It’s Like Riding a Bike! Implementing Real, Meaningful Corporate Culture Change
By: Ethan Schutz
Wouldn’t it be great if we all just got along at work? Many of us feel that working with other people can be unnecessarily fraught at times. And, we would like it if everyone we worked with were fun, easy to get along with, flexible, creative, energetic, and positive. Building a work culture like this is very appealing.
And despite our best efforts to change corporate culture and improve the way we work together we are often frustrated. And cynical.
Because sometimes we don’t believe that things will really change.
And all too often we are right. However, it’s not because we don’t have good ideas about how we would like things to be. Rather, it’s because we often don’t put in enough effort to make things different.
Consider this: when you first learned to ride a bike, did you get on and simply start riding? Or, did somebody tell you how to ride a bike and then you were immediately able to do it? Probably not. In fact, telling you how to do it was probably the shortest part of the entire process. Most of the time, you probably spent more time trying, falling, and falling again and again. After a while, you got a little bit better at catching yourself when you fell over. Then, you got better and better at not falling in the first place even if you weren’t as smooth as you wanted to be. Finally, over time, you learned to ride smoothly and rarely fell down. Eventually, riding became second nature and you no longer thought about doing it. Maybe at that point you even learned how to do some fancy moves and tricks.
The point is that creating real change takes time and often takes a lot of falling down, getting back up, and doing it again. If we want to change our organization’s culture, we should expect the same thing. Learning what we want to do is a relatively short part of the process. The real work is in trying it, failing, and getting back up and trying it over and over again until it becomes second nature.
That means that if we are serious about changing our corporate culture, we have to be serious about investing the time and effort to make it real. Each and every person will need to make changes in their own behavior. That’s not easy because all of us have spent our whole lifetimes behaving one way. To expect that we will simply change our behavior overnight is unrealistic, just like making a New Year’s resolution. Training is a great start but is only a start. Remember that if it seems impossible, so did staying upright on your bike when you first started.
If all this seems daunting, consider the potential outcome of investing this time and effort. Organizational cultures that are working well outperform cultures are not working well by enormous amounts. In one instance, a computer company launched a new server 80% faster than the competition by investing the time to create an exceptional, innovative, and efficient culture along with investing the effort to create the product.