistics experience.
If your business objective is to stand apart from the competition as the very best, when choosing strategic players - whether that be employees or external partners - it’s imperative to assess their cultural fit and determine whether their ‘ways of doing things’ will help or hinder your pursuit of excellence.
To find out how efm’s culture of relentless commitment to quality can help your business, contact us.
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