1) Producing NOW Business Results and an Inspired Culture

The Problem

After a merger, the new Division CEO & General Manager was responsible for the integration of two cultures and for overseeing the transition of joining a non-profit organization with a for-profit business with 900 employees and about $1 billion in revenue. He also had to produce unprecedented business results—which could only be achieved by guiding the integrated organization through a cultural transformation.

This is a great story. Read it through to the end. The division partnered with Company to achieve the following outcomes based on Six Strategic Business Goals:

1. Increase operating profits to $14 million.

  • The actual was an increase of $54 million.

2. Reduce operating costs from 18% to 7%.

  • The actual was an increase of 10.5% (saving $12 million).

3. Increase service quality rating to 96 (out of 100) by year end.

  • The result was 97.

4. Increase workplace quality rating to 60 (out of 100) on a national Great Place to Work survey, compared to 50 previously.

  • The accrual is 70 (with 77% participation, up from 33%).

5. Become leaders in the local community by launching a successful Industry Forum.

  • The result was a launch of a successful Health Care Forum attended by 300 community members that is now ongoing.

6. Create visible processes for project management and workflow prioritization.

  • The result was a project management “toolbox” built within five months—seven months ahead of schedule.

The process transformed the organization in the following dimensions, consistent with the company’s commitment to establishing a culture that was “fast, focused, flexible, and fun”:

  • From insulated silos to collaborative, cross-functional, employee-driven teams
  • From an activity/process focus to a results/accountability focus
  • From business as usual to innovative approaches implemented with inspiration and passion
  • From risk aversion to thinking outside the box, with a willingness to “fail fast”
  • From a lack of direction to clear organizational and departmental vision/direction/goals

This change initiative drew attention to the gaps and inconsistencies in the organizational infrastructure—including systems and processes—which enabled them to be more quickly integrated and regionalized. The initiative also identified the frontline leaders in the workforce, most of whom were promoted to managers. It made working for the organization less desirable for people who were unproductive, and many left voluntarily. A year later the company was chosen as one of the Top 10 “Best Companies to Work For” by a prominent business magazine. The cultural changes also spread to other divisions of the company.

The Process

The engagement began with a cultural assessment. That was followed by a series of NOW Project workshop-laboratory sessions and the formation of cross-functional NOW teams that received regular coaching.

The Assessment

Company conducted a “Readiness for Change Assessment” to gauge the organizational culture and its readiness for change, including the barriers and catalysts for change. The assessment identified the following barriers:

  • A hierarchical structure with isolated functions
  • A polite culture, where people were afraid to hold each other accountable
  • A “fire-fighting” mentality, where quick fixes produced unintended consequences elsewhere in the organization
  • A poor sense of work prioritization
  • Inadequate communication processes, resulting in an “insufficiently informed” workforce
  • A pattern of unfinished initiatives and projects, with no official closure
  • A culture characterized by “activity” rather than coordinated action, by process rather than results
  • An “internal focus” in which the “customer experience” was not always considered and customer service was inconsistent
  • Low morale among associates

The assessment also identified the following catalysts:

  • Senior leadership was committed to—and had begun to lead—the change initiative.
  • Managers and associates, though apprehensive, were open and ready for change.
  • There was participation in the change initiative by employees at every level of the organization.
  • There was a business imperative for change, with specific, measurable, organizational goals driving the initiative.

NOW Projects

Company, in partnership with the organization’s management team, conducted the NOW Projects process to achieve aggressive, strategic business goals while transforming the culture to one that was consistent with the for-profit company. They formed cross-functional NOW teams to address each of the six strategic business goals, providing clear, shared direction and focus. The initiative entailed an integrated process of interviews, meetings, and workshops facilitated by consultants for efficiency and effectiveness, and coaching of teams and individuals. An Oversight Team of consultants and managers provided guidance.

