What the heck does culture have to do with process? Interview with Grange Insurance's Amy Tomaszewski (Transcript)

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When most people think about processes, they don’t consider them to be a cultural problem. You might think about the technical details – what’s supposed to happen when, who is supposed to do what, etc. – but rarely about the cultural context in which they occur. However, according to Amy Tomaszewski AVP of Operational Excellence at Grange Insurance, culture is just as important – if not more – than the technical details of improving processes. Here’s why.

Editor’s note: This is a transcription of a video interview and has been edited for readability. To watch the original video, click here.

PEX Network: Why is organizational culture so important to operational excellence?

Amy Tomaszewski: That’s a fantastic question. Culture is very important at Grange Insurance – we have such a great culture - that we actually interview people and talk about whether they will fit into our nice culture.

Don't overlook the importance of people to processes

I think you could have the best consultant, the best group cost analysis, the best Black Belt program or Green Belt program. But if you’re not applying the principles to everyday work - which for us means embedded in our culture - then you’re going to fail. That’s why I think culture is the best way, you have to know your culture. Therefore you have to work within the business and not outside the business looking in.

PEX Network: What would you say are some of the key elements of a successful process improvement culture?

Amy Tomaszewski: The most important element is support from the top. Everybody says that. And that doesn’t mean just lip service - we don’t want that - but your top executives don’t need to know every single detail either. I think that support from the top is important, you need to know your audience, you need to know your business subject matter experts and you need to know a little bit about the business.

You might not need to have someone from the business accompany you on the journey, or the project but you need to have results, you need to know what kind of results you’re going to propose to the business, and then whether or not you can sustain those later with the business. I think those are the key elements to success.

PEX Network: In terms of what process professionals can do, what’s their responsibility in helping to engineer this shift to create that culture for continuous improvement?

Amy Tomaszewski: Yes, I think process professionals need to know the business and they need to keep looking outside in the industry to see what others are doing. If you’re truly doing this the right way you have no problem with someone coming in and looking at what you’re doing because you can’t duplicate someone else’s process. However, we can learn from each other.

I think that constantly learning what others are doing in the business is key. The other thing is to know your business. The culture knows if you’re faking it, so that’s why we feel the way we do about consultants; we love them, they bring information from outside. Once they’re in we’re like, okay, we’ve got it, you can go now, we want to do this on our own. You need the business expertise, you need to fit in with the culture. But you also need to keep bringing that outside learning into the business.

PEX Network: From your work at Grange Insurance what would you say is your biggest piece of learning about shifting that culture?

Amy Tomaszewski: My biggest learning was that no amount of education, no amount of enthusiasm from me (because I can get very enthusiastic and I want to teach everybody everything!) and no amount of learning is going to replace actually doing. It’s important to get in there, do it with the business, create visual management boards incorporating their everyday work with the KPIs they care about. Just getting in and working with the business is the key, because without that we’re just another educator, another training class, and they just want to get back to their everyday work.