Civility as a Continuous Improvement Strategy

By Christian Masotti

An environment where people have to think brings with it wisdom, and this wisdom brings with it kaizen [continuous improvement]. – Teruyuki Minoura

Depending on personal experience, many manufacturing supervisors and managers might disagree with Mr. Minoura. However, after 20-plus years in the field, I have garnered some wisdom he suggests is gained because of having to use thinking skills, and I agree with him. 

Specifically, I have witnessed first-hand how thinking about how you treat people, and committing to civil, positive interactions, is an intervention strategy. You can change workplace culture via behaviour and mindset shifts, and the quickest way to do this is for leaders to exemplify the precise behaviours they expect of their teams.

In manufacturing environments, civility as a daily leadership practice offers relational skill-building as a preventive step that potentially offsets the need for:

• Wasting time and/or resources on people-oriented problems. This is because when individuals practice civility, much of the day-to-day issues resolve themselves. Examples of this are: behaviours that relate to sharing information, asking questions, taking personal responsibility, following basic rules, self-directing learning, etc.

• Engaging in generic, “flavour-of-the-month” training or training for the sake of training. Instead, at a fraction of the cost, organizations can teach four core skills that enable civil behaviour and concurrently address many other skill gaps. 

• Constantly having to manage interpersonal issues related to miscommunication and uncivil tone and approach to conversations. When employees and leaders respect themselves and each other, there are significantly fewer interpersonal and miscommunication issues to deal with.

• Planning training in topic areas such as those below because, when done well, civility training incorporates the four underpinning skills that support all these add-on topics. (please see Core Skills on page 7). This saves training dollars and reduces time off the floor.

  • Diversity
  • Teamwork
  • Conflict management
  • General communication
  • Change management
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Building trust
  • Working with various  generations
  • Collaboration

Requiring that your leadership team become competent in civility is a cost-effective way to build engagement and profitability. According to research by Weber Shadwick, companies that openly promote civil communication among employees earn 30 per cent more revenue than competitors. Once organizations understand that civility is a measurable competency that manifests in part through the expression of advanced soft skills, they tend to take it more seriously.

Taking relational skills seriously is a good thing, as research carried out by the Carnegie Institute of Technology shows that 85 per cent of your financial success is due to skills in “human engineering,” your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead. Shockingly, only 15 per cent is due to technical knowledge.

Dr. John Fleenor of the Center for Creative Leadership explains that creating culture at work starts at the top. The CEO’s soft skills make all the difference. To be successful, individuals must be good listeners, consensus builders, team players, and empathizers. Hence, to climb the corporate ladder quickly, it is essential for executives to possess more soft skills and fewer hard skills.

We can compare soft skills with emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) and hard skills with intelligence quotient (IQ). Succinctly, soft skills are twice as important as IQ or technical skills for the success of senior executives. Studies have shown that individuals with a high emotional quotient are highly appreciated in the workplace, and they tend to grow rapidly in the corporate chain.

Daniel Goleman, author of several books on relational intelligence, says that soft skills are a combination of competencies that contribute to a person’s ability to manage him or herself and relate to other people. These are the skills, abilities, and traits about the personality, attitude, and behaviour of a person. They are the human skills that make a huge difference to your professional success. They are needed for good leaders to become great leaders.

In contrast, hard skills are about your technical competence and domain expertise. Sometimes soft skills are equated with teamwork, while hard skills with execution. Supervisors and managers must proportionately blend their soft and hard skills with leadership to excel as successful leaders. However, as they gain more experience, they need more soft skills because they work less on their hard skills and more on interpersonal skills.

The benefits of individual leaders and employees building their civility competency in and of itself can change workplace culture, but the longer-lasting culture transformation happens when civility training is treated as one piece of an overall workplace civility initiative.

As a company-wide initiative, civility would become embedded in:

• Company values

• Company mission

• Policies, e.g., expanded respectful workplace, discipline, language at work, etc.

• Processes, e.g., recruiting, hiring, promoting, incentive

• Training plans, specifically civility training would be mandatory and one of the first topics addressed, second only to safety

• Practices, e.g., how people are coached, feedback, written communications, etc. 

Generally, in a civil workplace, employees are more likely to:

• Show consideration for each other

• Support their supervisors and managers

• Encourage positive interaction between union and management

• Seek solutions versus identifying problems

• Be responsible for themselves, e.g., not making excuses for not meeting general expectations such as being on time, dressing appropriately, following basic rules, etc.

However, when civility is a core value and becomes a part of the character of the company, civility becomes a game-changing continuous improvement strategy with measurable results.

Christian Masotti is the leading expert on civility in manufacturing and consultant with Civility Experts Inc. With decades of industry experience with some of the world’s largest manufacturers, he is a continuous learner who combines technical skills in continuous improvement with social intelligence and cultural competence. He is author of three books: Manufacturing Civility, Social Competence for Manufacturing Supervisors, and co-author of Lean on Civility: Strategies for Changing Culture in Manufacturing Workplaces.