When’s the “Right Time” for Culture? Yesterday.

By David J. Friedman, Founder/CEO

Having written two books, given more than 400 workshops, delivered scores of keynote talks, and presented to hundreds of companies, I’ve probably explained the Fundamentals System™ to more than 10,000 leaders.  In nearly every case they’ve been astonished by the simple elegance and practicality of the approach.  And yet, as simple and powerful as the approach is, they don’t all implement it.  Why?

The most common explanation I hear goes something like this:  “We believe in this and it makes all the sense in the world, but we’re so swamped right now and have several other initiatives we’re working on, so we’ll look to do this next year when we’re not so crazy.”  Sound familiar?  While on its surface, it seems to be a reasonable approach (after all, we certainly don’t want to bite off more than we can chew and risk a poor implementation), it misses several key points.

When things slow down

First, it presupposes that there will eventually be a time when we’re not so busy.  Can you recall that time?  I can’t.  We typically move from one initiative to the next and every available moment seems to get filled with one more thing to address or accomplish.  Somehow, “when things slow down” never seems to come.

Second, it assumes that implementing the Fundamentals System will take a significant organizational effort and therefore can’t be taken on until other projects are completed.  And yet, one of the many beautiful things about the simplicity of the System is just how easy it is to implement and sustain.  It actually takes pretty minimal effort from the leadership team to make it happen, and the rituals make sustaining the effort second nature.  To be clear, it absolutely requires commitment, but commitment doesn’t necessarily equate to time and effort.

Third, and most importantly, delaying implementation of the Fundamentals System implies that it’s a lower priority than other current initiatives.  This is certainly not unusual, especially given that working on culture feels much less concrete and is far less measurable.  And yet, could there be a more impactful project than this?  Get your culture right, and every other initiative you take on will be done more effectively.  Your culture is the foundation upon which everything else you do is built.  What could be more important than building that strong foundation first?

Important but not urgent

In many respects, it’s a classic case of the famous Eisenhower Matrix that puts all tasks into one of 4 quadrants based on their degree of importance and urgency.  We too often focus our attention on the urgent tasks, rather than those that have the most long-term impact.  Working on culture is a Quadrant II activity.  It’s critically important, but it’s almost never urgent. 

While we can’t ignore the urgent, great leaders keep their organizations from getting mired in the urgent, and instead, they prioritize the most important and impactful activities.  They make time for them, rather than waiting for things to slow down.   They interrupt the natural flow of reasonable excuses and they become unreasonable in their commitment to building strong and healthy organizations.

Like it’s often said about the best time to plant a tree, the best time to work on your culture was yesterday.  The second-best time is today.

If you’d like to learn more about how easy it is to implement the Fundamentals System™, just click the Let’s Connect box below.  You can also learn plenty from my latest book, Culture by Design, or by attending our annual Culture Summit.

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