The wildfires in Arizona, USA, these past two weeks have burned nearly 700 square miles. The fires recently moved into New Mexico. As of this weekend, fire crews indicate the fires are only 6% contained. There is some good news as less than 40 homes have been destroyed and, to date, no injuries have been reported.

Newscasters have reported how difficult it is to control these fires with current weather conditions – low humidity, high heat, and strong winds. In addition, experts have described how wildfires “create their own weather,” which cause even worse conditions for controlling the spread of the flames.

How Wildfires Create Weather

This post by the Phoenix, AZ, ABC affiliate describes the circumstances of “fire weather creation” very well. In a nutshell:

  1. A burning tree provides fuel (wood & sap). When the flames reach the top of the tree,
  2. The water in the tree is turned to hot vapor – steam – which rises quickly.
  3. The hot, rising steam create hot winds, which
  4. Fan the flames and carry embers – hot, burning “coals” – beyond fire breaks to create new fires in surrounding areas.

The more trees that burn, the hotter the winds, the livelier the embers, etc. which set more trees aflame. It is a dangerous environment for firefighters, air support equipment & personnel, and homeowners.

How Organization’s Create “Cultural” Weather

Just as wildfires create weather that reinforces and extends the fire, organizations create “cultural” weather that reinforces and extends it’s culture. If that’s a positive culture, that’s a great thing. However, if it’s a less-than-positive culture, it makes it more difficult to refine the culture to a more positive one.

Some of the ways that organizations reinforce and extend their existing culture include:

  • Practices – whether explicit (formally defined) or implicit (normed behavior which is not formalized), practices are powerful “maintainers” of culture. Practices include how decisions are made, how inclusive discussions are, how transparent the organization is, and how leaders see their role (dictating, cooperating, etc.).
  • Incentives – whether intentional or not, incentives drive behaviors that maintain existing practices. If your organization desires a team-based culture yet provides only individual compensation, teaming behavior will be quashed. If bonuses are paid when “kinda unethical” behavior occurs (like selling lots of widgets at the end of the quarter to generate commissions, then accepting returns on those widgets the next month), that behavior will be normed (embedded) and will occur again and again.
  • Idea Consideration – if problems are ongoing, never quite get resolved, and “out of the box” suggestions are quashed, your organization’s culture is actively maintaining the status quo. If “no stone is left unturned” in generating ways to be more productive & efficient, your culture values change and inclusion to solve issues.
  • Hiring – who gets hired for leadership or frontline roles exposes a culture’s bias for new thinking or “it ain’t broke” (even it it is broke) approaches. If your organization values fresh perspective and new approaches, it will hire people who bring those skills.

Change Your Organization’s Weather

It is much easier to maintain how things are – the status quo – than to change things. Yet, if your organization’s culture does not serve employees, customers, and stakeholders equally well, culture change is needed.

Blanchard’s proven culture change process can help your senior leaders 1) craft their desired values and behaviors, 2) socialize those behaviors, 3) embed those behaviors, and 4) measure how well those behaviors are demonstrated in every interaction.

This approach will change your organization’s weather for the GOOD.

S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
How do you like to learn? Read books | Listen to podcasts | Watch videos