In Phoenix, flowers bloom most of the year. A few months ago I purchased a flowering plant for a shaded garden. This plant required partial shade and water about once per week. It thrived during the winter and spring with the right balance of light and water. The light nurtured the leaves and the water nurtured the roots.

Then we had a hot spell. I had not moved the plant or changed the watering schedule to compensate for the changes in its environment. In one week, it had partially dried up and quit blooming. To save it, I moved it to a shadier location and increased the water. In a few days, new buds and leaves began to appear. So, what does this plant have to do with change, organizational develoment, and capturing and sustaining millions of dollars in improvement benefits?

The plant was getting too much sunlight and not enough water. Improvement systems like six sigma, lean, tqm, others…) “shine light” on improvement opportunities and soon a project list can get very long. Success may be measured by the length of a project list, not by the number of projects actually completed or sustained. A long project list does not mean that dollars are flowing to the bottom line. The same goes for excellent process work. The expectations created from pouring millions into change initiatives are great, but the actual benefits captured over the long term are often disappointing. For real change to be experienced, the roots of change (i.e., the culture – beliefs and behaviors) must have a balanced focus and emphasis. Nurturing a culture gives new life and vision to the “intangible” roots of change so that “mechanical” processes that we can see and touch thrive.

Without a proper balance of light and water, a plant withers and dies. Without a proper balance between light (process changes) and water (cultural transformation), a company’s hope for real change withers and dies. Finding and emphasizing that balance is a key to success with change.