When it comes to the outcomes in our personal and professional lives, there is basically no factor more important than the decisions we make, or fail to make. Our decisions are at the root of almost every experience we have, both good and bad. While our starting points may differ, our decisions are what set things in motion and initiate behaviors that will become habits that deliver the results we produce. That being the case, it would make sense for us to approach our decisions as effectively as possibly, but unfortunately, in many organizations especially, that is not the case.
Let’s face it: just about every organization out there is full of opportunities to improve communication. The only real difference between them is that some realize it, and some don’t. For every organization that has acknowledged the issue and is actively working on it, there are many more that either have a case of “deer in the headlights” or are in full-blown denial.
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.
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.