CAUTION: Deep Roots Needed
Before last week, the only Dorian I knew was Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde’s tragic protagonist, who gave up his soul to be forever young, while a painting of him took on his sins and grew old instead. As long as this portrait, hidden away in his attic, remained unscathed, so did Dorian.
Well…the new Dorian I met last week on the South Carolina coast did anything but leave the oaks and pines of our Low Country landscape unscathed. His high winds and heavy rain wreaked havoc on our weakest and most stressed trees, causing branches to snap and whole trees to uproot. As a relatively new property owner living in a hurricane zone, I’ve learned quickly that there’s no such thing as a hurricane-resistant landscape, and that strong, deeply rooted trees have much better chances of not falling during storms. These trees adjust more quickly to changes in their environment and are definitely more resilient to damage.
As I rode my bike around our barrier island post-Dorian, yellow caution tape placed by cleanup crews around uprooted trees was everywhere. It reminded me about how cautious we need to be inside our own organizations as leaders when the winds of change begin to shift and blow. Our change initiatives need to be securely anchored with deep roots too.
When I talk about initiatives having deep roots, I’m referring to them being deeply rooted in the stories of who we are, how we behave and why this change matters—our common vision, purpose, values and norms. These ideals make up the shared stories at the very roots of our cultures. No matter if we’re leading change or working through it as employees, we need to take part in ways that are aligned with the deeply rooted ideals that best serve us.
If our shared purpose is to simplify life and make it easier for others, the last thing we want as a leader is for change to feel complicated and laborious. That’s not being true to who we are, and our people will feel and know that. If we value transparency, we shouldn’t as leaders release change communications that are vague and opaque. Again, that isn’t aligned with who we are, and it gives our employees reason to not trust us. On the other end, if a shared norm at our organization is that employees be daring and courageous, everyone should do their best to push through fear and find the courage to begin exploring and committing to new changes. That is after all how we aspire to act regardless of the situation.
Cultural shared stories help define the why and how of change, and all organizational changes and actions need to be rooted in them. They define how leaders should lead through change and how employees should react and deal with change. If you haven’t identified your shared story, or if you have, but it’s not being consciously lived out inside your organization, it needs to be an immediate focus. It’s during times of stress that we need these deep roots most, so everyone can hold true to who we are, adjust more quickly to what’s going on, and be more resilient as we weather the winds of change together—just like the strongest Low Country oaks and pines that have endured many storms during their long lives.
One of my favorite passions is helping organizations uncover, track and live out their deeply rooted stories, especially during times of change and transformation. If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out to me, and let’s talk about how I might help.
Kevin Finke is the owner and chief storyteller at Experience Willow, a design firm that won the 2019 Global Eventex Awards for Best Employee Engagement and Best Team Building Events for On the Move to Midtown, a change campaign that helped 2,600 NCR employees transition from 6 suburban offices to a new state-of-the-art tech campus in midtown Atlanta. He is also an Instructor and Program Facilitator for Emory University Continuing Education and regularly leads design and change workshops with his many partners and clients across the globe.