Saturday, March 10, 2012

Groundhog Day

Another title of this blog could be a line from the old Talking Heads song, same as it ever was. (gotta love David Byrne) Anyway, I had a meeting last week with a group of executives and we discussed a topic that was exciting to them and repeat for me.

You see, this group of execs was different from the last ones, but it was the same company. They were telling me how they were headed down this new path - but by new, they actually meant old. I shared with them my experiences from before and how the idea had failed. And then came the magic words, 'oh, but this time it will be different!'

Ah, yes, this time it will be different. We hear this line in organizations of all sizes, shapes and types. Whether for profit or non-profit, we have talked many times before on how the principles of corporate culture are the same.

So, why tell this story. Simple. Becasue when someone says to us "this time ti will be different" what we look for is the change in their culture that supports that statement. 99% of the time, it is not a corporate culture chnage, but actualy a personel change. A new person is brought in to lead and they want to try an idea that was attempted before. Sometimes they do not even know that it had been attempted and failed. Often times, thought, they do, but they beleive in the magical, mystical words "this time it will be different.'

When what caused the idea to die a slow death before was the culture, no one person or even one team of persons can make it work the second time around. While logically it might make sense that having more people in the boat rowing with you will make a difference, you have to understand that you are rowing upstream in the rapids of corporate culture. (insert image from all those river wild movies scenes you have seen)

I remember sitting at lunch with Milton Moskowitz at the "100 Best Companies to Work For" symposium. I had commented on the fact that I was impressed with all the new initiatives being presented by the various winners of the disctinction who were asked to speak. Milton said, "my prediction is that 90% of these initiatives will never work. The company's culture will never except it." (He knew I was a coportae culture guy, so he was speaking right to me.) The example he gave was paterntity leave, which was the hot new idea being presented. He said, "most companies who add this benefit see no results. The culture of the company is such that a man would be afraid to take advantage of this benefit for fear of the repercussions."

Exactly. If the culture of the company will not except it, then it will not work. So, next time you hear those magic words, first ask the team, "what is different about our culture this time that will allow this to work?" After everyone looks at you bizarrly for this question, you can feel assured in the fact that you are actually saving the team a bunch of heartache and avoid them being cast in the sequel of Groundhog Day.

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