Until the beginning of the pandemic a year and a half ago, I used to go on what I considered great adventures. As an admitted sufferer of Wanderlust, I regularly found myself someplace in the world doing something interesting.
Wherever I went, I would push myself to try novel and uncomfortable things. In the days following the activity, I would then try to condense what I learned into some big ideas or a list of lessons for you. Then I would spend time crafting what you know as my signature style of email. The purpose of sharing those lessons was to at best inspire you to go out somewhere in the world and have your own adventures, or at worst, give you some ways to help improve some area of your life.
I’m happy to report, I finally have a new adventure to write about.
I went to Tennessee to clear my head. If you can believe it, the way I tried to “quiet” my mind was to do some chainsaw carving. Although the idea of chainsaws might conjure up thoughts of summertime horror movies or lumberjacks, I got to try something you might not expect. I spent three full-days learning about the art of chainsaw carving from a master craftsman. But this man was also a master teacher – he didn’t instruct by demonstration – his teaching technique was to immediately get your hands dirty with gasoline, oil and sawdust.
As impressed as I was with this style, I was even more impressed by the finished product we created in the photos to follow. By investing my own sweat equity into the bear, I realized something you have a hand (or saw!) in creating will only be more valuable and personal to you.
Owning the bear is one thing. Being involved in the manufacture of that bear is more powerful. After reflecting on the three days, I realized the same power holds true for your business, family and team. In order for any of those to be more valuable to you, they require your participation.
During my time in Tennessee, I discovered many similarities between carving out a bear and carving out the culture of your family, team or business. After seeing the pictures below, if you think carving out a bear is difficult, I can assure you carving out the culture for your organization is even harder.
Chainsaw carving may be as foreign to you as working on your culture. To help, I created a list of ten steps you will need to follow to make your culture into a work of art.
10 Steps to Carve Your Dream Culture
1. “See” The Bear
The first step in my carving experience was spending time imaging the bear I wanted to create. The carver told me I had to see the bear hiding in the wood. Designing your culture requires the same initial work, and that effort is something leaders often miss. If you skip this step and start working or playing before your culture is properly defined, don’t be surprised when you don’t finish with what you really wanted.
ACTION ITEM: Spend time writing out the details of the culture you would like for your organization.
2. Ready Your Tools
There wouldn’t have been any carving without the right tools. For carving a bear, you need different stuff. Before we started, we had big and small chainsaws, sanders, paint, sealants, and a blowtorch at the ready. Once all the tools were there, then we could begin.
In terms of culture, you have to have your tools ready too. Once you have defined the culture you want, tools like your company or team vision, values, and mission are essential. If these aren’t in place before you begin, your culture will always be challenged because they were missing.
ACTION ITEM: Create your vision for your company, team or family that will drive your culture.
3. Remove The “Isn’t”
Once we started actually carving, the coolest advice I got from the master carver was to simply remove everything that was “not the bear.”
When you know the culture you want, it helps define both what you want and what you don’t want or won’t allow in your culture. So, while you are building the culture you want, you should also be removing the people and behaviors you don’t.
ACTION ITEM: Create a list of all the things your culture won’t stand for or tolerate.
4. Big Cuts First
You may have heard you have to take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves. Although that can be true, whether it’s carving a bear or building a team culture, it is important to start with the “big things” first.
Big cuts can be removing the people you don’t want or stopping the behaviors you won’t tolerate. Either way, for your culture to start taking shape, there are big pieces that will need to go.
ACTION ITEM: Remove some of the people or things that don’t fit with the culture you want to create.
5. Cool Things Down
Sometimes have to be patient. When the chainsaw overheats, you have to let it rest and start again. Building a culture can cause some things to overheat too.
Just like pressing too hard with a chainsaw can stop the blade, you can’t push too hard too fast for culture too. Don’t forget it’s a process that takes time. Cultural change or removing some people may be the right idea, but there will be periods where you have to let the engine cool down.
ACTION ITEM: Schedule in a period of review and evaluation to make sure the cultural changes you want are taking hold.
6. Sharpen Your Blades
During the carving, there were periods when we had to stop cutting and sharpen the blade. This action may have seemed to cost time, but cutting with a dull blade only takes longer and leads to a sloppy job.
Even as you start to work on your family, team or business, you need to remember to continue to develop yourself as a leader too. If you don’t keep improving yourself it will be difficult to improve the people around you.
ACTION ITEM: Pick some areas of personal weakness and address them.
7. Take Time To Refuel
Sometimes the saw shut down. Not because the saw was broken, but because it ran out of fuel. Once we put the gas back in and primed the pump, the saw got right back to work.
Using this analogy, you have to take time to fuel back up too. As the leader of your culture, it’s often easy to overwork yourself until you run out of gas. The key is being aware and taking the appropriate recovery time to insure you’re never running on empty.
ACTION ITEM: Make sure to schedule in both recovery and recreation into your life.
8. Sweat Small Stuff
Once the design was done and the big cuts had been made, we started to use the smaller saw and carve in the finer details. Once you’ve made the big cuts, your culture’s also going to require more attention to detail.
Your fine-tuning tools in culture are things like appreciation, communication, and training.
ACTION ITEM: Make sure you are regularly meeting with your people to go over their progress.
9. Lock It In
Once we completed the bear, we began the sealing process to not only maintain what we created, but also to protect it too. Once you have things where you want them culturally, you will also have to seal things in place. If you’re happy where your organization is, you have to lock it in.
On the bear, we used a glossy sealant. For your culture, one great way to gloss things up is with recognition.
ACTION ITEM: Create opportunities and celebratory events for people who have been the best supporters of your culture.
10. Appreciate Your Mistakes
During the process of carving the bear, we made some mistakes. But the master carver reminded me mistakes only give your bear more character. The small errors make your project more unique.
The only reason I am able to write this analogy between carving and culture is because of all the mistakes I’ve made. And I know I will still make more. As long as you recognize them and learn from them, you will be happier you made them.
ACTION ITEM: Periodically take time to review the current state of your culture and tune it up according to mistakes you’ve recognized.
If you liked these cultural lessons and would like to learn everything I know about how to create a great team culture, I have great news!
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Thank you for your help and I can’t wait to hear what you think of the new book.
Throwing you a big High Ten!