It’s no secret that we are nerds. Step into our office and you’ll find NASA prints on canvas on the walls, space ships in the display case, and our training sessions are littered with internet memes, clips from geek favorites like Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek, I even put a spattering of He-man images into our Time Management session.
Still, when I wanted to name our company culture training series ‘Terraforming Mars,’ Jason had concerns.
“That seems a little out there. It’s a little science fiction-esque, don’t you think?”
To which my first answer is always that nothing is ever too science fiction-esque. Because that’s kinda my thing. But, he’s right. It isn’t necessarily your thing. So why, then, did I think it was the best name for the job. I took a first pass at trying to explain my thoughts, to which Jason responded with his usual furrowed-brow brand of skepticism. “How do we explain that to everyone else, though.”
I perked up immediately, seeing how I could use my love of words to win the day. “We’d use a definition of Terraforming. One that makes it clear that it’s really a very good analogy for company culture.”
Jason was still not convinced. “Show me.” Always the final words in any contested decision that I haven’t won yet, but haven’t lost either. “Show me.”
I went to the internet, and was underwhelmed with what I found. None of the definitions I found quite lined up the facts the way I wanted them to. So after fifteen minutes of searching, I got frustrated and opened up OneNote instead. I’d just write my own. And I did.
Terraform: (v.) Transform a hostile environment (generally another planet), into an environment that is supportive to human life in terms of atmosphere, growth and day to day living.
And it did the trick. When he heard that description, the furrowed brow look changed to a ‘wheels are turning’ look, and he said. “Okay, I’m listening.”
So, let’s walk it all the way back, for the cool kids who don’t spend their time scouring space news for the next big Martian plan. What is terraforming, in its literal form?
Terraforming is not something that we have figured out quite yet, but it’s a series of ideas about how we might be able to take a planet where no one can live, like Mars, and change the surroundings so that one day, human beings might be able to live there, out in the open, breathing air and growing crops. It’s a massive undertaking, and in my humble opinion, one of the more fascinating arenas of science right now.
Mars is a super interesting planet, as it stands now, but not very friendly to human beings. On a Martian winter day, the temperature can plummet as low as -195 degrees F, and at the height of summer, at the equator, you might be lucky enough to see a balmy 70 degrees F, but get your hoodies ready, because when night falls, you’re back to -100. Brrrrrr! Other impediments include the fact that there is 200 times more oxygen in Earth’s air than Mars, so you couldn’t breathe there, and the low atmospheric pressure is close enough to the vacuum of space that, if you tried to go outside without a pressure suit, you would immediately die. The good news is that no matter how low your organization may fall on the spectrum of company culture, it’s not as bad as all that!
But just as some planets are more hostile than others, all companies sit on a spectrum, in terms of your environment. We’ve all worked someplace that feels hostile. Team members compete or undercut one another, or the people feel as though the leadership just doesn’t care about their concerns. People live in fear of losing their jobs, or dread going to work every day. That’s one end of the spectrum. On the other hand, we’ve all heard the stories of cushy tech outfit jobs where there’s an omelet chef on staff, nap rooms and weekly massage therapy for team members. Those are extremes, but I think you can guess which side of the spectrum is more valuable to employers who want to attract and keep the best talent, especially in the current market.
So just as terraforming, in science, involves taking the steps to raise the temperature, to increase the atmospheric pressure, and to add oxygen to the air, terraforming in company culture involves understanding how to control your messaging (because as a leader, everything you do, every decision you make *does* communicate a message, whether you mean it to or not!) It involves understanding what kinds of initiatives pull teams together, and what forces pull them apart. It involves investing in a physical environment that is welcoming and conducive to your team’s daily work (not as expensive as it might seem when you start to understand the economics of company culture, the value that the right investments can provide.)
Stay tuned for more on Terraforming and Company Culture next week, when we talk about the first step in terraforming your workplace – taking the right measurements! If you’re interested in learning how to work all the switches and knobs on this incredibly complex craft, give us a call today and let’s talk about how we can start warming up the air in your atmosphere!