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This past September marked the 30th anniversary since the inception of the Human Genome Project — a scientific endeavor so audacious that many from within the scientific community flatly rejected the idea and prophesied that a pursuit of its magnitude would be nothing short of an epic failure, with no tangible results and at the cost of billions of dollars. At the time, the skepticism made sense. This would be an unparalleled undertaking, with scientists from every field working from dozens of labs in 18 different countries, all attempting to assemble a 3.3 billion piece puzzle.
Our place in history
Those leading the endeavor also understood that accomplishing something seemingly impossible and certainly improbable would demand a different organizational ethos and fortitude from those involved — a global initiative founded on principles of transparency, collaboration, data, enthusiasm and trust. All that plus a belief that humans coming together on a shared conviction could change the arc of humankind in ways far too expansive to comprehend.
As we journey through 2021, it’s more imperative than ever that we tackle the profound challenges of our time — the Covid pandemic, climate change, wealth inequality, etc. These seemingly impossible challenges are absolutely necessary to solve. JRR Tolkien said, “It is not our part to master all the tides of the world.” Rather, it is our stewardship “to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till.”
There is much tilling for us to do — with much unrooting to be done as well.
The work to be done is not trivial. It will only be solved by humans who have a vision for what is possible and who together form healthy, deliberate cultures that result in purposeful output. Building such healthy cultures is what it will take to change the arc of humanity for the better. If any organization lacks sufficient purpose and is devoid of such an ethos, it will lose steam or veer off track long before it achieves the purposeful objective it hoped to accomplish.
A deliberate work culture is one in which the mission and values of an organization are clearly stated and are demonstrated and reflected across all operations of the company. Trust in the company’s vision and motivation to uphold its values is high, contributing to more efficient throughput and a higher rate of risk resolution. Such culture reflects stability, camaraderie and a self-sustaining determination that will attract new, smart and creative talent eager to solve problems and capable of governing themselves. What results is a team that broadly understands and believes in the why, what it will take to accomplish it, and is then committed to doing it.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, an organization may find itself fostering a hypocritical work culture devoid of a true north, where the stated mission and values are lost in the business and operations of the company. This is considered a toxic culture.
Absent a stated mission and values, there is no fuel nor fire to drive the company’s purpose forward, to innovate, to evolve or even to grow. Teams are driven by fear rather than passion, and efficiency is sluggish. Without a clear “why” for change, people are not sufficiently committed to doing anything about it. A company in this state cannot persevere or prosper and, if the course is not corrected toward a deliberate culture, the organization is likely to implode or descend into a sterile culture.
A sterile work culture occurs when policy takes the place of values, where revenue is the primary, tangible driver of “purpose” within a company. The mission, vision and values once placed at the forefront have since been buried in a sea of bureaucratic policies. Lacking the motivation and encouragement to elevate the work and suggest new, creative ideas, teams, instead tread lightly for fear of deviating from company policy. Though the work is being done, the quality is average and uninspired.
By this point, if nothing is done to rekindle the company’s purpose and take meaningful steps to re-establish a healthy culture, it will soon find itself overshadowed by a disrupting, fast-moving company enriched with a deliberate culture.
What we can do
Acknowledge the current state of your organization’s culture and identify the purpose and associated values. Is your purpose genuine? And are these values poised to achieve the said purpose?
Once these are determined and established, allow them to resonate throughout the company while investing in the resources and flexibility your teams need to maintain meaningful motivation and conduct business genuinely according to these values – at all professional levels, including leadership.
With a healthy, deliberate culture, your organization will see speed where there was once lag, incredible resilience to replace former weakness, and a rise in innovative, transformative ideas encouraged by passion and exuberance.
Rewinding the clock 17 years, against all odds, the Human Genome Project successfully published the first complete genome. It is an understatement to say that the output of reaching that lofty objective has a broad sweeping influence in every field of science and medicine. It is likely that someone you love has had their life extended or saved as a result of that massive endeavor. In an era where the first mRNA vaccine is our brightest hope for squashing a pandemic that has brought the world to its knees, you can be sure that the work of those great humans of the Human Genome Project will continue to have a vast impact on the good in our future.
As you consider the company you are building or helping to build and the lasting impact for good it will have, what changes do you see need to be made that will set the course and the culture down a deliberately healthy and purposeful path?