Treat Your Employees Like Children

How Parenting, Brain Evolution, and Behavioral Science can Create Successful Cultural Change


Now, to bring it back to business. In my professional role, At XPLANE, I advise at an intimate level with executives, most often tasked with the nearly-impossible, insurmountable job of “transforming” an organization. This evasive, strong-willed darling of a task can come dressed in many dresses; it can be a wholesale departmental process change, a global strategy activation, or a change management program; at the bones of all of them, ultimately, is cultural change; how do we change the behavior of the organization to reflect our desired state? And culture is, at its very root, a programmed series of values and behaviors that an organization accepts as its normal and preferred behavior; we essentially replicate and repeat what we witness our leadership and influencers doing.


With all of that said and seemingly obvious (especially to those of us who have raised a toddling traffic walker at some point); it never fails to amaze me how many transformation efforts are based around executive and outsider led process and strategy, enforced through marketing-created communications. We are spending millions of dollars per year designing programs for transformation and change that never work simply because we’re only doing half the job. We can’t just guide, we have to guide and exhibit.


Just as a father has to back away from his daughter on the playground to assess her own risk, or a mother must resist the urge to rush to her son when he falls; employees need space. We want to fail — it’s the only way learning becomes wisdom. We have to know where the edge is, when hot is too hot. When sharp will actually cut our fingers. If we don’t feel like we can explore — like we have a safe place to try and fail; we get upset, we feel we don’t have an organizational voice, like we can’t be leaders. We feel boxed in and controlled — and in many cases; we rebel. We gossip, we become inefficient. We waste valuable hours and dollars. We, as a combined group, can cause entire change programs, to fail (and we do at an alarming rate.) Ultimately, people need to feel empowered, in control, and able to influence change. If you can institute that level of operational flexibility, you can breed evangelism into those you lead. They’ll seek change because their culture rewards them for their actions and they have ownership of their own leadership.

Copyright 2016 — Dave Gray


To institute real, successful change, we must additionally take into account the brain’s propensity for repetition and replication, our natural tendency to explore, and the implications that witnessing culture exhibited, play on reprogramming behavior. Organizational leadership must not only properly design their desired culture, but they must learn to exhibit that behavior, over and over again, then provide a safe, evolving area for controlled exploration for all those watching.



Innovator, Storyteller, Strategist, and Songwriter. Business Unit Leader at

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Tanner Bechtel

Innovator, Storyteller, Strategist, and Songwriter. Business Unit Leader at