Working on a Beating Heart

It’s a very rare opportunity to be able to stop everything a company is doing to take the time to instill necessary transformational and behavioral changes. There are not many “do-overs” when it comes to company culture.

We see it over and over – let’s learn how to work together and fix broken or outdated processes but we must still deliver a three-month feature in two months while we are doing it. The patient is sick but would still like to go run a 100 meter dash tomorrow.

Breaking bad habits and establishing new ones will take time but we still have a business to run. I understand the dilemma – we must remain viable or we cease to exist.

So, how do you begin to fix what is broken while you still need to deliver? How do you care for those hurting or disengaged in your workforce while still asking them to produce? Here are a couple of thoughts:

Have an underlying cultural vision. If what we have today is not working well, what should the future look like? What will people say about their experience at your company when they leave or retire? What will be the legacy on the health and well-being of your people? Here is a great interview about knowing what kind of company culture you are looking for and how to start building it. When you know what you want to become, everyday decisions and behaviours start to align.

Build and support a team of enthusiasts. Find the passionate ones.  They are usually easy to find and once you do, bring them together often to encourage and support them in finding ways to live into the cultural vision.

Impact one person at a time. This made a world of difference for me. When the problems are so deep and the amount of dysfunction feels so daunting it often feels like there is no hope. When I feel this way I look for one person who is skeptical or find someone who at one point was passionate about their work but has been beat down by bureaucracy and distrust over the years. Connect with that one person and begin to coach and encourage them. Then connect with another…

Be a little stealthy. Remember the movie “The Karate Kid?” Throughout the movie, Daniel-son didn’t realize he was learning karate when Mr. Miyagi was having him wash cars and paint the fence. But indeed he was learning quite a bit… 

Small moves done everyday will lead to bigger changes. Mr. Miyagi didn’t need to use the word “karate” – you don’t need to use the word “agile.” Just begin modeling and teaching people new ways of working together.

Have a plan. It is possible to work on a beating heart but you must have an approach and techniques to provide a safe environment and the right results. We have often used a three-phased approach for transformational journeys and you can read more about it here.


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3 thoughts on “Working on a Beating Heart

  1. Good point to remember that we don’t need to use these “foreign” words like “agile,” “product owner,” “features and etc.” While still modeling and teaching new ways. Thanks Len I needed this today!