Continuous culture shaping within an organization equals social movement: large scale behavioural and cultural change, for a purpose, powered by a mobilizing platform and building lasting capacity. My mouthful definition of social change and culture change.
Life in any organization is not linear, not predictable, not extrapolate-able. It has ups and downs, boosts of energy and plateaus, near-death moments and party times.
It has also magic thresholds. I call magic thresholds those inflection points, spontaneous or engineered, welcome or unwelcome, at the right time or at the wrong time, in which attention span is high and energy is concentrated. It may be in the form of a shock, or sense of anticipation, or intense curiosity. They have a relatively short window of hearts and minds engaged at once. They are in front of you. They won’t last.
Grab them for a higher purpose. You may not have a clear answer but you can always have good questions:
What can we make of this crisis? Can anything good come out from this mess?
We have been in front page newspapers, and it’s not pretty? Is there a case to regroup the troops and come out of this stronger?
Something new, unrelated to us (to this division for example) is taken all the airtime. What if we took advantage?
Rahm Emanuel, at a point Obamas’ Chief-of-Staff, now Mayor of Chicago, once said: You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.
The ‘things you think you could not do before’ is the magic here. Not opportunity to adapt, opportunity to reflect, or opportunity to ‘learn from mistakes’. That is management speak. ‘Things you think you could not do before’ or the alternatives, you could not have imagined, or were not in the plans, or two years ago we would not have even considered, is the magic.
The building of large scale behavioural and cultural change, for a purpose, powered by a mobilizing platform and building lasting capacity, is a journey. Not a project management plan. In that journey, you have to have a clear idea of purpose and legacy (the two ends), and a robust mobilizing platform that takes care of the rules of the game (including the non-negotiables) and the engagement of those ‘committed citizens’ of Margaret Mead [‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has’] who incidentally forgot the word ‘organized’ after committed.
In that journey, the best leaders I know, and I have known, are not the ones with the biggest mother-of-all-programme-management-plans, and with more ubiquitous, overpaid change-management-consultants in the office, but the ones with purpose translated into practice. They are not the visionaries without a journey, the armchair leaders with more powerpoints, or the rebels with a great voice but without a cause.
Almost invariably they all see the magic thresholds and never let them go to waste.