grinding it out on gravel roads

In an effort to get a little leaner and meaner, I have recently started running again.  This weekend we went to visit my parents on the family farm, and I got out for a run while we were there.  I ran four miles around the square “section” that they live on and while doing so had a bunch of flashbacks.

I ran track in high school and for the first two years I was a distance runner.  Practice often consisted of our coach driving us several miles out of town and dropping us off to run back to town.  We spent a lot of time running on gravel roads.  One of our coaches used to talk about how that is where the races were won and lost…he claimed that if he could know who was doing what out on those gravel roads in February and March he could accurately predict who would be winning races in April and May.

Running on those gravel roads was hard mentally…because nobody was watching. It really is not that hard to run your heart out in front of stands full of coaches and friends and family.  Running your heart out on a gravel road when nobody else is around is a different thing, and a very telling thing.

I got to thinking that organizations have their gravel roads as well.  The conversations that happen in the hallways, the decisions that get made in the meeting rooms, the questions that get asked in the managers office…all of these social interactions carry the genetic material of the organizational culture.  They inform the culture and are informed by it.  They tell you things that the annual reports, the press releases, the metrics cannot tell you…they tell you the true character of an organization.

Organizations are great at saying the right kinds of things, talking about integrity, transparency, inclusion, innovation, but doing the work is a little more rare.  You cannot just say that you are an inclusive organization, you have to work every day at being inclusive in those conversations and decisions.  You cannot just say that you are innovative, you have to support the individual behaviors and practices that drive innovation.  You cannot just run hard when people are looking.

Be good to each other.

  1. Andrew S. Dungan

    I couldn’t agree with you more.
    What you have just said is personally true as well.
    Living a life where you believe one thing and live another is painful and doesn’t do you any good.
    Live what you believe even if it hurts!

  2. Jean Baker

    SOOOO right! I worked for an organization that “ran hard” when people were looking, but within the walls? A very different story. The thing is, people are more likely to believe the people in the trenches, rather than the CEO’s media “presentations,” so the company isn’t really fooling anybody. And now they have a reputation for not telling the truth (or, at best, “spinning” the truth).

    Good post, Joe – thanks.

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