Alan Ichikawa
December 12, 2018

Don’t Work on Culture!

Alan Ichikawa has written an article on his interpretation of the Global State of Operational Excellence Survey Report - Critical Challenges & Future Trends - 2018/2019.  Click here to download the full Survey Report 2018/19.  


The Most Comprehensive Study of Critical Challenges and Future Trends within Operational Excellence

With nearly 1000 respondents, 37 insightful questions, detailed analysis & insights from 40 industry thought leaders, and the BTOES Insights executive team, this 130 page report is recognised as the most comprehensive study of critical challenges and future trends within Operational Excellence, and is considered a key resource for the industry. Areas covered include:

  • The Critical Operational Excellence Challenges faced by executives.

  • The Current Scope of Operational Excellence.

  • How is Operational Excellence success measured?

  • Key Findings & Roadblocks.

  • What are executives focusing on over the next 12-18 months?

  • What have been the greatest developments?

  • What are the key drivers pushing change in Operational Excellence?

  • Industry Perspectives.

  • Small, Medium & Large Corporation Perspectives.

  • Detail Analysis & Insights from BTOES Insights Executive Team.

  • Detailed Analysis & Insights from 40 Industry Thought Leaders.

  • Analysis of key themes, including Cultural Transformation, Customer Delight, Sustaining an Operational Excellence program, Need for end-to-end Business Transformation, Keeping up with new technologies/impact of digitalization and Leadership Buy-in & Understanding.


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Don’t Work on Culture!

Changing and improving company culture was identified by fifty-three percent of BTOES survey responders as the most critical Operational Excellence-focused challenge affecting their jobs. Clearly organizations need to improve culture to achieve operational excellence. However, if organizations want to improve operational excellence, they should not make culture their primary emphasis. Click here to read the full Survey Report 2018/19.    

Google searches shows three, four, five, nine, ten, twenty-seven, and even thirty-five ways to improve organizational culture. Some ideas are sound and successful implementation would lead to a more satisfied workforce, however implementing most of these ideas will not necessarily change culture in a way that guarantees operational excellence. Click here to read more Articles on The Global State of Operational Excellence: Critical Challenges & Future Trends - Research Report 2018/19.




If an organization focused on only one of these challenges, which one would help it the most to achieve operational excellence?

Eight critical Operational Excellence-focused challenges were identified by twenty percent of survey responders. If an organization focused on only one of these challenges, which one would help it the most to achieve operational excellence? To answer this question, I developed an interrelationship digraph by drawing boxes for each of the eight challenges. I performed pair-wise comparisons by asking “would working on one challenge likely help make progress against the other challenge”, or is it the other way around. For example, I felt that if an organization focused on “Driving an end-to-end Business Transformation Program,” it likely would result in “Changing & Improving the Company Culture.” I felt that this was more probable than believing that working on culture would help drive a business transformation program, therefore I drew an arrow from the business transformation box to the culture box.


Research Report: Don’t Work on Culture!


The interrelationship digraph has only one arrow feeding “Driving an end-to-end Business Transformation” and six arrows leaving it, indicating that focusing on this one issue would have a positive impact on six of the eight top operational excellence-focused challenges, including culture, sustaining operational excellence, and maintaining key priorities. “Changing and Improving the Company Culture” had only one arrow leaving it, suggesting that culture would not be the most effective area to focus on.




Well-respected and established performance excellence framework


“Driving an end-to-end Business Transformation” may be the best single challenge to help organizations achieve operational excellence, since working on it would likely help address most of the critical operational excellence focused challenges faced by survey responders. However, another area to consider is improving the customer experience. I appreciate the BTOES assessment pointing us toward delighting the customer, and I strongly believe that enterprise-wide customer focus could help good organizations improve performance.

Research Report: Don’t Work on Culture!

Rather than focusing on culture, end-to-end transformation, or customer experience, I believe that progressing toward a well-respected and established performance excellence framework may be the single best way for organizations to achieve the next level. This focus would likely cause organizations to make positive progress on all fourteen of the most critical Operational Excellence-focused challenges identified by survey responders.




The Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework


Those in the United States should evaluate themselves against the Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework. The comparable framework for Europeans would be EFQM (European Foundation for Quality Management). Other geographic areas would benefit greatly by applying either the Baldrige or EFQM framework to their organization, and some may find comparable country or area programs.

Since the Baldrige and EFQM framework are similar, I will use the Baldrige framework to simplify my writing. Here are two excerpts from the Baldrige web page, baldrige-works:


“Organizations everywhere are looking for ways to effectively and efficiently meet their missions and achieve their visions. Baldrige provides a framework to improve your organization's performance and get sustainable results. Whether your organization is— large or small, service or manufacturing, education or health care, government or nonprofit, has one site or worldwide locations, Baldrige can work for you. “

“Baldrige helps organizations address a dynamic environment, focus on strategy-driven performance, achieve customer and workforce engagement, and improve governance and ethics, societal responsibilities, competitiveness, and long-term organizational sustainability. It offers you a comprehensive management approach that focuses on results in all areas, organizational and personal learning, and knowledge sharing.”




