June 11, 2009 Chris Fuller

Confronting cultural challenges

All along the way from Anchorage to the ‘Burled Arch’ of Nome there are checkpoints and veterinarian staff to help the Musher take care of His / Her team but the honest truth is that care of the dogs takes place more so between the checkpoints and on the trail then at the designated stops.

Leaders have to monitor the health of each individual member AND the health of the team as a cohesive unit. At times, individual behaviors are addressed and at time Leaders have to dive into the team dynamics to correct the pack’s behavior. All done under the watchful and purposeful eye of the Musher and viewed from the vantage point of the musher’s position in the sled.

When it comes to purposeful culture, purposeful ‘beliefs and behaviors’ and turning around cultural challenges here are some thoughts:

Create the ‘Cultural Burled Arch’

Being able to recognize where your team is off the trail starts with knowing where the trail is and what it looks like – the more specific the better.

Know where you are now / Listen to the Metaphors

When you’re out on the trail and you want to “get a feel” of the surroundings, sometimes you have to still yourself and just listen. Listen to how people feel, listen as they reveal their ‘beliefs’, and listen for telling metaphors. If your team is saying things like, “we’re the runts of the litter” or “we’re the cast offs from other teams” or “our department gets thrown all the scraps.” These are telling metaphors that reveal the departmental or personal ‘sub-culture’. At other times, you may need some external help (call them business veterinarians) to partner with you and diagnose the issues in the team.

Engage key ‘Swing Dogs’

Bring ‘Swing Dogs’ (see May 19 post) in on the front end, gain their involvement/buy-in, and then let them be the influencers that they are.

Trail Map, Checkpoints, and Training Runs

Once you know where you are, where you want to go, and have the influencers on board – start running the ‘Training Runs’. The second part of the definition of ‘Culture’ is: development and improvement through education or training. If we want the team to ‘Behave’ a different way – we’re going to need them to think (Believe) a different way. This starts with creating new and more desirable metaphors, introducing the new mindset and then working through a consistent process to get them to accept, adopt, and own it. (Digest, assimilate, energize, run!)

Leverage Technology

Leveraging the ‘Swing Dogs’ is powerful, leveraging technology and the Swing Dogs – incredible. Create a social network, a company blog, leverage Twitter, consistently reinforce the message – create a tight knit ‘Pack’ of true believers wanting change, develop and communicate with them via these technologies and then leverage all of it to create the groundswell or ‘avalanche’ of change.

Dogs don’t know what they did wrong yesterday!

As Leaders we must be vigilant about our culture and when changes are needed or confrontation over beliefs or behaviors needs to occur – they need to occur as close to the behavior as possible – this is not a once a year employee review type thing. (I’ll write more on this tomorrow)

Keep on, Keeping on.

Cultural change can take place quickly or it can take decades depending on the size of the organization and a number of other factors. Know the real picture of what your up against – but don’t allow the size of the ‘Race’ to discourage you. Take it one step, one checkpoint at a time and realize you are on the road to a better culture.

Remember: It’s not the size of the Dog in the Fight, It’s the size of the Fight in the Dog! (Mark Twain)

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