As helpful as organizational programs, techniques, and consistent strategic priorities are to turning vision into action, there is one essential ingredient to meaningful cultural change – a personal change of heart and mind. We call it metanoia.
In the next series of posts, we’ll look at the 7 marks of this essential experience of metanoia, as we outlined in the 7 Essentials for Culture Change. This week, we look at the first mark: an encounter with the boundless and unexpected.
As I write this series, I face a very real personal challenge to embrace a needed change. Over 60 years of relentless habitual patterns of behavior have produced unwanted health outcomes. Only a change of heart and mind will help me to alter this situation.
The human mind is a fearsome and wonderful gift. The doctor I have started seeing to help me make this change tells me that our first response to an impulse – whether “good” or “bad” – is to engage in a rationale that defends that impulse as the right thing to do. Impulse followed by irrefutable, though perhaps deeply-flawed logic is a powerful combination, and often produces action. Sometimes, this action comes in the form of a handful of chips one’s metabolism did not at all require, sometimes it has consequences far more severe.
The business culture we have created over the course of generations has helped us (and there is no “they”, only “us”) to habituate our urge to produce financial return above all else. Therefore, to adopt a purpose that transcends mere profits will not occur because somebody put in place a new program, but rather because each of us have accepted the challenge to personally engage and have committed to deliver a new approach. Such change in the behavior of marketplace participants will only occur once those persons have experienced a significant change of heart.
This story illustrates the first mark of such change, such metanoia: an encounter with the boundless and unexpected.
For years, Pat had been a passionate advocate of disclosure and had written award-winning critiques of some of the practices she knew lay beneath the health facades of more than a few companies, including her own new employer. As a nutritionist both well schooled and well respected in her field, her mid-career recruitment to a global food company had surprised many, including her.
Yet something – and most of the time she couldn’t quite put her finger on it – had drawn her from the role of critic and public truthteller to join Better Fields Produce, a food company that had become a global brand selling processed food to the fast food industry and direct to consumers.
The email arrived to her inbox along with the day’s usual messages, but it was the author that caught Pat’s attention. It was from the regional EVP, two steps removed from her own immediate supervisor, and this was no press release or internal communications piece.
I’m putting together a small team for a project I’m sponsoring to explore how we might positively influence the dietary habits of people who eat our products in the quick service restaurant sector. This is part of our goal to put better food on the table for people with low incomes. I’d like for you to join the group.
Please consider and reply ASAP. See attached for more info.
Executive Vice President
Better Fields Produce
The note was short, cursory as was customary in the firm, and, to her skeptical eye, just a little too vague. Miles Walker, the EVP, wanted her to join a small project team that might help influence the dietary habits of literally millions of people who ate fast food?
There was something that Pat liked about Better Fields Produce, but she had never actually believed much of the positive rhetoric about the company she encountered when she was recruited. Yet before her, in the words of her EVP, was reference to the company purpose – one she thought she could get behind.
As Pat began to read through some of the material attached to the email, she encountered a long-dormant feeling, one she had not felt since she first learned of the “dream” nutrition program that accepted her first and only college application. After years of disillusionment, here in the most unlikely of places, Pat could only truthfully describe it as a “flutter in her heart”. It was as if layers of accumulated cynicism, borne of just too many disappointments – of experience triumphing over hope – melted away as Pat came to grips with the project’s potential.
If Miles Walker was right, and his 30+ year career was evidence that he knew how to stay relevant, he had invited her to participate in something that could change the food industry forever… and for the better.
The scale of the opportunity took her breath away, but that flutter was soon banished by the surging realism that Miles Walker was clearly avoiding. Quickly, sense prevailed and Pat found herself shaking her head in disbelief. “No one is going to let us do that,” she mumbled to herself as if to reground her hope in realism.
“But what if they did?” came another voice, perhaps the last gasps of that enrapturing flutter.
Pat pushed her chair back and defiantly studied her computer screen. The possibility, the potential to engage in something so much bigger than she ever imagined had captivated her attention. Was naïve hope playing cruel tricks with her? Or did this project – one whose possible scope and reach simply took her breath away – really have a chance to make good change?
Pat knew she had a choice to make: engage in a potentially huge cause, or bow to the risk, ignore the flutter, and settle for that which she had always known.
This is the first mark of metanoia. We become connected to, often in unexpected ways, something boundless and so much bigger than we are.
When have you had an experience like Pat’s? What was it like?
For other posts in the Telosity series, click here.