Evaluate processes in key areas


When organizations evaluate their performance against this performance excellence framework, they evaluate their results’ levels and trends as well as how they are performing against relevant comparatives.

They evaluate how systematic and sustainable their processes are in key areas including:

1) How do senior leaders lead the organization?

2) How do you develop and implement your strategy?

3) How do you obtain information from your customer and how do you engage them by serving

their needs and building relationships?

4) How do you select, gather, analyze, manage and improve your data, information, and

knowledge assets?

5) How do you build an effective and supportive work environment?

6) How do you engage your workforce to achieve a high-performance work environment?

7) How do you design, manage, and improve your key products and work processes?

8) How do you ensure effective management of your operations?


Research Report: Don’t Work on Culture!


Pursuing excellence by using overall performance excellence frameworks helps organizations focus on operational excellence at the highest level. Organizations define their key processes for accomplishing work. They then ask how well deployed their processes are throughout their organization, how regularly they evaluate and improve their processes, and how aligned and integrated their processes are with their current and future organizational needs.

As organizations evaluate themselves against the performance excellence framework, they identify and address their key opportunities for improvement and become more excellent.




Assess your organization against the Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework or comparable models.

In summary, all organizations need cultures that support operational excellence, however I don’t believe that many will reach excellence by simply focusing on changing culture. Some organizations already have great plans for improving organizational excellence and should continue to move forward, while others may need to concentrate more on driving an end-to-end business transformation. Some organizations may become better by focusing on becoming more customer centric.

If you want to work on the one thing that may help the most to improve organizational and operational excellence, I encourage you to assess your organization against the Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework or comparable models. I have seen many organizations use this approach to move from good to great to excellent, and I encourage you and your organization to join them.

Want to learn more? Download the full Report.
Research Report: Don’t Work on Culture!


About the Author

Alan Ichikawa: Research Report: Don’t Work on Culture!Alan Ichikawa
Organizational Effectiveness Consultant

Alan is an Organizational Effectiveness Consultant and a Lean/Six Sigma Master Black Belt. He has served as a Change Leader, a Learning Leader, and a Program Manager for a Fortune 100 company. In those roles, he has seen and implemented numerous approaches to improve organizational excellence. 

He also has held leadership roles in the California and Michigan quality programs, and has led numerous examiner teams for the U.S. Baldrige National Quality Award. Check out his LinkedIn page.


The issues in this article are just one of topic areas that are going to be discussed at the Business Transformation & Operational Excellence World Summit & Industry (BTOES19). March 18-22, 2019, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort®

BTOES is the industry’s biggest and best, senior-level, cross-industry gathering of Business Transformation & Operational Excellence industry leaders and senior executives.

It also hosts the Business Transformation & Operational Excellence Awards, which showcase globally the most outstanding organizational achievements through the application of Operational Excellence programs.

The summits hosts a number of private forums for C-Level & Global corporate-level leaders as well as business unit heads.

With over 150 speakers, over 100 sessions, 12 Keynotes, 9 Track Themes, 5 parallel tracks, 60+ track sessions, 50 roundtable discussions, 20 Interactive Workshops, 6 Thought Leader Panels, 5 Leaders Boardrooms, 5 co-located events, the Industry Awards Program, Site Visits, 20+ hours of social networking including 2 gala cocktail parties, dinners, numerous group activities, this is the ultimate event to benchmark, network and drive Operational Excellence to the next level.


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There is a strong focus on Cultural Transformation, Customer Delight, Sustaining an Operational Excellence program, Need for end-to-end Business Transformation, Keeping up with new technologies/impact of digitalization and Leadership Buy-in & Understanding. We dedicated two tracks to advanced technologies, such as AI, Machine Learning, RPA, Predictive Analytics, Blockchain, Cloud infrastructure etc.


The agenda is designed to encourage active meaningful conversations though all day enhanced networking and interaction opportunities, including

  • All-day Refreshment & Themed Breaks

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  • 1½ Hour Hot Plated Networking Lunches with Topic & Industry Sector focussed tables

  • 1½ Hour Roundtable Sessions by Topic & Industry Sector.

  • Keynote & Themes Panel Sessions

  • Hosted Welcome Receptions from 5.30pm

  • Expanded more lavish Awards Program

  • Newly launched Night Summit for attendees to meet after dinner

For more information or to discuss the summit in more detail please schedule a call below,

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