Constant Culture During Consistent Change

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2021 has created rapid changes in our workplaces and our workforce. The pace of change has often left leaders feeling like they are in the rapids of consistent change while trying to steer a consistent culture. In Peter Vail’s book, Managing as Performance Art, he uses white water rafting as an analogy to talk about the challenge of navigating uncertainty and business turbulence. As HR professionals, this is a huge opportunity for us to help leaders create a realistic course, create a clear vision, and create strong rowers so we can reach our business goals.

Creating a Realistic Course

Vail says “Most managers are taught to think of themselves as paddling their canoes on calm, still lakes…(They think) disruptions will be temporary, and when things settle back down, they’ll be back in the calm, still lake. But, as the author explains, we never get out of the rapids — continuous change IS the course.  Knowing this, leaders need to plan realistically. This means understanding when the team needs to pull off and regroup. It means ensuring the team has the right tools and supplies. It also means using the company values to help guide the team and make important decisions about when to stay the course and when to abort mission.

Creating a Clear Vision. The position the leader takes makes a big difference. In a raft, the leader sits in the back so they can give direction, motivate, and get everyone rowing together. This seat also allows the ​leader to see the horizon and plan ahead. To do this successfully, the leader must trust the team to focus on the immediate changes, so they can drive consistency in the way the team interacts and pivot based on their feedback.

Creating a strong team. Rafts can’t go far without everyone working together. ​It’s important that everyone gives equal effort or the boat can flip without notice. One person can steer the entire boat off course​. Leaders need to ensure the right people are in the boat, and that they are sitting in the right seats to leverage everyone’s strengths. They also need to immediately address and perhaps remove people that impact the team rhythm and/or don’t align with the values. Giving real time feedback and coaching is essential to keep the team on course. 

Minnesota Gopher coach PJ Fleck uses the phrase “Row the Boat” to create a never give up team culture. Our teams need the same passion and discipline to create a consistent culture during constant change. We need to create a realistic course, create a clear vision, and create teams to end 2021 strong and be ready for the white waters of 2022.

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