The 6-Minute Speech and the Monster Under the Bed
Young children occasionally cry out in the night from bad dreams of a monster hiding under the bed. Parents respond by immediately turning on the light. It is, after all, a known fact that monsters cannot live in the light.
So let’s turn on the light. Depending on your perspective, the 2013 NSA Convention marked the advancement or a decline in NSA’s cultural evolution.
Some people saw the NSA Foundation roast to be refreshing. Others found it abhorrent. Various speaker social media groups went wild with superlatives about the Council of Peers Award for Excellence (CPAE) Speaker Hall of Fame® acceptance speeches of Randy Gage, CPAE, and Mikki Williams, CSP, CPAE. And, some decided to stay quiet rather than risk that their disagreement with the sentiment that NSA had finally changed for the better, be taken as personal disagreement about an individual CPAE selection.
(Please note: This is not a professional, high-quality video. This video was taken by a Convention attendee on their smartphone.)
First a disclaimer: Randy Gage and Mikki Williams are excellent platform professionals who have succeeded on their own terms. They deserve their CPAE honor. I empathize and understand the feeling that they were overdue for recognition. I was nominated 15 times before receiving my CPAE.
This isn’t about the individuals. It is about two issues:
- The perception that a six-minute speech can change the culture, and
- Has the NSA culture changed and does it even need to do so.
A single memorable speech—or even two of them—cannot change an organization’s culture. A great speech can create a sense of urgency and provide a vision for change. It can give voice to a group of people who share similar goals. It can create a collective experience where a change is recognized by all. And, it can raise the level of candor required for the difficult conversations about what we should or shouldn’t be as an organization.
But, a speech doesn’t change culture … much to the comfort of all of us who assist organizations with culture transformations.
This is important because if you want the NSA culture to change, then there is much more work to be done. And if you don’t, a speech or single event that doesn’t square with your values doesn’t necessarily mark a course change.
An organization’s culture is defined by its habits, and communicated through its language, legends and symbols. A speech doesn’t do the hard work of actually making a change stick. That requires leadership and commitment from multiple levels over a significant time.
And that brings us to the real monster hiding under the bed—should NSA’s culture change? If so, from what to what? Are we simply talking about a few things that are viewed to have no place in a 21st century “professional society”? Do we want to change everything including the Spirit of Cavett that promotes helping each other learn and grow?
It is irresponsible to say that the “culture” needs to change … or not … and tie that belief to a single change that you want to be made.
The occasion of our 40th anniversary presents a wonderful time to examine who we are, what we stand for, and how we communicate those things through our language, legends and symbols for a new generation.
And, it is critical that this conversation is held in a way that lives the value of inclusiveness articulated by the NSA Board of Directors in the late 1990s. A winners and losers approach to the evolution of our culture creates an environment where everyone loses—the NSA organization; the members who are disenfranchised; and the profession as a whole.
So let’s talk. The light is turned on. What should the NSA culture be if we are to build on the legacy of Cavett and our founders who wanted to build a place that develops and inspires speakers, thought leaders and change agents?