I get alot of skepticism in the work I do. People often ask me how my work is any different from the big OD firms, from the McKinsey's, and whether I really believe that culture can be changed.
There are so many things I feel and think when I get this question. The biggest thought that flashes through my mind is, 'my goodness, what are these other consulting firms doing wrong?' (joking!)
But let's go with the flip side, 'what am I doing right?'
It starts with the belief that culture is contagious. It is the easiest thing in the world to catch and the simplest to change. There are no excuses for a rotten culture.
Think of it like this. I'll use the analogy of taking a trip to a foreign country. Say for instance, you're going to France and Italy; you'll be there for three weeks. You've read up on all the places you'll be visiting, and even know a few phrases in the native tongue to get you by. You start your trip in the French countryside, greeted every morning with fresh baguettes coming into the house, still warm. On the fourth day of your trip, you start to notice that you use your hands more expressively. You laugh at yourself and your partner laughs too! By the time you get to Italy, you're saying, "mangia!!!," with both your hands flying in the air as if they were the ones doing the talking. How did this happen?
Culture is contagious. In any single moment, we can catch it. When we choose to willingly put ourselves in a place we want to be, and we open ourselves up to the experience, we're likely going to catch something, something really good. It could be a new way of seeing and being, a new approach or attitude, a new skill. If we're open to possibilities and patient with the process, 'catching a culture' can be an exhilarating experience.
But there's a catch to catching a culture. Like any contagion, there needs to be a consistent vehicle.
That vehicle is called 'climate.' Climate is the weather, the temperature around the table. It's our attitude, our thoughts, and our behaviors. It can be that big wind blowing on the other side of the conference room or the hot air coming from our colleague to the left.
This is climate. It is everything we do and everything we don't do. Each one of us. Everyday. Shift these, the attitudes, the behaviors, the expectations, and we shift our climate. Do this consistently, and we shift our culture.
So back to the question posed at the beginning: what is different about my work and why does it seem to be so successful?
I work with the climate, not the culture. Day in, day out, I sit with my clients and their leadership teams and I notice each person. Here are just a few examples of what I might notice:
- I notice silence from the team member who is most experienced with an application
- I notice vocal ambiguity from a high performer
- I notice disagreement from the team member who consistently fights against and rarely fights for.
Hundreds of factors affect climate. Most are unconscious, and once brought into awareness, dissipate. And that's my job, without judgment or blame, I bring attention to these small opportunities for change. And each small change adds up to a collection of days and weeks and months of climate change that then tips the balance, and shifts the culture.
My work is successful because the people I work with invite me in. They are committed to catching a culture of balance, harmony, sustainablility, and prosperity. Many of them tell me that somewhere in the back of their minds is a little voice asking, "Am I contagious today?"