Merge's Blog

What the earth sciences can teach us about creating a positive workplace culture

As regular readers of the blog know, I often discuss what it takes to create the right workplace culture.  A recent conversation with a manager at a client organization made me realize something that I (even though I instinctively know) have never fully articulated before – that the most powerful and positive workplace cultures are created over time.  Let me explain.

colcacanyonperuColca Canyon in southern Peru is one of the deepest in the world, and at a depth of 3,270 metres (10,730 ft), it is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States.  Looking at it from above, you might think that this colossal fissure on the earth’s surface was created by an earthquake or other cataclysmic event.  It wasn’t.  The Colca Canyon was formed by thousands and thousands of years of erosion of volcanic rock along the line of a fault on the crust of the earth.  Unceasing erosion – water erosion from the Colca River that flows through the mountains of rock; and wind erosion carrying away the loose sediment exposing even more surface area to the elements – created the spectacular geological formation we see today.  The Colca Canyon wasn’t the result of sudden dramatic change, it is the outcome of thousands of small changes, over time.

Small changes, over time, produce significant results

Small changes, over time, can produce significant results; it’s a thought worth considering as a leader in your workplace.  Many leaders operate under the belief that dramatic acts are what leadership is about; in fact it’s the opposite.  Sure, impressive actions often have an immediate impact, but similar to how an earthquake might, they leave those affected stunned and bewildered.  And much like victims of an earthquake, the overriding objective of the people who struggle through the aftermath is to return to the status quo, to get back to “the way things were”.

In reality, it is the slow steady ongoing actions that produce the greatest sustainable impact.  Repeatedly demonstrating integrity in interactions with staff, clients and colleagues; communicating openly and honestly with all stakeholders, time after time; displaying emotional intelligence, even during periods of adversity; continually willing to “walk the talk” no matter what the situation – these are the forces that create lasting change in people and in organizations. A positive and highly-productive workplace culture isn’t created overnight because of cherry-picked majestic gestures by managers.  Rather, it is shaped over time, the ultimate accumulation of thousands of individual actions by those in positions of authority, all contributing towards the eventual workplace climate.  It is the repeated individual actions by those in leadership positions that directly determine what kind of a workplace culture exists in organizations.

Does your workplace culture come from erosion, or the occasional earthquake?

What kind of a workplace culture are you creating in your organization or department?  Are you focusing on the occasional magnanimous deed, or on frequent consistent regular behaviours and activities that send an unfailing singular message?  Are your day-to-day actions as a leader equivalent to the sporadic earthquake or to the gradual continuous erosion that ultimately, over time, creates something grand and spectacular?  I would love to hear your perspective.  Please share your thoughts by commenting below.

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