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February 1, 2005

4 Min Read
When leadership matters: Creating good corporate culture

Creating and communicating a positive corporate culture is not cheerleading; it means good communication, good measurement, and positive reinforcement.

We hear a lot about company "culture" and how every company has a corporate culture, whether it''s good or bad and whether or not it''s been developed intentionally or unintentionally. Leadership is key in developing a culture that is creative, innovative, profitable, and quality- and customer-driven.

Duane E. Jebbett, president and CEO of Rowmark & Premier Materials Concepts (PMC), based in Findlay, OH, says that a productive culture "requires a special mix of people, strong reliance on each other, a clean, positive environment, and must ultimately be championed by the leadership." One of Jebbett''s axioms is "a fish stinks from the head down."

"If a business culture is to be a healthy, ongoing catalyst for success, a prerequisite is that key managers must first define expectations through a clear and well-communicated vision of what the company''s personality is to be."

However, an exclusively top-down management style can be destructive to a positive culture, Jebbett believes. Another of his axioms is "don''t drink your own bathwater." This provides a reality check for "anyone who thinks he or she is the only person upon whom the sun rises and sets," says Jebbett. "It is critical to remember that no individual makes up a successful organization. There are many leaders who have found themselves in the unemployment line because their egos would no longer fit through their office doors."

How it''s done

Additionally, every employee must be thoroughly involved in understanding, maintaining, and evolving a corporate identity that is of clear benefit to him or her. At PMC, cohesive corporate culture begins with a new-employee program that includes workshops, videos, one-on-one training, and other educational reinforcements.

That continues throughout the production plant. "We''ve strategically placed 42-inch plasma screens throughout our manufacturing facility so that cultural and strategic concepts, plus primary company metrics or customers'' issues, are visible to everyone on a real-time basis," Jebbett explains.

PMC also strives to dovetail company cultural initiatives with other team-based programs such as Process Flow Management (PFM), which is the company''s interpretation and implementation of lean manufacturing. "Our management creed of ''Plan-Do-Check-Act'' led to the creation of three critical teams: the scrap elimination team, the changeover team, and the inventory management team," explains Jebbett. These highly focused PFM efforts are based on culture precepts and are all guided by well-trained individuals who focus on lean office practices, equipment changeovers, color changes, and other efficiency improvements."

Jebbett believes that culturally based initiatives are more than just intangible "warm fuzzies," but must be measurable to be effective. To accomplish that, every two weeks a sales and operations team meeting is held with all managers, supervisors, and team leaders to report on the progress of their groups, their assignments, opportunities for improvement, and any obstacles that they face. A quality report it given through weekly Customer Opportunity Logs, where such things as daily fill rates and quality percentages are communicated.

"Most importantly," Jebbett adds, "we conclude the meeting with a very specific, detailed action-item list. Which leads to another cultural leadership axiom that we practice: High expectations equal high results."

More than hot air

The results of PMC''s efforts over the past 12 months are clearly measurable. The company has improved turnaround time on quotations by 72% and order entry by 48%. Turnaround time on rapid prototyping has been improved by 55%. Turnaround time on color matching has been improved by 65%. The company has reduced changeover time by 31%, reduced scrap by 7.8%, and improved delivery time by 33%.

Additionally, sales have increased 50% from a year earlier, and in spite of significant investments, PMC''s profits are up by 11%. "I cite these statistics not as a boast," says Jebbett, "but as living proof that cultural activities do pay off."

Jebbett notes that every leader needs to examine the cultural personality of his or her company and ask what can be done to improve it.

"Regardless of your specific challenges and opportunities, I believe you can achieve a positive, results-oriented and fun culture by adhering to one of our strategic objectives in an open learning environment where educated risks are encouraged, where the occasional failure is viewed as a positive learning experience, and where individual growth is expected," concludes Jebbett. "Any company can achieve this if it is truly committed to doing so."

Clare Goldsberry [email protected]

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