We spend more time at work than anyplace else. When we join an organization, we enter a new community with expectations to make a difference, to contribute, and to be part of something greater than we can accomplish on our own. We instinctively want to do well, to contribute, and to be included on the winning team.
Yet many organizations often become harvesters of politics, power, control, arrogance, and egos that fill them with invisible signs saying, "don't go there," "you can't do this," "you don't know that," "save face," "blame," and "protect."
Getting drawn into territoriality or reactivity can lead to cycles of behavior that erode relationships and detract energy from productive, healthy, high-performing individuals, teams, and organizations. When we are stuck in territoriality, we are living at a low level of effectiveness, ensuring we will never achieve our greatest aspirations.
In the face of negativity, power struggles, and self-limiting beliefs, our courage and ambition shrivel up. Companies lose their spirit, and mediocrity prevails. Often, the pattern becomes a death spiral, as we put out the flame needed to thrive. But cracking the code on culture change is easier than most of us think.
Traditional strategies for culture change come from different disciplines and consulting experience built on a set of beliefs that I want to demystify. In the old paradigm of thinking, culture change:
• Takes years, if not decades, to do.
• Provokes tremendous fear.
• Incites tremendous resistance.
• Requires changing large systems.
• Requires redesigning processes.
I propose a new approach to culture change. We all have Vital Instincts that are hardwired into our DNA (like survival skills) and provide us with the codes for how to live healthy, deeply connective, and loving lives with each other.
Vital Instincts give us the intuitive awareness and wisdom to form communities, to support each other, and to thrive in the face of challenges. Since the beginning of time, people have created communities who traveled to find food, build homes, and create communal life.
Vital Instincts is the foundation upon which we build our essential wisdom for transforming cultures riddled with politics, power, and dysfunction back into healthy ones. The secrets are transferable and when practiced have extraordinary power to restore health and growth to individuals and teams.
The presence of Vital Instincts makes culture change a science of everyday practice. The Vital Instincts approach is based on discoveries emerging from cancer research at the NYU School of Medicine, where scientists are developing a new technology for curing cancer. Their approach restores natural functioning to cancer cells. By injecting a simple peptide into cancer cells grown in culture, this miraculous peptide reinstructs the cells at the DNA level to act again as healthy cells.
Cancer is an unhealthy state. Cancer depletes life energy from a system. The secret to reinstructing a cancer cell to become a healthy cell again is driven by three basic principles. These principles also apply to changing toxic cultures and relationships back to healthy ones.
Principle 1: Make beliefs transparent. When the body is healthy, the immune system works at all times to attack any unhealthy invaders. Immune system "flags" arise from cells, directing the immune system to marshal the internal resources to restore health. When cancer forms, normal cells lose these system "flags." Without them, cancer takes over the body. This principle reminds us of the importance of the immune system "flags" to health and instructs us how to keep the "flags" visible by making our belief systems transparent to each other.
In business, we need to become more transparent, and to audit our mindsets so that we are always operating out of our healthiest beliefs. In a culture where beliefs are transparent, we can collectively monitor the health of our culture, our organization, our teams, and our relationships.
Principle 2: Create a feedback-rich culture. When cancer grows, the cells lose their sensitivity to each other and grow anywhere they can. They invade the body and block the normal functioning of organs. This principle reminds us of the importance of restoring cell sensitivity and instructs us how. Translated into business terms, this means creating a feedback-rich culture that enables individuals to establish healthy relationships with their coworkers. In a feedback-rich culture, a new level of awareness emerges so that we "don't grow all over each other." Rather than creating environments full of territorialism and competition, we learn to build robust environments full of support, synergies, and expansive possibilities.
Principle 3: Focus Outward on Harvesting Growth and Prosperity. Cancer cells multiply by creating their own growth factor. They become self-sustaining and encapsulated from the rest of the system, drawing out nutrients from inside the system for their own sustenance. Healthy cells, on the other hand, need nutrients from the outside. They need to engage with each other for health.
In business terms, this means to be mindful when creating an internal view of the world that separates us from others. We can grow this internal view by sapping the nutrients out of the system. Instead, to become healthy, we need to turn outside to others for support, engagement, and nutrition. In a healthy culture, we see people engaged with each other building strong partnerships, collaborating, and synergizing with each other to grow to their next level.
To create a healthy culture, recognize the nutrients we need from each other and provide them so that we don't retreat back into ourselves and become self-serving or I-centric. When we become aware of the key nutrients for growth, we are more equipped to release these nutrients into our culture and thrive on them. When we do this, we build robust, We-centric environments full of incredible support, synergies, and expansive possibilities.
Recognizing our Vital Instincts is the first step in understanding how to create positive, healthy environments for growth and generativity. When we master these three principles, we ward off the toxicity that limits life and health, and are reminded of the life-giving wisdom we all know at the instinctual level.
Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results by Judith E. Glaser (BiblioMotion, forthcoming October 2013) can be pre-ordered now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble