Here we are at the end of an unusual year. I hope you’ve managed to weather the challenges and found at least a few moments to appreciate. There’s much to reflect upon, and the state of workplace culture is no exception. Here are some of the big headlines we all should know about and learn from below (in chronological order):
1. CULTURE COMES TO WALL STREET. Shortly after the pandemic began, the CEO of Blackrock Larry Fink released this comment: “A lot of people aren’t thinking about culture during this pandemic. The difference between bad and good companies, and good and great companies is culture. It has to be virtuous and connected, especially when everyone is WFH.” This is a big deal coming from a highly regarded investment firm in an industry where the main business is finance. Will this begin the culture change on Wall Street? Let’s hope.
Key takeaway: Remote work reflects culture. Efforts to create good work cultures should be initiated, renewed, and continually sustained--not after the pandemic, but now.
2. BLACK LIVES STILL AND WILL ALWAYS MATTER. The murder of George Floyd reverberated mightily to remind us there’s still so much to do to eliminate racism and inequality in our societies. Every injustice should pain us into further action for change and we can never let up. Organizations cannot ignore this. It affects employees, humankind—and guess what—the company itself. Inequality pervades our organizations and needs to be actively addressed. Dialogue is not enough. (Side note: It requires skilled facilitation to be productive. Some companies found that out the hard way). Eternal optimist that I am, I published this article in Greenbiz: “Societal division could lead to division at work, but it doesn’t have to.” Read it to find out how businesses are uniquely positioned to make a difference.
Key takeaway: Companies have a social responsibility to address inequality internally and externally—it is unavoidable.
3. PINTEREST MEETS ITS RECKONING. Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks exposed their former employer on social media for a toxic work environment (racism, sexism, unfair pay, and retaliation) in June. 200 Pinterest employees demanded changes and staged a virtual walk out. Pinterest hired a law firm to investigate. At the time, I posted it was not enough. In August, the COO who was fired back in April filed a lawsuit. Another walkout ensued. That lawsuit was settled this month for $22,500,000, creating another firestorm when it was revealed that Ozoma and Banks, both women of color, only received less than a year’s severance. It’s unbelievable that the company managed to discriminate their settlement of discrimination claims. Also think about how much it cost the company in brand, reputation, and money. Answer: A LOT.
Key takeaway: Replace Pinterest here with your own company’s name. If it doesn’t sound nonsensical, then you’ve got trouble brewing. Get ahead of it and address it now before it becomes a costly headline.
4. WELLS FARGO MAKES EXCUSES. One would think that our understanding of diversity in the workplace has evolved over the decades. Then there are these Groundhog Day moments that remind us that some leaders still need Diversity 101. Charles Scharf, CEO of Wells Fargo, wrote this in a memo in June: “While it might sound like an excuse, the unfortunate reality is that there is a very limited pool of black talent to recruit from.” Then he “reiterated again that the bank had trouble reaching diversity goals because there was not enough qualified minority talent” on a zoom call with employees over the summer. One week after the story broke in September, Mr. Scharf apologized in another memo.
Key takeaway: Make sure the C-Suite is educated and involved with diversity to avoid them derailing DEI efforts (and more).
5. COINBASE IS WAY OFF BASE. A lot of things happened (including a walkout) that led up to CEO Brian Armstrong announcing at the end of September that “Coinbase would not engage in ‘social activism,’ he wrote, outside of the company’s core mission of ‘building an open financial system,’” apparently “hinging on the pressure Armstrong felt from employees to say Black Lives Matter.” Also revealed were active steps taken to censor discussions. Armstrong offered a severance package to those who don’t “feel comfortable with this new direction.” At least 5% of the company (60 people) took it. By the end of October, they were hiring a Director of Belonging, Inclusion and Diversity. In November, a piece was published about the experiences of Black employees at Coinbase. It was not positive. Data revealed this month showed that the company underpaid women and black employees. Coinbase filed for a widely anticipated IPO on Dec. 18. There is sooooo much to unpack here, it’s hard to sum it up. As a woman of color, I saw the stance as a demonstration of privilege. I don’t get to choose in this way (not that I would).
Key takeaway: As I said in my twitter post, company culture is not owned by the CEO alone. Unilateral decisions have consequences, some of which are severe. The best cultures are co-created for the intended context and are people-centered. This sounds tame, but is oh-so-powerful. Design of Work Experience, as written in Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @ Work, was created as a guide on how to do this.
6. SPOILAGE AT TYSON FOODS. A November investigation at an Iowa plant owned by Tyson Foods revealed that plant managers placed bets on covid infections of its workers. (of note: the same law firm hired to investigate Uber’s toxic culture was brought in to do this, also led by US Attorney General Eric Holder) More than 1,000 of its 2,800 workers tested positive and at least 6 died. 7 supervisors were fired as a result. The former night manager said it was spontaneous fun that was intended to boost morale. This is mind-boggling. A workplace where managers de-humanize their workers and celebrates their misfortunes has a toxic culture. This is not just the misguided actions of a few people. The culture allowed for this.
