Be careful what you wish for

‘Nasrudin found a weary falcon sitting one day on his window-sill. He had never seen a bird of this kind before. 'You poor thing,' he said, 'how ever were you allowed to get into this state?' He clipped the falcon's talons and cut its beak straight, and trimmed its feathers. 'Now you look more like a bird,' said Nasrudin.’* How happy do you think that bird would be once it was forced to be something it wasn’t?

This little tale is from The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudinj, by Idries Shah.  The point?  Well think about how many times you have seen an organisation recruit a ‘falcon’  Someone who is a bit different and will bring a new and fresh approach to the organisation – challenge the status quo and really help to drive improvements and cultural change…………..

Then they are left to fly alone in the veritable aviary of the organisation.  Everyone is happy and watching them in awe – new ideas are flowing, great questions being asked and the executive know they have made a fantastic appointment.

Business as usual for the next six months…….

But wait, some of these questions are getting awkward.  This new hire seems to actually expect us to change.  Hang on, s/he isn’t even like us, doesn’t think like us – these highfalutin ideas just won’t work here.  Doesn’t s/he understand our culture?  Then, over time….………wait for it, s/he doesn’t even fit in.

OK, so you can all see what’s coming – fast forward 18-24 months and, yep, the resignation plops onto the table.  We forget that we thought we wanted something different and deliberately recruited to that brief.  We just can’t cope with the fact that this person is now starting to make us feel uncomfortable and simply isn’t understanding why we are the way we are.  

We still believe that we want cultural change, but maybe this wasn’t the right person to help us.  It’s not our fault, they just haven’t settled in.  Maybe it’s best that they go after all.  

The risks of underestimating the support required to enable even the most resilient of people to effect culture change are significant.  So beware the trauma of thinking that you want a falcon, but then end up trimming its feathers and cutting its beak so that it will start to fit in – it doesn’t work.  As someone who is has been lucky enough to work with people who recognise that my difference adds strength to the team, I can honestly say that by letting the falcon fly in its own way, it really is possible to see transformational change.

Any examples out there?