Time is a circus, always packing up and moving away. ~Ben Hecht
I can still recall nearly 12 years ago watching the Cirque du Soliel performance of Alegria in the Royal Albert Hall in London with my young daughter and her friends. We were all mesmerised by the sights, sounds, costumes and activities of the acrobats, clowns, jugglers and tightrope walkers. And the music was continuous and mystical, creating a magical spell, not only for the audience, but seemingly for the cast as well.
For those of you who don’t know, Cirque du Soliel began as an alternative to the traditional circus shows in Canada in the 1980s and owes its first few years of life to a grant from the Canadian government. Fast forward and today Cirque du Soliel is a $1 billion plus global enterprise with permanent and travelling shows in major cities around the world.
Like many fledgling start-ups, in the early days the founders and entertainers were filled with passion and excitement about “doing something special”. Bringing a new kind of circus turned theatre entertainment to children and adults. And the performances were truly magical, filled with passion and energy. Watching Alegria for the first time was an experience I will never forget.
So last week my wife and I got last-minute tickets to the newest show at the Royal Albert Hall, Kooza. We arrived in our box just as the lights dimmed and the characteristic mystical music began. For the next hour and a half, with a rather long intermission, I kept waiting for the “magic” to happen. But everything seemed flat and lifeless, over rehearsed and somewhat mechanical, as if everyone was just going through the motions. We both left feeling disappointed. The “magic” was definitely gone.
Where has the Magic gone?
In the life cycle of most companies, the excitement and magic, the engagement and fun starts out strong and palpable and in some sense is a key ingredient in their success and growth. But as the company grows people and processes seem to settle into a routine; efficient, but not very fun. And the magic oozes away without anyone inside noticing. But customers notice, and so they too drift away, looking for a more genuine buying or shopping experience.
Like vegetables, companies wilt with time unless constantly watered and attended to.
In the search for more profit, more efficiency, higher productivity, management takes their eye off the energy and passion of their business. Energy and passion is replaced by efficiency and professionalism. The magic dies. The work day becomes a grind, people become irritable, customers are a hassle, the weekend is the only excitement left.
As someone who has visited hundreds of companies around the world over the past 30+ years studying organisations and corporate culture, it is easy to tell, some times just by walking into the lobby, whether the company is powered by “the magic of passion” or just faded memories.
Many in business believe that nothing lasts forever and keeping the magic alive is impossible. Then again I have seen companies who remain vibrant, innovative and great places to work for decades. Apple comes to mind as constantly working on recreating the magic in new and interesting ways. Netflix has been wildly successful not once, but three times in just the last fifteen years, going from movie rentals to Prime Time productions.
Corporate culture is the battery pack of any company, and when the battery goes flat, so does the business.
Culture is often revealed in the stories that are told on breaks, in the lunch room, in the corridors, at the bars after work. Stories filled with energy and excitement, talk of ideas and new products are indicative of a vibrant culture, the magic is working. Stories of “who did what to whom”, negative talk about management or co-workers, and “them vs us” stories are certain signs of decay, loss of passion and a drained battery pack!
Who’s in charge of recharging your corporate culture? Do you even know what your culture is currently like? Can you even remember when you were filled with “the magic” at work?
Written and Posted by:
John R Childress
Senior Advisor on Corporate Culture, Leadership and Strategy Execution
Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
PS: John also writes thriller novels