Why Culture Change is Like Working Out

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Every summer, I tell myself that I’m going to be beach-body ready by the time the sunshine and 90-degree weather hit. I buy new yoga pants. I join a gym. Yet after two days straight of jumping on the cardio machines, other priorities start to creep in. I have too much work to do. I need more sleep. My good intentions remain just that – good intentions.

This cycle got me thinking about the challenges many leaders encounter when trying to drive culture change. Unfortunately, good intentions are not enough to strengthen corporate culture, and just like the journey to getting in shape, the path to culture change can be frustrating, discouraging, and emotionally trying. But here’s the thing; just like getting fit, after all the effort, time, and attention, culture change is possible.

Here are some parallels between working out and driving culture change:

It’s overwhelming to think about it holistically

Thinking about all the collective hours on the treadmill, doing squats, lifting weights, over the countless days, weeks, months…it can be overwhelming to think about what it takes to achieve a transformation all at once. Just like getting fit, significant culture change can be an overwhelming task when approaching every component simultaneously. Instead, focus on improving one aspect of your organization at a time. At CultureIQ, we determine focus areas based on what is driving employee engagement the most. Then, our clients can implement cultural initiatives around that one area instead of trying to address everything that comprises corporate culture (which is just about everything).

It takes time

I would love to form 6-pack abs by next month, but as much as I can work towards it, it ain’t going to happen. Similarly, while it would be convenient to suddenly become a company with an award-winning culture, it’s impossible to avoid the myriad steps required to achieve it. Culture is “the way things get done within an organization,” and it’s deeply embedded in your employees’ behaviors. While it’s easy to slap a few mission-inspired posters on the wall, it takes persistence and patience to change habits.

It’s often de-prioritized

Without seeing immediate results (I did 50 crunches – where are my abs?!), it’s difficult to keep the end goal in mind. At every company, there are pressing issues that seem to be more important than culture initiatives, so it’s easy to cast these initiatives to the side. However, already being in shape makes it easier to lift a heavy box when you have to. Similarly, having a strong culture makes it easier to address those company fires when you have to. Therefore, the longer you push aside culture, the harder you’re making it for your company to develop and maintain healthy behaviors. 

Remember: Every step counts

Like working out, culture change isn’t an all or nothing activity. Every time you walk instead of drive, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and hit the gym even if you only have a half hour, you make an impact on your emotional and physical health. Every time you talk about your company’s values, listen to your employees’ feedback, and make decisions based on achieving your company’s mission, you make an impact on your culture. The little decisions you and your colleagues make every day slowly add up over time to comprise your culture. The more intentional you are about your corporate culture, the stronger it gets.

That mile gets easier the more you run.

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