Picture a fast flowing, deep river winding through a steep bank in a forest. There are many twists and turns. The water is raging and churning, yet it stays within the confines of the river banks.
How do you get the water to flow where you want it to go?
Think about the behavioral dynamics of your organization during confusing and challenging times. Just like the water in our river, the actions and reactions are intense. They often seem chaotic.
How do you get culture to change in the direction you want?
If you put your hands into the water to try to manually redirect it, the river just flows around you and keeps following its course. You might scoop out a cupful, but that is the extent of your impact.
If you try to change individual behaviors in organizations, people will flow around you like water. You might achieve some small short-term success, but the system will end up where it was going anyway.
To affect the river’s direction, you must reshape the river banks. It is much harder to do. It takes engineering, tools, time, and effort. It takes commitment.
To affect an organizational culture, you must adjust the way that people relate to each other. Deep change comes from deeper work: creating shared purpose, vision and values that drive decisions and goals and reward systems. A connection to what you are trying to do that energizes hearts and minds, and activate hands to take supporting actions. Embedding the desired behaviors so deeply into rituals and routines that they are impossible to flow around.
Patiently reshape your river bank. Enjoy the sparkle of the river water in the sunlight as it flows by.