Key takeaway: Culture determines the boundaries of what is acceptable, unacceptable, and condoned. Look into what falls into these categories in your organization. Do you like what you see? If the answer is yes, determine how you want to sustain it. If the answer is no, develop strategies and action plans for culture change.
7. GOOGLE GOOGLES IT. What was once an admired company envied for its culture has fallen from its pedestal by its own hand. The latest is particularly egregious with the firing of Dr. Timit Gebru, a highly respected AI ethicist whose paper was blocked from publication and who spoke out about her experience working there as a woman of color. A very public dialogue has unfolded between her, company leadership, and those of us in the peanut gallery. Again, there is a lot of unpack, but I tweeted a whole thread about some of my main points.
Key takeaway: This is not a one-time incident, but an ongoing, very concerning pattern. However, it is recoverable if and only if the company desires it. Look for your own company’s patterns and course correct, because these blow ups don’t happen overnight.
8. GRAVITY PAYMENTS PAYS OFF. Let’s end on a higher note. Gravity Payments made news back in 2015 when their CEO Dan Price took a pay cut and raised all of his workers’ salaries to a 70K minimum. It paid off. Then the pandemic hit and the company that serves small and medium businesses saw their revenue drop in kind. They had 3 months before they would be out of business. Instead of laying off people as most companies would do, Dan reached out to his 200 employees for their advice on how to avoid it. They offered to anonymously volunteer to take a pay cut, which amounted to 500K per month. He paid them all back this summer, restored their salaries, and is even giving out small raises.
Key takeaway: Only a good culture, one based on trust, would enable leadership and employees to come together like this. Crises amplify a company’s true culture. Here are 5 ways your company can prep for the next crises (spoiler: one is to culture your culture).
That I found it difficult to narrow down a year’s worth of culture-related news stories is indicative of how much is happening so quickly. There’s even more that doesn’t make it to print, but it doesn’t make the employee experiences any less important. Good and bad cultures are being lived every day. If your organization is doing nothing or not enough when it comes to your culture, now is the time.
There’s much to take from these stories. Learning is demonstrated by changed behavior when an encounter with new knowledge is incorporated and actions are different as a result. I hope that happens. If you or your organization want to figure out how to start, please feel free to reach out. Here’s to a better 2021.
It would be naïve to think that what’s going on in the outside world wouldn’t have an impact inside a workplace. The heightened tensions from a global pandemic, shifting economy, politics, social inequality & injustice, etc. will show themselves if they haven’t already. The classic horror movie trope puts it more bluntly: The killer is inside the house. Well-being, work environment, professional relationships, employee engagement, and company performance are all at stake. But as the title says, division in society could lead to division at work--but it doesn’t have to.
A company has a few things going for it that society (unfortunately) doesn’t have at this time. Because of that, it can be an oasis and force for positive change. Take the opportunity to demonstrate responsible corporate citizenship. Leverage these to proactively address and protect both people and the business, inside and outside the company:
A common purpose. One might wonder lately just which purpose our country is fulfilling in this world. It’s evident there’s more than one and they seem to be moving targets. Our news cycles and social media both shift and shape the dialogue. A clear, commonly-held purpose is lacking. What Viktor Frankl wrote is proving true: “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” A socially responsible business, however, has one clearly defined purpose that’s intended to inspire those working together. They know the organization’s reason for existence and they have common goals to achieve that purpose.
Take action: Review the organization’s purpose for its relevance, strength, and impact. Seek ways to systematically and continually incorporate this purpose into all efforts within the company. Answer, “How might we make our company’s purpose known in what we do?”
Shared values and culture. American culture has not been intentionally managed. No one can agree on its values. The absence of shared values erodes a sense of collective identity and pride. This lack of discipline has allowed extremism to emerge as diametrically opposed sides and various agendas fight for dominance. Most companies have at least articulated their values, and the good ones ensure that these match with their lived culture and experiences. In this time of national strife, a company’s culture must be at its best, demonstrating their ideals as role models. Anything short of that should be triggering some sort of corrective action right now. Case in point: the lack of progress when it comes to diversity in CSR is well known. This is a cultural issue. Renewed and ongoing efforts should be initiated for consistency and real, sustainable change. Chris Librie, a CA-based CSR leader, believes that “This is a time for corporate America not only to take a stance against injustice and racism, but to walk the talk. It's time to ensure that our corporate actions back up the brave talk in favor of change. That means more representation by women and people of color in leadership positions at our companies and a commitment to drive diversity in the future. Otherwise the words will ring hollow.”
Take action: Evaluate the current state of the company culture, leverage strengths and address gaps, especially when it comes to diversity. Answer, “How might we instill our values through our culture on a daily basis?”
More resources (and discretion to use it). It appears that even the most complex of businesses can secure resources more readily than public agencies and local governments. This goes beyond funds—it’s about access to and deployment of the information, knowledge, and talent when needed, before, during, and after crises. