Today’s Bandage – Tomorrow’s Belief

The first time a situation emerges for which there is no clear resolution, we may well decide to use a bandage. Perhaps some bailing wire or duct tape is involved or bubble gum. You know the circumstance. A customer needs something; they are upset; you feel the heat so you grab the nearest means of “solving the problem.”

Crisis averted and things go back to normal. A week later, someone else has a similar situation and you hand them some duct tape. They use a little wire, the tape and consider the problem solved. On it goes.

Two years later, what was once an expedient act is now ingrained. So much so that the method is now considered standard and will be defended by those who use it against and any and all who suggest it should be otherwise. A new boss on the scene may spot the “work around” and some adverse consequences, not the least of which are gaping holes through which an embezzler could easily waltz. A consultant who dares mention this may be summarily dispatched. That person is actually lucky. No fee is worth being an accomplice. A new boss can’t walk away, they need to make changes, even if they get push back.

I’m talking about something more far reaching than a mere disagreement amongst professional colleagues. This goes well beyond the specific risks such practices create. The real damage is that people learn that duct tape and bailing wire are adequate and acceptable substitutes for actually improving a process. This creates a culture of sub-standard performance that isn’t obvious unless you are looking holistically. After all if the results (measured by how quickly I can make an angry customer happy) are good, what does it matter how they were achieved?

This is exactly how something grows from a “one off” to a high-stakes situation.

This is precisely why I say, write and advise: Culture is not window dressing. Culture is an essential part of your organization that will develop with or without your intention. Mergers and acquisition more often fail due to culture than poor financial analysis. New executives, hired from the outside, more often stub their toes on the speed bump of culture than on their lack of skill or knowledge. Failure to see and address market needs is more often caused by an inward focus than lack of technology. Risk is more often created by accepting risky practices, used systematically than by insufficient rules. Rules, by the way, do not guide behavior.

Behavior is governed by who we are and what context we are in.

Hire people for who they are and create the context most likely to allow that to flourish.

Culture change is not impossible, neither is it instinctive. My clients in M&A, CEO succession and strategic changes use my advice to improve outcomes. This often involves an element of culture change, which in turn, requires leadership. You can get a glimpse by viewing my video book Sculpting the Future here: