Five Business Culture Takeaways from the Boulder Flood

Boulder Flood Culture LessonsIs your company culture prepared for disaster?

The weather: Our favorite conversation-starter, cocktail party topic, and general fallback discussion. Whether it’s good, bad or changing. In Colorado we regularly experience all three in the space of an hour.

The torrential flash flood rains we have experienced in Colorado during the past 48 hours, have caused many people to realize that flooding is not covered under insurance, and that for a small fee, you could have purchased the federal insurance program

In honor of the many affected people in my community, I am inspired to share how companies can build a culture that is ready for anything, and embed the daily habits of compassionate and appropriate responses to the unexpected and unthinkable.

Business Lessons from the Boulder Flood Darwin Misquote

1. Urgency is the first rule of change. Nothing creates focused action like an emergency. Too many organizations struggle to foster buy-in to change or put situations on the back burner that need urgent attention (such as a bad boss that is wreaking havoc on a team’s productivity). The simple answer: if there’s no urgency, there’s no change. We teach leaders to ask two questions to establish urgency:

a. Why do we need this change, and why now? On a scale of 1-10, what is the NEED? (10 being “must act now.”).

b. What happens if we do nothing and continue to leave this situation unattended? When will that consequence happen?

If the answer is a low number and a long timeline for a consequence, it’s unlikely any change program will take hold. You need to find a smaller scope or a larger context for the change.

2. Open up dialogue. A flood is the definition of “rapid change.” Yet today’s economy is equally fast-changing and unexpected in many ways. Too many organizations plan for the best and avoid discussions about the worst case scenario. Competitive forces or sudden changes in customer behavior could wipe out market share like a flash flood wipes out a road or bridge. Leaders should continuously be seeking feedback from employees, customers, and key partners by discussing questions such as:

a.“What are we not seeing”

b.“What should we be paying attention to”

c.“What are our customers wanting that we don’t do.”

d.“What plans can we make now, that would protect our market or products.”

Planning for the unexpected is a cultivated skill, not a crystal ball. It happens by gathering many minds to engage in open discussions that are candid and fearless.

3. Demonstrate compassion under any circumstances. When bad things happen in a community, everyone seems to pull together. Why does it take an emergency to bring out the caring nature of people? I believe training people in compassion and empathy is one of the most important and under-rated skills needed in every workplace. The ability to be purposeful, focused, productive – all depends on trust between people. The cornerstone of trust is compassion – the ability to stay curious, not seek blame or judge others, show your caring nature – all of this is what builds trust. No matter what is going on in your workplace.

4. Control what you can… and find humor in the rest. Now I may be on shaky ground… no pun intended. Every spiritual tradition teaches balance in the art of surrender versus fierce and appropriate action. During an emergency, two life truths are fundamentally exposed: The fact we are not in control of much (really) and the fact that one individual cannot survive on his or her own. When I was complaining recently about a life situation that put my home at risk, my good friend said “You still have your birthday. No one can take that away.” Awesome perspective. As a leader, show up with a lightness when disaster – or the unexpected – strikes. When using humor, it creates a common bond among people – and we get more creative about solutions and less cranky about what can’t be helped.

5. Connect with others for support. In an emergency, reaching out to others for support is natural. Social networks are the natural state of humanity, but somehow in an overly “individualized” American society, we have forgotten this. In a great workplace culture, a mindset that everyone – even a competitor – is someone who could help you one day. Ask questions like:

a. Who might know something about this, that we don’t know?

b. How could we build a stronger social network of people we’re not considering as allies?

c. What can I do as a leader to build more connections inside my own organization?

d. How can I ask directly for something I need or want?

An emergency will test a company’s culture. Just like in a person, adversity does not define one’s character, it reveals it. The habits you cultivate today are what gives you the stamina to face anything, no matter how it shows up.

Top Left Photo credit: Stephen Smith – Boulder, Colorado Flood – September 13th, 2013

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