During the pandemic, my entertainment has revolved largely around Netflix and food. I found a happy marriage of the two in chef David Chang’s series, “Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner,” in which he travels the world with celebrities, exploring food, culture, and their intersection. In one episode, he tries to understand what truly comprises Cambodian cuisine. His Cambodian counterpart rattles off a litany of influences spanning more than 3,000 years: Indian spices, Chinese vegetables, French cooking methods, and so on. However, all that history, cuisine, and its associated culture was transformed in just five wartime years. “In times of bounty, you just combine the best with the best,” Chang muses. “But learning how to make something in times of scarcity—that’s cooking.” That change informed a new cultural identity.
There is a lesson here for us as humans and as professionals in our current moment. Of course, we are not living through something so horrific as the reign of the Khmer Rouge, but we are living through a once-in-a-generation pandemic coupled with a social reckoning that is upending humanity across borders. We are still in the throes of this crisis, which has left many of us feeling adrift, helpless, and alone.
During this chaotic time we have more capacity to connect and transform than we may believe. In fact, in this crucible of crisis, our actions often have an exponentially greater impact than in times of stability and plenty. These are the times in which cultures are molded and made. The formation of culture is accelerated by and forged in fire.
We all have a place in forging culture. Along with our colleagues in our organizations and in our new work ecosystems, we can create a unified culture in service of an organization’s vision, even when we don’t feel like it necessarily comes naturally. We can start by paying close attention to three principles:
Authenticity – Believe what you say and say it with humanity. Whether it’s a project, a meeting, an organization, or a focus group, lead by embodying your truth and values. This is a challenging area for many, but a prerequisite for forging a culture of trust and safety—two dimensions that are critical, especially now.
Vision – Notice how “vision” didn’t come first? Authenticity with self and others will lead you to a more accurate and compelling vision. When applying this principle, begin with the “Three Cs:” clarity, credibility, and capability. In times of dissonance and tension, these elements are particularly crucial. Pressure test not only what you say and how you communicate, but also the unspoken language of the business activities and processes you prioritize, the investments you make, and the projects you pursue.
Are you laser-focused? Are you sharing your commitments and vision with economical language? Are you able to do what you propose? Do you have a track record of keeping your word and following through on commitments? If you aren’t sure where to start with the three Cs, make a concerted effort to start with these concepts.
Purpose – It is not enough to lead and communicate with authenticity and vision. We must be purposeful in when, how, and how often we do it. This is where grit and diligence come in and is often the most difficult but crucial element. Make a plan. Create it with the people in your team or organization. Get help designing and implementing it. Incorporate diverse backgrounds and perspectives. This effort brings people together in the joint formation, foundation, and evolution of culture, while simultaneously reinforcing organizational values through modeled leadership.
Make no mistake. Your organization’s culture will change during the weeks, months, and even years to come. Right now, you have a chance to align and accelerate your efforts to change it with your team, for the better, in service of something greater. Now, let’s get cooking!
For more information about leading your organization through change, contact Karla Ozeri at email@example.com.
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