"What's The Difference Between Friday & Monday?"- Journey Of Workplace Culture

John O. Burdett, Advisor at TRANSEARCH, recalls his career transition from the negative atmosphere of perpetual conflict to one of collaboration and positivity. It was here that he realised that organisational culture was the differentiating factor, which led him to seek answer to a single question: "what was the difference between friday and monday?"


In the realm of organisational culture transformation, one might often contemplate the driving forces behind the shift from a mundane and conflict-ridden environment to a spirited and collaborative workplace. To explore the intricate layers of culture change, we dive into the insights of John O. Burdett, Advisor at TRANSEARCH.

He harks back to his early career, where he ventured into industrial relations, treading through the difficulties of managing hourly relations in a massive plant with a multitude of unions. Daily challenges involved handling wildcat disputes, negotiating with a myriad of unions and navigating a landscape marked by perpetual conflict.

However, a pivotal moment in Burdett’s career arrived when he was offered a chance to move internationally. He recalls his switch from a highly unionised environment to a non-union startup in the United States. The transformation was palpable. The negative atmosphere of perpetual conflict was replaced by one of collaboration and positivity. It was here that he realised that culture was the differentiating factor. This marked the beginning of his journey, seeking to answer a single question: "What was the difference between Friday and Monday?"

The Power of Storytelling in Culture Change

Culture change is intrinsically linked with storytelling. Most organisations are replete with stories, but the issue is that many of these stories tend to be negative. Negative stories propagate faster and linger longer than positive ones, creating a challenge for leaders attempting to rectify this situation. The dilemma leaders face is that they cannot simply walk into an organisation and decree an end to negative storytelling, but that too would become a negative story.

So, how can leaders address this issue? He offers an analogy about taming dandelions in his garden. Instead of trying to eliminate dandelions directly, he suggests making the grass so strong, so robust, that it naturally strangles the dandelions to death. Similarly, to rid organisations of negative stories, leaders should focus on creating compelling, meaningful stories that replace the negative narratives.

“Leaders, in particular, need to champion stories that counteract the negative ones, thus breathing life into the organisation's culture. This is a leadership mandate that drives culture to flourish with positive stories that ultimately resonate with customers,” shares Burdett.

Crucial Mindset Shifts for Cultural Transformation

For achieving a positive cultural transformation, critical mindset shifts are vital. It is essential to distinguish between cooperation and collaboration. Cooperation implies working together with a common purpose, where outcomes are shared equally. In contrast, collaboration involves multiple individuals, teams or groups working together, driven by a mindset that places the success of others above one's own.

“This shift in mindset is crucial for building an organisation where innovation, customer-centricity, and success become the norm. The culture of collaboration and the belief that ‘your success is more important than mine’ serve as foundational principles for organisations aiming for profound cultural transformation,” he added.

Practical Strategies for Leaders

“You can't do everything at once. Cultural transformation is a journey and it's essential to begin somewhere. Leaders should start by identifying instances within the organisation where the desired culture is already thriving,” highlights Burdett.

In other words, leaders need to look inside the organisation to find pockets where the culture they aim to create already exists. By acknowledging and enhancing these early successes, they can fan the flames of change. This management approach revolves around 'catching them doing it right.'

By understanding culture as a system, managed from the outside in, organisations can navigate the path to a positive and vibrant workplace culture. And for leaders, embracing inspirational leadership becomes the key to breathing life into culture, which is a privilege that must be earned every single day.


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