Critical success factor #2. The right climate & culture

Making a difference by design…

Critical success factor …. #2. The right climate & culture

Following on from last week’s blog, what else is important to be successful in product development? The literature states that on a People and Environment level you need to have ‘the right climate and culture’.
But what is the right culture?

There’s a lot said about culture. There are some great useful views in this book: The New Rules of Management: How to Revolutionise Productivity, Innovation and Engagement by Implementing Projects That Matter by Peter Cook.

In all the observations and work I’ve done helping teams to improve their product development over the last 20 years, I believe that to do product development well you want to have a few things in place:

First of all, you want to have a team that’s keen to learn. After all it is NEW product development, which means we’re going to do something different. Which means learning.

To me, this comes straight from the top. If the owner / CEO / Senior Leader is keen to learn, it shows, and the rest of the team picks up on it. If you, as a leader, are keen to learn you’ll probably ask ‘why?’ a lot. You want to know how things work, why that is. You’ll probably want to see some proof; you’ll ask for testing. And you’ll be happy for some of those tests not to work. That’s a good thing, we found a boundary, that’s a learning. What happened? Your curiosity and line of questioning rubs off and gets the team to follow suit. Peter Cook, following company culture expert Michael Henderson (known as the Corporate Anthropologist), states you want to have a leader worth following – I reckon for NPD being a keen learner is one of the key ingredients that makes you worth following.

Another key ingredient in the culture is for the team to feel safe. Safe to test and try things. Safe to bring up challenging ideas. Safe to have a diverse line of thinking. Great ideas come from the creative ‘battle’ between diverse thinkers. If both parties respect each other and both parties are aiming to get to the same goal it will be a constructive wrangle which will better the company. A great book on team safety is Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth by Amy C. Edmondson.

Which is another reason why this quote is so true:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast – Peter Drucker.

Good luck trying to lead and get anything done if the team is feeling worried, stressed or scared. They won’t want to learn if they don’t feel safe. And it doesn’t matter how clever your strategy is, you won’t get far implementing it.

For the team to learn effectively you want them engaged (they really want to be there and do a good job) and aligned on the goal. Here’s where the innovation strategy (last week’s blog) comes in. When the team knows the goal the company is trying to reach they can rally behind it. If I can see how my new project helps to get the company to its goal, I’ll be more motivated to do a good job and get it there quickly. It’s creates focus and improves effectiveness of efforts. Which you’ll see back in increased performance.

We all want to deliver new products faster, better and more profitable. I am yet to meet a PD manager, PD technologist or company manager who doesn’t want to achieve that. Often though it feels like a battle. Stuck in quandary where both parties want the same thing, yet we can’t seem to get out of it. And the harder each party tries (more detailed forms, process, more detailed instructions), the more hopeless it seems to get.

To me it’s a bit like trying to calm a crying baby, or trying to teach my overexcited dog, or getting out of a fight with my teenager…. I’m a my wits end and somehow a third person can walk into the room and solve the situation in seconds – calm baby, perfectly listening dog, a sensible teenager…  It’s the magic an outsider can bring. It diffuses the situation and creates a new energy.

Two parties who both want to do well now suddenly have a new party to focus on. And if that party has a level of mutual respect, we’re all listening, calm and ready to work together.

I know how it feels. I’ve been there. I tried to improve product development several times early in my career and found I couldn’t create the change that was needed. It felt like threading water without making any progress.

I also learned that people listen differently to an outsider. I can say the same things you say, yet your team listens differently. How I’m being introduced as an ‘outside expert’ means people listen with a bit more interest. It shouldn’t make a difference, but it does. Of course it helps that nowadays my positioning, with over 20 years’ experience and lots of great client successes behind me says a lot too!

I use this model:

I think of it as 3 dials that need to be in tune: the company set up (which includes culture), the systems and the teams skills. Together we can get these dials in the right position for your organisation. (It’s a bit like the dials on a safe. Together we get them to ‘click’ in place and unlock a world of goodness.)

And it is quick. Over a few sessions and some 1-0-1 mentoring, I can get a team up a level and stay there. Which has NPD flowing faster, smoother and more profitable (30% more margin ok for you?).

But more importantly it has the happy ‘side effects’ of increased productivity (up by 12.5% after 3 months) and an aligned and engaged team.

And having an empowered team, that really helps the culture!

“Within 3 months of working with Saskia, our NPD team’s team spirit went from -50 up to 33.”  Justin Riley, CEO, Barkers of Geraldine

On a NPS scale from -100 to +100, that’s a huge improvement in engagement. The effect was company wide.

Which makes sense. Because when you think about it, a new product on its way from idea, through development and into the market, touches almost everyone’s desk – from management, to marketing, sales, production, development, quality, purchasing, distribution, even finance, legal and HR.
If you can align the (wider) team, NPD will flow.

And, that job is a lot easier to do as a happy ‘diffusing’ outsider (backed by lots of experience to pull into play).

Hence the saying: “If NPD flows, everyone is happy”.

It’s not a quick fix for culture, but it definitely helps to kickstart it in the right direction.

And it feels good to feel invested in. (Especially right now!)  Getting training and coaching in the latest thinking creates a lot of goodwill and engagement.

I’m more than happy to help and explain what I’ve learned works. No obligation, just a conversation where I can offer some value to you and your leadership and help you on your way to rock your NPD.

Go, take the next step! Read the books, or take the shortcut and book a time with me here.

Let’s design for the better!

Onwards & upwards,


Feel free to: 

(1) Set up a time to talk, give me a call, send an email or book a time with me here.  I’d love to have a conversation with you.

(2) Download my “Product Development Warriors’ whitepaper. Find it here!

(3) Sign up to my newsletter

(4) Connect with me on LinkedIn, you’ll also find me regularly posting there.

(5) Forward this post to a colleague.

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