Whole dictas and dissertation documents are dedicated to the changing of cultures – be it local, organizational, or societal writ large. A lot of what is written on BR is more technically adept at the football aspects than I could ever offer, in terms of value added. Guys like Matt, Brian, and Ron are able to break down packages and personnel better than I would ever be able to. I’m more interested in the bigger picture of the organization – where it has been and where it purports to be going. While critics can easily gripe that unless Ralph Wilson transitions ownership, nothing can really change culturally at OBD, I beg to differ. In fact, while the Bills remain a business intent on making a profit, Nix and Gailey were brought on to work within the confines of this environment to go about a difficult task of changing the culture at OBD.
I’ve tried to change cultures before – it’s not easy. Often, it results in spectacular failure. Cultures are imbedded, and generations or time orders of large magnitude are usually needed to turn around issues and aspects of various societies (at a local or national level). I spent the better part of two and a half years working in rural West Africa as a part of the Peace Corps to work to change cultural responses to community health issues. I faced deep resistance on many levels for certain issues (water sanitation, for one). My work was more successful in dealing with certain individuals who were already “advocates for change”. I was able to empower these leaders, have them grow, and build small community development systems around these leaders. In time, together, we even had a few successes in beating back maternal health mortality and improving girls education levels in what was a very rural outpost.
I raise my experience in the Peace Corps because organizational cultural change literature and local community development and federal government cultural change academic literature all focus on the latter point – identifying leaders that already exist within an institution, and unshackling and empowering these individuals to be agents of change within their own communities.
Likewise, it seems that the past year has been a long trial (and definitely filled with myriad tribulations) in identifying leaders on the Bills who want to win, have the requisite type and build to do so, and “expect” to win. Fitzpatrick was quoted today in an article that the idea that the Bills expected to win was not an idea that caught on extremely well last year – a team replete with Jauron and Modrak draft picks that were used to perpetually losing. Nix has deliberately weeded out this group, some for personnel and package reasons, and others for reasons not so obvious. Moreover, he has kept a handful of players to build around who have “bought in” and can be agents of change with their new teammates.
I did not write during the preseason because I wanted to take the four weeks and assess how the team was faring with regards to changing its culture. It does strike me that players such as Dareus, Merriman, Barnett, etc. have brought a new attitude to the defense that may help change its sub-culture of “bend but don’t break” that perpetuated the Jauron defenses. This defense looks like it has an attitude. Offensively, the Bills stood pat – content to build around a culture of teammates that are comfortable going to spend time with each other -- sleeping, eating, and drinking together for days at a time in the offseason. To further underscore this point, folks have mentioned the twitter #BillsMafia and family references that have become ubiquitous. I take these all as encouraging signs, pointing this organizational culture in the right direction.
Whether we are talking about the Peace Corps or the NFL or the business world, culture matters. Nix and Gailey are slowly changing OBD’s player makeup, which will definitely impact the culture of the locker room and on the field. In time, it might even begin to translate into “wins.” Stay tuned.<!--EndFragment-->