I’m going to let you in on a secret about me: I hate discipline! Not only do I hate it myself, I can’t even fathom why and how someone could like it at all. I mean, I understand that there is a lot of good stuff produced by exercising maturity and having the discipline to do what you don’t want to do in the present so that you get to have what you want to have in the future. I have personally experienced the joy of having accomplished a few things in my life that would not have been possible if I just did what I felt like at the time, but that doesn’t mean I like discipline. It just means that I like what discipline produces.
Anyone with the slightest amount of objectivity would agree that we look at ourselves, other people, our circumstances, and everything else around us through filters that we have consciously or subconsciously constructed. We simply see what we look at and find what we look for, and take what we see as “the truth” for granted while rejecting every other perspective as wrong, no matter how much evidence there is to support them. But knowing this makes no difference when we feel strongly about our worldview. When we are right, we are right and that’s that! We make up our mind which politician we are going to support or which department we are going to give our allegiance to, come hell or high water, and we end up doing everything we can to point to the speck in “those other people’s” eye while ignoring the plank in our own. We all have the tendency to act as if a foolish consistency is some kind of virtue, rather than “the hobgoblin of small minds,” as Emerson put it.
As explained in one particular interpretation of Open System Theory applied to organizational operation, there are three interrelated processes that are simultaneously running within every organization that directly determine the outcomes that they produce. Firstly, the Production Core Process, which has to do with all the activities that are directly related to producing the results. Secondly, the Individual Core Process, which involves that’s most important to the individuals relative to their own personal and professional objectives. And finally, the Social Core Process that involves the integration of the other two core processes in a way that creates the appropriate synergy as individuals work together to meet their individual and organizational objectives. None of these processes operates in isolation from one another, meaning that a failure in one will necessarily translate eventually to failure in the other two, and vice versa. High performance organizations devote the appropriate amount of time and attention to all three of these processes to ensure they work in concert to create common objectives between individuals, teams and the organization as a whole, while underperforming organizations overemphasize one process to the detriment of the others.
Culture transformation is warfare, make no mistake. It’s true that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” but our enemies—apathy, complacency, cynicism, resignation, hypocrisy, self-righteousness—are far more insidious and tenacious and dangerous than any physical combatant could ever be, for they can hide within and overtake anyone at any time. Considering the stakes of this epic battle, we would be wise to take stock of the tools we have at our disposal, on the front lines and at the top, and put them to good use. And I’m here to tell you that, bar none, the greatest “weapon” we have in this war are our words and our conversations with each other.
Nothing kills the momentum of a new initiative like the folkloric stories of past failed attempts that circulate whenever a leadership team attempts to unveil a transformative vision. This collective memory—usually circulated in hushed, cynical tones behind the scenes—that the organization has of similar initiatives that were introduced with enthusiasm, only to fail to produce any real results in the past, is exactly what ensures that history will repeat itself again. Whether we have labeled an initiative the “program of the month” as an excuse for not getting on board or we have heard the phrase from those who are not as enthusiastic as we are about what we are about to embark on, we know that it could turn into a self-fulling prophecy and slow down progress unless we clarify our messaging.