I once heard a story about a woman who kept a garden. It looked like a work of art. When asked about her success she explained that she disciplined herself to go into the garden every day regardless of how convenient is might be. When she is in her garden she looks for small problems like weeds, insects or soil conditions and immediately deals with them. She explained that the secret of gardening is a total commitment to the process of growing great plants.
This story reminds me of another. I was talking to a friend about positive organizational culture. He understood and said that organizational culture is like the soil in a garden. The culture can give rise to great performance but the gardener has to care enough to fully invest in the work of gardening. A positive culture requires constant attention.
My friend told me; “For years I tried to grow tomatoes in my garden, and they never did very well. Then last year my mom visited. She insisted that we buy compost and other soil additives, and we spent a really long time mixing everything in before planting. The tomatoes thrived for the first time ever. I had thought all I needed to do was to put the seedlings in some dirt, any dirt, and nature would do the rest.”
My friend went on to say that in his company there is a similar mentality. An external practice is identified, imported and transplanted. The people are given some training and a checklist and are then directed to implement it. The practice often dies and authority figures are surprised.
The process fails because the managers make technical assumptions. They want to import the seed, plant it, and walk away. An organizational culture is not a technical system. It is a living system. For an organization to flourish, the cultural soil must be carefully prepared. It must then be constantly examined and improved. It is not the word of technical management. It is the work of positive leadership.