Sixteen Ways to Go First

You’re going to need a blank sheet of paper for this; 8.5 x 11 will do. Take it and fold it half – just bring the top down to the bottom. Then fold it in half again. Then again. And again. Hold on to your square while I make the following point:

Recently I asked a group of credit union leaders this question: “Who’s in charge of creating the culture here?” After a short pause to consider possibilities, the first five answers I heard were:

The CEO. The Management Team. The CEO. My manager. And several people answered non-verbally by pointing to the CEO or their VP.

Those answers make sense. Often it is the CEO or Management team that set the cultural tone for an organization. And it’s easy to talk about what they should or shouldn’t be doing to make our working world a better place. Everyone has an opinion.

In response to the question above, I replied, “Yes…and…” until more answers were shared:

My teammates. My department. Everyone. Me.

An organizational culture is the sum choice of the decisions made by each individual every day.

In the course of developing this NTCUE project and now in re-running it, several themes keep coming up again and again. The first is the need for dialog. There is a strong desire for more. For someone to do something to make our culture stronger. Interestingly, holding the hand of vision is fear. Fear of saying something. Fear of retaliation. Fear of boundaries (who am I to speak up because I’m not in charge?).

Winston Churchill said, “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.” A lot of times all it takes is for someone to go first. Action eliminates fear.

One of the ways our group will be taking action next week will be using the holiday to come together as a team. We are going to learn about ourselves and each other. And, hopefully, have fun in the process. Cultures can change, develop, and grow in any direction. Like any goal, it’s a function of the amount of attention given to it.

You can participate, too. Unfold your paper. You should have sixteen boxes represented by each of the folds. In each box write one thing you could do today to make your culture better. Ideas include: writing a sincere thank you note, telling a co-worker what a great contribution she made, or doing a random act of kindness for your team. Personally, I like the more creative solutions.

Trust is the foundation of every thriving culture. Trust dismantles fear. You can build trust by going first. You’re in charge of the culture you create.