Culture Chat

And other musings on humanizing the workplace
What Got You Here Won't Get You There

What Got You Here Won't Get You There

January 9, 2017
Jamie Notter

Today’s post shares the title of a book written by Marshall Goldsmith a few years ago: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Goldsmith’s book is focused on individual leaders—helping them get past some unconscious habits that proved to be successful previously in their careers, but have now become road blocks to success.

In my work, I see this dynamic all the time, but at the level of the organization, not the individual leader. A few years ago I remember a keynote speaker telling the story of the “world” swimming championships in northern Europe back in the 1800s. Apparently at that time, all the competitive swimmers in northern Europe used the breast stroke. It was the only option. Somehow, some swimmers from Brazil entered the competition one year, and they swam using the stroke they swam at home--a version of what we call “freestyle” now (which, if you don’t know swimming, is MUCH faster than the breast stroke; trust me, the physics don’t lie on this one). As we would today predict, the Brazilians won EVERY race. By a lot. The northern Europeans, on the other hand, were completely stunned and embarrassed.

So the leaders of the swimming community had a meeting after that year’s debacle to figure out what to do. Their conclusion? Double down on efforts to swim the breast stroke even faster.


Yet how often is that EXACTLY what we do in our organizations? We look around and find that we’re not getting results that are as good as maybe three or four years ago, so we conclude that we need to do the same thing we’ve been doing over the years, but make it better, stronger, faster. So often, that is NOT what we need. We need innovation. We need to adapt what we are doing to meet the specific needs of today’s environment, today’s market, today’s workforce. Yet we often don’t realize that we’ve become emotionally attached to the methods that provided success for us in the past, blinding us to opportunities for growth and success sitting right in front of us.

When we work with clients on their culture, we always start with the Workplace Genome, because it gives a much clearer picture of “what is” inside an organization’s culture than any other assessment we’ve come across. That perspective is critical to being able to identify new opportunities that will drive success. Instead of just swimming and being laser-focused on that finish line (using methods with which you are already quite comfortable), you now see a picture of your whole body, moving through the water. You can see the parts in your stroke pattern where you go faster and slower. You will see the parts of your culture that propel you, but you’ll also start to see particular areas that may not be optimal. It’s not about what you’re comfortable with—it’s about what IS.

And here’s the trick: YOU have to see all that, in order to figure out what kind of innovation will drive your growth. No assessment on the planet will accurately tell you ahead of time what needs to change. You need the assessment to sharpen your understanding of who you are, and then you use your own insight and awareness to make the bold decisions about what needs to change and what doesn’t. This is the work of leadership today. Break out of your comfort zone and start leading some growth.

image credit


Take a Workplace Genome Survey
Employee    Employer