Growing up in an agrarian community, I learned at an early age an important lesson regarding soil. Certain crops will only do well when planted in certain types of soil. Certain types of soil are best suited for certain types of crops.
We had a piece of farmland that was filled with rocks and the soil was clay-like in nature. The only crop that could do well when planted on the land was cassava and year after year, that’s what we planted. But I remember one year, I was determined to plant something else. My parents didn’t discourage me, because they saw what I’ve come to understand as a “teachable moment“. So yours truly, took the time to plant egusi (West African melon). It’s one of those crops that can be planted alongside with cassava and does withstand difficult conditions.
At first things looked good, as the melon germinated and produced seedlings. Everything else was perfect as the necessary rains came and I was optimistic that things would turn out fine. The seedlings began to grow and produce the vine that I figured would ultimately yield the melon but after weeks of waiting, I began to observe that the melons being produced were few and small in size. A few weeks later it became clear to me that a rich harvest was not going to happen and I learned the soil (specifically the rocks in the soil) had prevented the egusi from growing as it should have.
Why tell this story many years later? Well, I’ve come to realize that an organizations culture is just like soil and the behavior of its people are the crop. The culture (or mindset or system or environment) plays a large role in determining the behavior of the people in the organization.
At a previous job, leaders would be (or at least acted) surprised to see people behave in certain ways. But how could they have been? In an environment where people were blamed consistently, cussed at, shouted at, asked to work ungodly hours, afraid, chosen as favorites (or not) etc etc, why would anyone expect anything else besides gossip, “throwing others under the bus”, territoriality, cliques, political maneuvering and outright sabotage to be the crop that was produced?
As there is no cheap fix for soil, there isn’t for culture/mindset/environment either. You can’t use rain or pesticides or fertilizer to simply compensate for poor soil. Even if you( are lucky to?) have short-term success, it never lasts – I’ve seen enough farming cycles to know that for a fact. In org-speak, the annual company award or quarterly pizza lunch with the CEO may be good things to do (albeit extrinsic motivators that need to be kept in check) but don’t expect them to make a significant impact on your culture and how the people in your organize actually behave.
I’ve personally made a decision to care about soil (in addition to other things) and spend my time working, interacting and learning from people who also care about soil. I’ll also be sharing my thoughts on this a bit more. I realize that we may be in the minority but I am not bothered by that as I believe making the world a better place is actually worth it. I hope you begin to care and join us.