I found myself thinking of my clients who are navigating the choppy waters of cultural transformation and change as I read U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivak Murthy’s address to the University of Arizona graduating class of 2016. I wished for them the same things Dr. Murthy wished for the new graduates… personal connections life built on the foundations of empathy, optimism, and courage. These are qualities and values that help individuals and organizations succeed during times of change and cultural transformation.
Dr. Murthy talked about the importance of connection and how it can serve as “a building block for strong communities and a resilient nation.” I find those organizations that are strong, resilient, and successful at navigating change are made up of people who connect with each other. Their connection helps them find common ground in spite of their differences. They are able support each other as they work through difficult times. Their connection helps them understand that, ultimately, everyone (executives to front-line staff) shares similar hopes and goals. Their connections are solid enough to withstand respectful disagreements, as they know that these make for richer outcomes. When there are strong personal connections in our organizations, everything is possible, even when we are challenged with moving boulder-sized obstacles.
Dr. Murthy told graduates that if we choose to see ourselves in others, despite our differences, we learn that we all uniquely express the same desire for meaning, fulfillment and security. This helps us develop empathy, which creates our desire to solve and prevent conflicts. Empathy helps us understand one another and feeds our desire for connection. I have found that organizations who build on empathy (as well as other aspects of emotional intelligence) are better equipped to solve problems during tumultuous times as employees are better positioned to appreciate each other’s perspectives, points of view, and find common ground.
Dr. Murthy said during his address, “Optimism is our ability to see the good in others – and in ourselves – especially during difficult times.” One of my favorite UA Deans, with whom I have worked to manage cultural shifts in different departments, reminds employees to “assume goodwill” as the difficult work of cultural transformation occurs. By doing this, they are encouraged to believe that overall, their co-workers have good intentions even though they may disappoint each other at times. Their optimism leads them to build bridges with those who may feel differently than they do. In addition, they have found that optimism and “assuming goodwill” keep the doors of possibility open. These optimists dare to imagine a better organization and work to build it. As Dr. Murthy shared, “Optimism is what allows us to chose the path of connection over isolation.”
Courage enables us to act and keep acting. In organizations experiencing any kind of change, courage (and patience and persistence) is essential, as cultural transformation can be a slow process in which everyone needs to repeatedly practice new behaviors and ways of working together. Employees act to implement these new behaviors until the behaviors and values are woven into the culture of the organization.
Dr. Murthy asked the graduates to create a world their family, friends, and teachers deserve by being connected, empathetic, optimistic, and courageous. I would encourage you to create organizations you, your colleagues, and your clients/customers deserve by asking yourself, “How can I better connect with my colleagues and use empathy, optimism, and courage to contribute to making the culture of my organization better? How can I make my organization one my colleagues and customers deserve?”
Navigating and managing change in organizations is exhausting, especially if there have been multiple years of change. As Dr. Murthy wished for the graduates, I wish for my clients during times of intense cultural and organizational change: “to create moments of calm and with a renewed sense of purpose, set forth with a clear mind and renewed heart.”
Looking forward to opportunities to work together.
Read more of Dr. Murthy’s address here