Just noticed this on my Amazon.com front page. Even so, the company was 5 years old by the time I became a customer. It's a reminder of the old adage, "Rome wasn't built in a day." Yes, agility is a key competency, but there are some things can't be rushed. It seems that those that can continually manage the tensions between fast and slow, strategic and tactical, creative and analytical, etc. may have the best shot at success. Perhaps we must become the embodiment of oxymorons.
Organizations are seeing people speak up about workplace harassment with the rise of the #MeToo movement. Instead of fearing it as a potential crisis, see this for the new possibilities it brings. After all, it’s a good thing to expose what’s hidden beneath the surface and confront what’s eroding the culture, employee experiences, and ultimately the business. The hope is that with these wake up calls, organizations can work toward building more authenticity and congruity among espoused values, culture, and lived experience. Inevitably, the question arises: What do we do?!
We are living in what could be a watershed moment in history. It can’t be ignored because “business as usual” will no longer be tolerated as a society. Use this hot topic as an opportunity to reflect as an organization and facilitate productive dialogue that leads to positive actions. As I’ve said many times over, manage it or it will manage you.
Let HR do its job and conduct the investigations for any specific cases that emerge—thoroughly and with fairness. It’s not meant to be a public spectacle, nor should it be by any means clandestine. As appropriate, communicate that the investigation is happening (especially if there are rumors) and allow due process for those involved (known or unknown). Shut down gossip and conjecture by emphasizing expectations and requirements for respect. Bring in counseling if needed. The outcome of these investigations should reflect true accountability for everyone involved.
Whether there are issues or not, this is a chance for the organization to say, “we care.” Provide resources, develop skills for communication, set expectations, reaffirm values, elevate employees. There are so many ways for companies to be the best they can be. Your workers will reward you for it with their talents, engagement, and productivity.
This also presents an opportunity for an organizational health check up—especially when it comes to culture. Read on.
UNDERSTAND THE CURRENT CULTURE AND EXPLORE THE POSSIBILITIES
Do a deep dive—and I mean a real honest, hard look--into the current culture. The Design of Work Experience (DOWE) methodology begins with a culture study, one that identifies your greatest strengths and unmet needs, as well as the overt and not-so-obvious key influences on the current culture. Employee surveys and focus groups don’t cut it. Use DOWE as a tool to find your starting point with authentic interactions that encourage the organization to understand its truth and build psychological safety for employees. Determine what conditions are in place for harassment or other dysfunctions to exist and identify the strengths, capabilities, and behaviors that should render them obsolete.
CO-CREATE A NEW OR ENHANCED CULTURE AND DESIGN ALIGNED EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCES
Inevitably, the culture study will highlight opportunities that can be seized upon. The DOWE process guides the co-creation of a new (or improved) culture along with the design of employee experiences to reflect it. Pay special attention to the co-create part by engaging with your employees as partners in design. After all, they (from the entry level to the senior executives) will be the ones to live this work. Experiment with new ideas and encourage innovation customized to your company’s unique context. Added bonus: capabilities are developed and utilized as the organization learns through the initiative.
MANAGE AND SUSTAIN CHANGE
Once there are strategies and designs, follow through with the change management needed to realize and sustain the future state. Plan, manage, measure, and follow up. Change has to be as successful as possible in order to make all that preceding work worth the investment. It can’t be wasted. We know from research that change doesn’t have to be perfect. However, the better it is, the greater the ROI. Change is never easy, but decades of research taught us a lot about what factors and practices work and don’t work.
TAKE THE FIRST STEP
You now have at least a general idea of what to do. Engage with your employees. And I’m here if you have any questions. Thanks for reading!
“The company needs to rebuild a culture of safety to prevent this from happening again.”
“We must establish a culture of innovation to remain competitive.”
“Their hostile culture of distrust caused this.”