The NOW Projects process included:

  • Gaining clarity on the organization’s goals, as well as its mission, strategies, and success factors. This was achieved through extensive one-on-one discussions with the VP.
  • Reframing the purpose of each NOW team to assure high impact and extraordinary results. For example, the team charged with improving community relations redefined its goal to “becoming a leader in the local health care community.” The idea was to accomplish goals that people would talk about for years to come.
  • Creating a communication team—the “Ignition Team”—to ignite a quick, timely flow of information about the NOW initiative throughout the organization. Teams addressed frontline workers through existing All-Associate meetings. They “shook things up” in meetings, making them festive occasions that employees didn’t want to miss. NOW teams put on outrageous skits, on one occasion dressing the VP in prison garb to convey the need to break the rules and work creatively.
  • Using “rapid prototyping” to obtain quick input from various constituencies. Teams applied the technique to everything from new work processes to an invitation to the Health Care Forum, which the Community Relations team distributed as a “straw.” The process prompted participants to “think out loud” and work iteratively and collaboratively.
  • Coaching NOW teams to address both the “tangibles”—systems, structures, metrics—and the “intangibles”—passion, creativity, design. The Service Quality team, for instance, brought about critical changes in quality measures and audits while producing fun events to focus attention on quality goals.
  • Celebrating successes—large and small. Rather than waiting for the final achievement of a goal, teams celebrated the completion of phases and the attainment of milestones. This provided acknowledgement and accelerated team-building. Celebrations were as simple as free coffee and doughnuts and as elaborate as a marching band parading through the building to mark the attainment of a profitability target.
  • Designing project handoffs and turnovers. To avoid a collapse or loss of momentum, the consultants planned their exit after establishing appropriate support structures for the teams. They orchestrated hand-offs to the managers who would take over as coaches, after receiving coaching training from consultants.
  • Ongoing meetings by the Oversight Team to assure the achievement of results.

The Results

In addition to achieving the quantitative outcomes already mentioned, NOW Projects had a profound, qualitative impact on the organizational culture, improving associates’ collective ability to think and act “outside the box.” Creative, exuberant associates produced inspired results. NOW Projects broke down artificial walls and ceilings in the organization, stimulated rapid prototyping and fast feedback, increased goal awareness, and allowed natural leaders to emerge from the frontlines of the workforce. Visitors often commented on the new “look and feel” of the work environment. This included visual displays, such as colorful team exhibits along the “Wall of NOW” or the video monitor showing the uproarious All-Associate meetings. There was also the noisy enthusiasm in the Call Center, the “theme lunches” in the cafeteria with employees in costume, and the frequent team celebrations of large and small successes. Here are some quotes:

_“I never expected there would be such a cultural revolution in just 6 months. I’m really glad I didn’t leave.”_

_“The NOW methodology has affected everything we do and how we think. The very first thing I think about in approaching my work is how to make it NOW”_

_“It’s actually fun coming to work now. This would not have happened without NOW teams.”_

_“It’s never an ordinary week at work. One day a high school marching band is parading through the customer service center to celebrate a profitable year; another day a small plane is circling the parking lot with a banner congratulating us for hitting a quality goal!”_

_“I often request a video of the All-Associates Meeting so I can entertain my family with the outrageous skits of the NOW teams and they can see for themselves what a fun place it is where their Mom works.”_

_“As a customer I had problems for years with the customer service reps but that’s gone. I can tell it’s a different company now.”_


As a result of using NOW Projects to meet strategic business goals, associates have learned to embrace accountability, to operate from a team mindset, to express their passion in their work, to dazzle their customers, and to enable their organization to earn a significant profit. NOW Projects have helped create a fast, focused, flexible, fun culture, consistent with the vision of the for-profit company. Customers have been the ultimate beneficiaries of the NOW initiative and have consistently communicated that to the company. Organizational change pursued for its own sake isn’t likely to have this kind of dramatic impact on business performance. Achieving such demanding goals isn’t likely to happen through business-as-usual performance, inadequate infrastructure, and a risk-averse, process-oriented culture. It is the focus of organizational change on business goals that is required to realize breakthrough performance and bring about a lasting cultural transformation.

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