Culture Transformation Takes Off at Spirit AeroSystems, Inc.

Spirit AeroSystems, supplier to key jetliner programs at Boeing Co. and Airbus, is entering a period of growth with the entry of new CEO Tom Gentile, who saw the need to embark on a cultural shift that would move Spirit AeroSystems toward a more transparent, collaborative, and inspirational organization. In December 2016, Ferrazzi Greenlight spent the day engaging with Spirit AeroSystems’ Senior Leadership Council (SLC) to introduce practices that will help its people adapt to new leadership, support Mr. Gentile’s vision, and meet the growth potential the company aims to achieve.

The SLC already knew that for its change initiative to take root, it had to start at the top and be modeled and “lived” by leadership. As a result, this group has dedicated the next year and a half to this transformation, because they also realize that meaningful change takes time. In other words, they were a dream client. Once C-level leaders genuinely embrace new behavior that shifts how goals are set and work gets done, other key talent throughout the organization will have the psychological safety and inspiration to change their behavior. Over time, the change initiative by leadership becomes a movement that truly transforms the organization.

With a client so aligned with our change process, it was thrilling to introduce practices that could instantly turn buzzwords about change into actual behavior change. For example, we introduced Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) to support the SLC in identifying the specific practices — repeatable actions — they can take as leaders to live the values of transparency and accountability in their roles.

The SLC members were amazingly creative in defining practices they could begin using immediately to act their way into new thinking and live the values. The tangibility of these practices also made it easy for each member to invite their teams to begin living these practices, too. FG coaches followed the CPS with another high-return practice called Dial Up/Dial Down, which is designed to encourage transparency and mutual commitment to One Team. Using this behavior practice, members of a team make commitments to themselves and each other about which of their natural strengths they will employ more (Dial Up) to embody new core values on a daily basis, and which less helpful behavior they will Dial Down.

The FG team was thrilled by how quickly the SLC embraced the process and started living their vision. The group even took one additional step many organizations fail to recognize as crucial: They invited their HR business partners to learn the FG high-return practices so they could immediately begin to support the SLC in living their commitments and cascading the change down through the organization. That’s how committed they were to living the vision now.

To round out our inspiring day, the FG team toured Spirit AeroSystems’ impressive facilities in Wichita. Although Spirit is a relatively young company, having been founded in 2005, they are housed in a historic plant that originally built WWII bombers, including the B-29, and it now produces 42 Boeing 737s a month. It was a striking moment of the past meeting the present — and we were grateful to be part of a progressive change that will undoubtedly ensure Spirit AeroSystems’ place in aviation history.

The SLC members were amazingly creative in defining practices they could begin using immediately to act their way into new thinking and live the values.

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