We’ve heard things like this before, where culture is reduced to a single adjective. It also happens to trigger a personal pet peeve of mine. There may be dominant themes or characteristics of a culture categorized by things like “safety,” “innovation,” or “distrust,” but culture is never simply one thing. It is a complex social construct that influences behaviors, interactions, and perceptions in organizational life--not only when it comes to particular topics. So it’s never just a “this or that” culture, but Culture with a capital C. Even then Culture is only part of a bigger context in a company, a larger “system” (a la Peter Senge) made up of other big pieces, like business factors, environment, behaviors, experiences, and people. Changes in one area can have reverberating effects in other areas. Managing the big pieces and setting the right conditions is the key to being successful. This may sound overwhelming, but this is how it really is—life.
This is also why the making, changing, and managing of culture can never be simplified to a “Top 5 Things You Can Do” list. There’s way, way, more to it if you want it to be meaningful and real—and a company has to genuinely want to invest in their people in order to do this. Anything short of that is merely cherry picking actions that have little sustainability in the long-term.
Just because it takes more, doesn’t mean that it can’t be prioritized, organized, and approached with discipline. This is why Design of Work Experience (DOWE) exists and why I wrote Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences at Work as a much-needed how-to that didn’t exist before. Like any practice, the capability must be cultivated. And it’s worth it. Learn more about it here, or reach out to me.
As I write this, the school year is starting up again. With it comes a sense of getting back to business—not only with families, but for the workplace as well. People are returning from vacations, and there’s a collective push to get things done before the end of the calendar year. Now’s a good time to know where you are and where you’re going with Design of Work Experience’s (DOWE’s) Culture Study. A Culture Study goes far beyond what you think you know and examines the complexity of your organization. It’s a deep-dive into your unique culture, a collaboration to explore talent and the context in which they are working. The co-creation process captures the current state from different angles, creating a holistic view that connects what happens at the individual, team, and organization levels. This is the first step to becoming a learning organization that purposefully manages its culture.
Back to school is a good time for a Culture Study. A poll from Workplace Options and Public Policy in 2012 reported increased stress during this time of year, affecting workplace “productivity and personal work-life balance”. What better time to engage people, let them know how important they are to the business, and demonstrate your efforts toward helping them succeed?
If you know your customers better than your own employees, it’s time to start investing in them. Or if you have big decisions that will affect people, know what’s really going on first. Mistakes in talent management have repercussions. Have the guts to gather information, build organizational self-awareness, and confront what’s great and not-so-great about your company. A Culture Study synthesizes data into actions with impact.
“We’re too busy” is a poor excuse. DOWE’s Culture Study can fold into work-in-progress, integrating into what’s happening through the normal course of business. After all, the goal of this phase in DOWE is to establish where you are today. The work of the Culture Study could also replace things that have become less effective through the course of routine—for example, regularly scheduled team meetings, town halls, poorly attended lunch and learns, trainings that have little impact. These are opportunities to reallocate time and resources.
There’s an alternative. Many organizations do in fact delay culture work in the face of other business priorities, but what they are choosing in its stead is the risk of organizational entropy (what isn’t maintained, deteriorates). “A watched pot never boils,” as they say, but we never hear about the stove starting a house fire until it’s too late. Try repairing your employer brand and reputation afterwards and you’ll realize that a little more up front can go a long way.
Not ready for the enterprise-wide initiative? Start with individual teams or departments and understand their sub-culture first. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, there’s an entry point to managing culture.
What to Expect
Every Culture Study unfolds differently, but anticipate that after kickoff, the first step is user research (or rather, employee research). This yields a treasure trove of data from which insights (key learning points) are derived. The depth of understanding acquired through this work informs the development of criteria, which in turn is used for decision making when it comes to talent and culture. Should the organization seek to continue in the DOWE process beyond the Culture Study, the whole of the organization has the opportunity to participate in co-designing the future direction of their culture and the employee experiences that go with it. From there, it’s a change management effort to bring the organization forward in the journey and sustain results.
