Philosopher Lao Tzu says “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Okay, seriously who wants to take a journey of a thousand miles unless it’s a one of those travel adventures full of fun, friendship and fulfillment? Today, a thousand miles would not be seen as a difficult journey. In less than three hours you can fly from San Francisco to Denver, a distance of 967 miles. But imagine traveling this distance back in the time of Lao Tzu, six centuries BCE (Before Common Era). I’m sure even the leaders of those days would have seen a thousand mile journey as a daunting exercise. Does the thought of tackling your workplace culture seem like an equally daunting task?
Ships in the harbor
Another favorite quote of mine is by American author and Professor John A Shedd. “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are made for.” It’s often thought of as a quote about embracing adventure. After all, ships are made to sail, to explore, and for transport. They source nourishment, and open up avenues of trade and collaboration. Imagine if Roman, Egyptian, Indian and Chinese leaders had all left their boats in the harbor.
Another perspective on this quote is that even though a ship at sea may face risks, a ship in the harbor may rot and rust. Which side of this sailing spectrum do you fall on when it comes to your culture? For some, the risk of finding out about what is really going on in the workplace is as intimidating as sailing out with a hurricane on the horizon. Surely there is safety and stability to stay with a well-built docked vessel. However, you should consider if this harbor will serve you in the future. Or, will your culture start to rot and rust and fail to support your people, profits and potential?
A trip versus a journey
Lao Tzu is also known for saying “A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” Too many leaders believe shifting culture is a one-time project with a single destination. I’ve experienced such an endeavor myself. Our organization engaged in an effort to build a strong culture. Employees were surveyed about how they thought work should get done. The values of the company where chosen and behavioral statements created. A wonderful train the trainer program was rolled out and I was one of the people chosen to bring this effort to life in our region. We had fabulous collateral, a strong workshop program and lots of support. It was one of the most exciting programs we ever rolled out.
And then it all just faded away……
Other priorities took over and the link between culture and achieving results was lost. With today’s rapidly changing environment in business you need to be constantly scanning and evaluating your strategic plan. And in order to deliver that strategic plan, your culture needs to stay aligned. It’s not about a one-time project or arriving at a specific destination.
Taking a single step
As Tzu advises, a single step can start a journey. Are you ready to take that first step and move your organization out of the harbor? Here are five activities you can initiate today:
- A culture audit to determine how culture is impacting your bottom line
- A culture survey to reveal the barriers to success
- A strategic plan and values alignment exercise to ensure your culture supports your growth
- Build a culture dashboard to more effectively manage your culture tactics
- Lunch and Learn sessions with your employees to hear what to stop, start and keep doing when it comes to your organization’s culture.
If the direction for that first step is unclear, we can help. Give us a call or pop us an email. We’d love to talk about the challenges culture can help cure.
Start your journey with a single step, move away from rot and rust, and don’t be intent on arriving. These are 3 keys to growing a successful business. And here’s one last piece of advice in the words of novelist Andre Gide. “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he is has the courage to lose sight of the shore”.