October 6, 2016
Over the last month, I have been reflecting on what it means to be strong or what it is that strengthens us. What is it exactly that gets us to get through tough situations or adversity throughout life, and why some people are stronger and able to move on while others cannot or do not. In addition, what is it that makes teams or organizations strong? In Psychology, there is a plethora of motivational literature that may explain how or why we do what we do. One of the best books I have read most recently is Grit: The power of passion and perseverance by Angela Duckworth. Duckworth describes grit as more than just perseverance or willpower; it encapsulates two other dimensions – passion and purpose. Those who have passion (internal motivation) for a specific activity, work, or event will persist longer than those with just willpower. Furthermore, those who have purpose (external motivation) will persist even longer than those who have passion. Although I can relate to this on a personal level and this concept also applies to teams, I stretched my mind and used a different perspective.
The definition of strength refers to “a state of or quality of mental or physical strength as well as an exertion of force, stress, or pressure” (dictionary.com). Still using this definition of strength, I wanted a clear and simple formula of strength that I could apply to different areas of my life where I felt I needed more strength. So I began my quest for such a formula and went to the hard sciences. In physics, the formula for power was the best one I found that closely resembles strength conceptually and applicability.
Let’s break it down, but first, some definitions: “Force” is the energy, exertion, or effort as an attribute of physical action or movement, also known as “work” (1). There are other definitions of force that include coercion, compel, or against one’s will; however, ‘work’ still applies as an accurate definition in these contexts. “Displacement” is the change in position of an object; it is a vector which means that it has direction as well as magnitude (2). It is typically represented visually with an arrow that points from the initial position to the final position. When time is factored in with displacement, you get “velocity” which is the time rate of change in position in a specified direction; the rapidity of motion; or speed (1). Thus, strength equals force multiplied by velocity.
It is fairly easy to apply this formula to physical fitness. For example, I do Crossfit to increase my physical fitness. I put in the work of Crossfit and I don’t just do it once, but I do it multiple times over a period of time. As I continue with this regimen, I hope to increase my physical fitness wherein I am able to lift heavier weights, increase my gymnastic and bodyweight skills, and improve my cardio all of which are measured relative to before I started Crossfit, to my bodyweight, or whatever reference I want to use.
As a Sociologist, who focuses on culture, how might we apply this formula to organizational culture? In this formula, the power or strength of organizational culture equals the force or work multiplied by velocity. What exactly is the force or the work that determines the strength of organizational culture? It may be different for all organizations. In the Navy, each Command completes an annual survey to assess the Command climate. This year’s results identified several areas – 13 themes – that needed improvement and addressing them would help strengthen and improve our Command culture. Our team decided to focus on the top three themes, which may in turn, also address the other themes as well: communication, accountability, and a culture of learning (as opposed to training).
A fourth focus was added – Empowerment – something that all of us are encouraged to do – be empowered AND empower our teammates to communicate honestly and openly, to hold ourselves and each other accountable, and to foster and embrace a culture of learning. Multiply these “forces” by velocity – increased speed over time with forward progression – will only strengthen and shape our Command culture over time.
Although I love a clear and simple formula, we know all too well that shaping organizational culture is difficult. We can implement improvements in the forces of communication, accountability and learning, but culture change is slow because all of these forces need to happen over and over again in order for trust to develop so that they remain embedded into the organization’s culture. Investing in people is enjoyable, yet difficult. Caring about your job and your team may be fun and also difficult at times. And just like after a good Crossfit workout, my muscles are exhausted, body and spirit depleted after some long days or weeks of hard work. And yet, creating value in the work you do that is driven by passion and purpose makes the all of it worthwhile.
(1) Dictionary.com; (2) Khanacademy.org