Kindergartners do not care about calculus - most of them have never even heard the word. But many five year olds will eventually become high school seniors who are quite skilled at solving advanced problems. This is no accident. This is the result of years of intentional training in carefully sequenced math classes designed to offer the instruction and practice necessary to move from beginner to mastery.
Kindergartners also do not care about grades. In fact, they really don't know what grades are. However, by the time they are in high school, many of them will be successfully lobbying teachers to change a B+ into an A-. How did they get so good at this? Where did this prioritization of transcripts over learning come from? This skill, which drives most teachers crazy, is the result of unintentional training that successfully moves students from beginner to mastery. Unfortunately, it is all too common for organizations to foster skills that people will be criticized for when they become good at them.
As a coach and facilitator, I help individuals and organizations realize peak performance and wellbeing. This work centers on the application of an idea known as neuroplasticity. That is, how you respond to your circumstances not only shapes your experience in the present moment, it also builds pathways in the brain that facilitate that response in the future. In other words, you get what you practice.
I work with schools, universities, nonprofits, and for profit companies to create positive and purposeful cultures that intentionally identify, encourage, and support simple, effective and high-leverage practices. This process always starts by building an awareness of what is currently being practiced. Here are some questions that I have found very useful in looking at organizational culture:
What do we all know is true, but don't acknowledge?
What do we all acknowledge, but don't take action to change?
What skills are we practicing that we do not want to strengthen?
What is the simplest practice that would make the biggest difference in the effectiveness of this organization?
It can be powerfully transformative to think of culture in terms of collective practice and to bring awareness to skills that are being unintentionally strengthened. In a world of intense competition, every bottom line is enhanced by creating a culture of positive growth and purposeful practice. People in these settings are more engaged, innovative, loyal, inspired, and satisfied. Additionally, the costs of distraction, stress, and turnover are greatly reduced. In this type of organization, people are consistently asking themselves and each other "what am I/are we practicing right now?"
Are you part of a great culture, have you been part of creating a great culture, or would you like to create a great culture where you are? I would love to hear your thoughts. Please add a comment below.
Dave Mochel is the founder of Applied Attention; a company dedicated to teaching and supporting the transformational practice of being present, open, and purposeful. He translates research in neuroscience, behavior, and performance into simple principles and practices than can be incorporated into any activity or organization. The result of his work is reduced stress and anxiety with improved performance, relationships, and quality of life.
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