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We all have to start somewhere is a phrase which tends to be glibly thrown around without much thought as to its meaning. Yet it is a phrase which is true of so many aspects of human development as well of the natural world. Who, looking at a baby can tell whether they will be a top sports person or leader; a raindrop falling in the right place might become part of a giant glacier and take hundreds of years to reach the ocean; a tiny acorn may one day become a mighty oak tree.
The fact is that whatever the outcome, memorable deeds are usually achieved as the natural outcome of a series of smaller steps. The acorn has to avoid being eaten, find a soft patch of earth, and enjoy many decades of sunlight and rain and development before it reaches its full potential. Indeed landscape gardeners of old were trained in the belief that what they were creating now was being laid out for future generations to enjoy.
Unfortunately, the pace of life nowadays is such that we have mostly lost sight of the benefits of building slowly. Instant gratification is the game and “if I can’t have it now it will never happen” has become the modern mantra. This attitude is most typically epitomised by the contestants on a current television show who almost universally project the belief that “winning means everything and if I don’t win it will be the end of my dream”. That this view is accepted by the majority is the reason for the show’s popularity with only a few lone voices wondering what happened to the more traditional route of learning the craft, working at it, singing in pubs and clubs and so on.
This all or nothing view is also reflected on many occasions within business. Faced with the need to change a company culture or to roll out an employee engagement programme it is easy to be overcome by the lack of a magic bullet or the perception of the magnitude of the task. However, just as Einstein had to learn to read and write before he could develop his theories, so it is possible to take small steps which will lead the organisation towards the right path.
Changing the company culture might therefore start with a memo praising good work or the inception of a staff notice board. The first steps towards employee engagement might be a simple leadership workshop or a 360° review. Some steps may reap instant dividends; others will merely be way stations along the journey towards improvement.
Indeed, taking a series of small steps might well prove more beneficial than embarking on one overwhelming change programme. We have already written of the importance of keeping the good bits of your culture when running a culture change programme* and a step by step approach can mean that the positives are built on rather than thrown out.
Whilst we wouldn’t suggest that an organisation takes the several hundred years which an Oak Tree requires to come to full maturity, we are aware of the benefits which a measured programme of incremental steps can bring to an organisation. Taking a first step towards cultural change or employee engagement can be slightly daunting but nowhere near as overwhelming as facing an entire blitz change programme and the rewards in terms of enhanced engagement, improved productivity, improved reputation and enhanced profits will soon follow.