It’s ALL about leadership

PEX Week, which takes place annually in the USA, is the world’s biggest event for process professionals. A standout for me, among the many presentations delivered this year, was one by Eric Pope, VP operations at US Synthetic.

In discussing the necessity to build a sustainable and powerful improvement culture, what emerged from Eric’s presentation is the critical role leaders play in informing, driving and inspiring an environment where change is embraced.

Process technologies, methodologies and systems don’t remedy problems, people do. People working within a process are often close enough to spot opportunities for improvement or innovation – but how well equipped are they to act on that insight? Are they even encouraged to do so at all?

It’s up to the leadership team to establish and nurture a culture where innovation is encouraged and supported – but that’s easier said than done.  

Leadership teams should consider how well process owners are empowered, and how well expectations of change are being set. Calculated risk-taking and tolerance (even encouragement) of failure should be endorsed.  The tone on the shop floor is a reflection of leadership. If it is one of fear or complacency, that is a reflection of the actions of leaders.

What Eric made clear is that culture doesn’t flow from decrees, rules or handbooks. Instead, it flows from the repeated behaviours of leaders, like this:

→ Leaders’ beliefs

→ Influence leaders’ behaviours

→ Which influence team members’ beliefs

→ And in turn, team members’ behaviours

→ Which drives team culture.

Great leaders aim to develop problem-solvers, rather than treating personnel as nothing more than a component within a process. When team members are encouraged to challenge, expose, innovate and think, rather than perform simple repetitive tasks, their real potential emerges. Making that happen is the responsibility of the leader.

Check out the difference in this video. Leadership will determine if you’ve created a culture where teams get stuck on an escalator… or take charge by using a little initiative.


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