Your company’s organizational health determines not only how people feel about their workplace, but also affects how well your business goals will be achieved. What you get in practicing DOWE is a more connected, engaged, and capable workplace where the conditions are set for both business and people to thrive. To learn more about DOWE framework, click here.
Like so many others, I’ve lost sleep over everything that’s been happening. I can’t even wrap my head around all this suffering. None of this is acceptable to me.
In the midst of all this, I’m clinging on to my faith and looking for signs of hope. Positive action must be taken in a negative world. There’s one thing we can all do:
GOOD things we are GOOD at for the greater GOOD.
We are wonderfully different from one another, gifted in so many ways. And yet, we are all connected in this shared world. We, collectively, individually, continually, and simultaneously, have to do so much good in our lives that the bad will never prevail. Whether we come from a place of privilege, being blessed, or having disadvantages, we can all affect this world for the better with our unique gifts and calling. This isn’t aspirational. It’s fact.
I know why I do what I do. These recent times have given us many more reasons on top of that. As much as we want to forget that which makes us uncomfortable, we need to honor our brothers and sisters and preserve our own humanity through our good deeds. Never losing attention to this will make sure we do that.
Won’t you join me?
I'm pleased to be quoted in this great article from Insureon. Here are the highlights:
“It's not enough for companies to vie for top talent with the same desirable cultural traits,” says Karen Jaw-Madson (@KarenJaw), principal of Co.- Design of Work Experience. “An organization must make clear what makes them uniquely differentiated and special in both word and deed.”
In other words, make sure your company culture is genuine so that the values you articulate match the lived experience. When you can do that, Jaw-Madson says it can attract and retain the right talent – the kind that will thrive in your culture.
The takeaway: The competition for quality employees can be fierce, but the winners are the business owners who find skilled people who also fit their culture. Create a workplace that makes them say, “I want to be part of that.”
I recently attended a talk about humor at work. My interest in the topic was two-fold. First, I just kicked off a new project working with a new team. There are lots of benefits that come with making hard work fun and at times even humorous. I was interested in picking up some new tidbits to either experiment with or share. Second, I wanted this to serve as stimulus for me to think about the relationship between humor and organizational culture. The audiences' questions were not mine to answer. Most were around trying to figure out how to use it: where there are cultural differences between countries, when what's humorous is so subjective, and without offending people. I'll put my two cents in here.
IMHO, humor is another form of communication that comes in play when we interact with people. When companies identify humor as a cultural value, they are communicating an expectation--or in some cases, permission--that humor is not only acceptable, but encouraged.
When we see it this way, use of humor becomes more purposeful. As with all other communication, think about how to deliver with intended impact. That includes making your intentions evident to the receiver, and getting the desired response--a smile, chuckle, laugh, or even a stronger rapport or connection. If the chances of that happening are outweighed by the chances it won't work based on what you know, then don't do it. When it misfires, address it--right away. Ok? Ok. "So a management consultant walks into a bar..."
I was grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to the Spring 2016 HR People+Strategy Journal. Read my review on Bridging Organization Design and Performance, and while you are at it check out the entire issue!
No surprise, I’ve been reading the recent coverage on Dan Lyons’ new book with great interest and an eye on culture. As the title, Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble, would suggest, it is a negative portrayal of his time as an employee at Hubspot. His former employer had something to say about it too. To be fair, I’m including links to both perspectives so everyone can decide for themselves.
In my humble opinion:
1. All organizations, startups or otherwise, will always have more to learn about how to create and manage culture.
2. Organizational cultures should purposeful, clearly articulated, values based, and differentiated.
3. Communicated culture must match lived experiences or risk eroding trust and authenticity.
4. Culture should be consistent and integrated throughout the organization while also leveraging diversity.
Hubspot did some things right, and appears to be learning and improving on other things. Dan Lyons’ book created a catalyst for dialogue on the employee experience.
The reality is that there is only so much that can be understood about this particular case from the outside in. Hopefully organizations (and their people) will take this opportunity to look inward and influence their own context. That requires taking action and investing in people.
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