By: Helen Horyza

About a month ago, Tom returned to work at a mid-sized engineering firm after a five-year period of retirement. He was bored and missed the challenges of work. He came back on a Tuesday and a management meeting was underway. He expected things to run the way they did when he left, however he was pleasantly surprised. Tom stepped into the boardroom and was warmly welcomed.

One of the new employees in fleet management was making a presentation. He was well prepared and articulate. The interaction between the stakeholders was intense. Finance stated their concerns, engineering design weighed in and materials management contributed. Something struck Tom as weird. They were working together. Engineering and operations were not undermining or competing with each other. In fact, they were offering innovative perspectives, giving up on their own ideas to get to the best solution. “What is in the water around here?” he wondered.

The last ten years Tom worked for the company, things were going downhill. The president and his senior staff led by intimidation. Executives withheld information from each other and competed for power. Trust was broken. Dedicated employees turned bitter and were just hanging around for the reasonably good retirement package. This malaise filtered through every level of the organization. Collaboration was limited, fear was rampant and production was hampered. The board of directors were weak and allowed the deterioration to continue.

Tom was confused by the dramatic shift. After the management meeting, Tom asked Jenny, one of the senior engineers, to step into an office for a quick conference. “What happened?” Tom asked. Then went on to say, “Management is working together across the program areas, communicating really well. It’s like you had some kind of awakening. I’m walking down the hallways and people are smiling, getting work done over the cubicle walls. This place is humming like a well-oiled machine.”

Jenny made an attempt to explain, “The first change came when Lou, (the former president) was asked to leave. The board confronted him with the declining revenues, the loss of several major customers and the out-of-control turnover. Lou made excuses, but for the first time the board showed some strength and helped Lou find the door. Then we brought in the Elevate, Inc. a consulting firm that specializes in employee engagement and leadership development. I was so sure this was another flavor-of-the-month rah, rah program. Jenny continued, “I’ve got to tell you, it has made a huge difference.”

Jenny went on, “The Elevate team delivered workshops that helped employees at every level communicate better, take responsibility and to operate from their personal and professional values. I’ve been through a lot of these kinds of programs and this one was dramatically better. The Elevations assessment they used was accurate, the models and materials were easy to apply to situations I run into all the time.

Then the Elevate team added one-on-one confidential coaching as part of the program. There was a lot of skepticism. Employees did not trust the coaches suspecting they would go to top management with damaging information, but that did not happen. In fact, we’ve kind of become fans of coaching, because it helps resolve conflicts, clarifies goals and offers a different perspective so we can be more effective as individuals and as an organization.”

Tom left work that first day back on the job with optimism and excitement. The company he had loved was on the right track.

A note from the author:  The story above is true. I’ve changed the names out of respect for this Sacramento based organization. It’s difficult to measure culture change. Employee surveys can be helpful but having an executive return after five years and ask “What’s in the water?” is an elegant way to measure success.

If you’d like to learn more about elevating your team’s performance contact:

Helen Horyza

President, Elevate Inc.