• Mike Whiteman

Mindsets and Behaviours that enable Excellence


The biggest differentiator of organisations that are Operationally Excellent is not processes or systems. It is the mindsets and behaviours of employees.

The invisible factor

To be “Operationally Excellent” an organisation needs more than sophisticated systems, efficient processes and well-defined management structures. Although these things are very important, they are merely the visible tip of a much larger iceberg.

More than anything else, Operational Excellence is in the mindset of people who lead, manage and deliver products or services to Customers. This mindset is underpinned by the skills and behaviours of people at all levels of the organisation. This is the invisible bulk of the iceberg and it is the most important factor in the long-term success and sustainability of any journey towards excellence.

Everyone has two jobs

Technology and customer expectations are evolving at an ever-faster rate. Organisations must adapt and develop to meet these changes, creating new products, services and ways to engage with their customers. Otherwise they will stagnate, fall behind more dynamic competitors or see their markets disappear altogether.

To address these challenges everyone in an Operationally Excellent organisation should believe they have two jobs: to meet the objectives of their role and to find new, better or innovative ways of delivering those objectives.

Employees at every level must have the skills, freedom and time to identify opportunities, generate and test new ideas and share their knowledge. They should be encouraged and rewarded for this, even if ultimately, they are not successful.

What are the Critical Behaviours?

To foster such a problem-solving mindset means encouraging behaviours that might not be naturally associated with delivering the product or service itself. These behaviours can be placed in four primary groups: Delivery behaviours; Interactive behaviours; Harmonious behaviours; and Analytical behaviours.

Delivery behaviours

  • Prioritise. Focus on things that have the greatest impact for customers. Do what is best overall, not for you personally. Be comfortable saying no.

  • Decisive. Make decision quickly. Draw on past experiences. Don’t put off making tough decisions.

  • Experimental. Try new ideas and concepts. Learn from failure, adapt and try again. Never be satisfied.

Interactive behaviours

  • Engaging. Explain complex problems and ideas in simple ways. Extract meaning from data. Tell stories and bring ideas to life.

  • Collaborate. Work with people outside your own team. Share ideas and solutions to problems. Take an end to end view.

  • Creative. Look for inspiration and stimulus. Seek input from others. Don’t be afraid to challenge the norm.

Harmonious behaviours

  • Facilitate. Help others through their problem-solving journey. Provide structure and signpost the way. Identify and remove blockers to success.

  • Encouraging. Provide constructive feedback. Coach and mentor others. Share knowledge and experience.

  • Motivate. Focus on the things that others find rewarding. Look for ways to make problem solving enjoyable. Celebrate efforts of others to adopt new ways of working.

Analytical behaviours

  • Inquisitive. Don’t accept things at face value. Put aside preconceptions. Seek out ideas and knowledge from new sources.

  • Factual. Go and see for yourself to understand what it really happening. Spend time with people who do the work. Talk to customers and suppliers to understand their concerns and frustrations.

  • Analytical. Look for patterns and themes. Use data to make decisions. Focus on the “critical few” and put aside the “trivial many”.

How should behaviour be influenced?

Managers and Senior Management (the “Managers of Managers”) play a significant role in enabling or disabling these critical behaviours. There are five questions every Manager should ask:

  • Does my team understand how they are expected to behave?

  • Does my team understand how the desired behaviours link to the organisations strategy?

  • Does my team have the skills and insights to behave in the desired way?

  • Does my team see role models (both from their peer group and from me) behaving in the desired way?

  • Does my team have the time, encouragement and support to be behave in the desired way?

Answering positively to each of these questions will greatly increase the likelihood that the desired behaviours will be embedded and sustained. Managers at all levels in the organisation should critically analyse the current situation, seek feedback and look for ways to enhance the support environment for their teams.

There are four ways that Managers can positively influence the desired behaviours:

Make Aims and Expectations clear

Managers should describe the organisations objectives and strategy to their teams in a compelling and engaging way. The need for everyone to behave in the desired way and the link between these behaviours and the organisations aims should be clear.

Managers should look for ways to describe changes they have made to their behaviours, to personalise their “change story” and bring it to life through their own words and experiences.

Provide time and support

Team members should be given time to build understanding and mastery of the desired behaviours. They should be given feedback and time to reflect, plan and practice working in different ways. Analytical tools which highlight their behavioural preferences may be a useful way for individuals to gain further insight.

When identifying potential future leaders or developing existing team, selection and reward should be based on observed behaviours, not just technical expertise in the job itself.

Role model the new way

People will naturally emulate the behaviours of their seniors and their peers. If they see (or don’t see) these individuals behaving in the desired way it sends a clear message about what is important and valued.

Consequently, Managers should apply the desired behaviours themselves and set aside time to do the things that they in turn expect their teams to do.

Provide environmental reinforcement

Managers should find ways to “make it easy” for their teams to adopt the desired behaviours. They should be encouraged and given time to experiment with the behaviours and observation of positive behaviours should be praised.

Team members should be encouraged to share their experiences and to support one another, particularly where individuals behavioural preferences complement each other.

Find out more ……

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