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Culture Club – Fill the bath by the dripping tap

Often, when we visit a culture club, we see the synchronicity and the beauty of everyone aligned to the purpose and vision of the organisation. It is so easy to see the evidence of it, but like a good iceberg there is much beneath the surface that has forged it over time. In our 21st Century Fast food, fast rise to fame reality TV celebrity world that we live in, there can be the temptation to think there is a quick solution to everything. Creating a ‘culture club’ is not a quick fix, ‘boil in the bag’ solution.

A good friend of mine, Trevor Waldock, once said to me, “everyone wants to be Nelson Mandela, but no-one wants the 27 years in prison.” There is an important truth contained in that. Nelson Mandela’s leadership ideas and achievements were forged in the challenge of prison. Through hardship and the test of time they were refined and improved resulting in their strength. The same could be said of creating a ‘culture club’. It doesn’t happen overnight and there is likely to be painful moments as people align. There is something that all culture clubs will have done to get them there, they will have ‘filled the bath by the dripping tap.’

“How many times, do I have to tell them?” said Jane as she lowered her head into her hands. It had been two years since she took over to lead this organisation. She knew what she wanted and had worked with staff to have the big launch of the vision and values week. ‘Bringing value’ was the simple aim and yet in one walk around the office 3 weeks later she had seen phones being left to ring, an abrupt greeting in the reception and an email to a customer riddled with errors. She turned to her coach, “what don’t they get? It’s only two words . . ‘bring value’. Why do they not get it?”

Fill the bath by the dripping tap

The coach leaned forward, and on his notebook started to draw. He turned his pad and there was what could be distinguished as a bath. “How do you fill the bath?”

Unsure of what the coach was really getting at and what it had to do with her dilemma, Jane blurted out the obvious answer, “turn the tap on.”

The coach nodded and then followed it up with a series of questions, each in turn. “What is the impact of turning on the tap? What happens when the bath is full? What happens if the water goes cold? What if it is left for ages? What happens if the plug leaks? Before long, Jane realised that a bath left unattended will soon go cold, the water turns stagnant or leaks away from a leaky plug. There is only one thing that keeps the bath ready, constant refilling.

“There are two ways to fill a bath,” said the coach, “a full-on torrent or drip by drip. Drip by drip keeps it fresh and warm when there is chance of leakage.”

If you have ever tried to improve something, there is impetus at the start. There is energy for the change when people have captured the vision for it. But within a few weeks, without careful focus on it, energy and people’s attention on it dwindles. Imagine filling a bath full of hot soapy water. It’s inviting and warm. But as it is left there with no attention, the water cools, the soapy suds disappear and in time it either drains away through a leaky plug or the water goes stagnant. This is like trying to create a culture. It cannot just rely on the bath filled by a torrent at the start. It needs to be constantly kept warm and topped up with a steady flow of the dripping tap. Constantly drip, drip, drip feed the culture you want.

Ways to drip the tap

If you want to establish a culture club, it is crucial that the purpose and values are constantly and naturally being revisited, constantly drip feeding it. Over the last 4 weeks we have covered the different methods that you can use to do that:

  • Modelling – you demonstrate what you expect.

  • ‘Miranda moments’ – turning and explaining to those around you why you did something, like the TV show Miranda does to her audience.

  • ‘Meerkat Moments’ – praising what you want to see so that everyone turns like a meerkat to where the noise is.

  • Mentoring – purposefully mentoring those you see have great potential to be influencers.

  • Spot, Speak, Synergise – spotting the behaviour you want, speaking about it and synergise it back to the launch or when you talked about it before.

Jane’s question, included “how many times do I have to tell them?” The simple answer is ‘constantly’. We need to saturate the culture with what we want to see.

Monitor performance, analyse, target the gaps

The good news is that we can direct where we are aiming the tap. Some members of the team will get what we want to achieve relatively quickly. So, the best use of our time is to mentor them to be influencers and this is like turning another tap on. Create as many influencers as you can. The next stage is to then monitor how you are doing. Where is it ‘soaking in’ and where is it dried up and needs your ‘dripping tap’? You can then focus your energy there. Regular walk arounds help you see where the culture is working. Maybe also arrange a ‘secret shopper’ who visits your organisation. I’ve used it before and it helps identify natural issues and target the areas to ‘drip-drip’ on.

When we discover a Culture Club, we often have not seen the journey they have been through. Like all big tasks, it is achieved one step or one ‘drip’ at a time until finally they become a culture club. It is relentless and needs a tireless commitment to the culture you want to achieve. The more people you can get passionate about it, the more the load can be shared.

“So, what ways could you fill your bath with a dripping tap?” asked the coach. Jane knew just the people on her team who got the culture that she wanted. They were her ‘influencers’. Out came the post it notes as she mapped out what she could do and who could work with her on this. She would create a culture club.

Would you like to be a Culture Club? We can help you in a range of ways. Maybe, you would like us to help you assess with fresh eyes what you have but what is missing. Maybe you would like some coaching to help examine this yourself? Maybe you would like training for your staff in areas that will help you become a Culture Club?

Everyday Leader is here to empower, inspire and equip you to do that. If we can help you find a way forward, through coaching, training or consultancy, do let us know if we can be of help to you. Contact us on

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