Thought Leadership

Connecting Through Culture: Spotlight on the COO

(Note: This is the first in a series of blogs highlighting individual functions in an organization and how their operations within workplace culture can either promote or hinder the achievement of desired outcomes. This blog showcases the insights of Karol Pelletier, who has served as Culture Partners Chief Operating Officer for several years and recently was named Chief Experience Officer.)

From overseeing and analyzing internal operations to implementing strategies, COOs have no shortage of challenges. Two of the most common pain points in the COO role? 1) the constant drive toward operational excellence, and 2) the need to continually ensure that teams are working in alignment toward goals. For example, every manufacturer would like to see zero safety incidents, but your workplace culture can create barriers and limitations. According to Karol Pelletier, COO at Culture Partners, those leading Operations can start unraveling problems by always keeping some critical questions top of mind:

  • What is the organization trying to achieve and why?
  • What are our desired results?
  • And, importantly, what processes and standard operating procedures (SOPs) are in place that could be hindering progress toward those results?

“Workplace culture can be hard to think about because everyone has a different definition,” says Karol. “But when you understand it’s how people think and act, you can begin to change the underlying experiences that are leading to your current results, which could be short of plan.” 

Essential to promoting that understanding is providing clarity about the systems and processes you’re asking people to use and follow. Knowing why one system should serve as the single source of truth (vs. siloed departmental systems) or why another is being implemented to better serve a specific function helps smooth acceptance and adoption.

“Any decision we make in Operations will naturally have an impact on how people are handling day-to-day tasks across many areas of the company, including IT, HR, Procurement, and Finance,” explains Karol. “That’s why our decisions must go through the filter of what the company has identified as the most important to deliver, then we can focus, align, and execute on our purpose and goals.”

A Starting Point for Change Management

In the quest to attain operational excellence, it would be logical to initiate change in Operations. But for quick-hitting results, it helps to begin where you have critical mass—HR. “HR systems touch everyone in the organization, so you can really dig into the which processes are causing friction and get to work on aligning your culture,” says Karol.

Because Operations typically has the largest headcount among the various functional areas, it makes sense for it to be next in line in your change effort. You’ll need to be sure there’s agreement among all stakeholders around where you’re going to focus and how you’re going to invest money to achieve the results in both the short- and long-term.

Sustaining Operational Excellence

Like any attempt to improve how Operations runs, it’s not a one-and-done proposition. Whether it’s changing business models, technology innovations, acquisitions, or other factors, there will always be new considerations that could impact workplace culture and your team’s ability to meet goals.

Knowing that, even if a process doesn’t need to be changed today, it should still be reviewed as to what’s working and what’s not. That assessment includes keeping an eye toward future needs for specific types of improvement, as well as potential changes required when you adjust and realign around a revised set of results.

In the meantime, be vigilant for signs that change is taking hold. Are people across the organization involved, engaged, and owning the change? That same degree of scrutiny extends to leadership. If leaders aren’t leading by example and always looking for ways to evolve and improve, how can the rest of the organization take ownership to identify, innovate, and move with pace to address what’s needed?

 And remember—communicate, communicate, communicate.

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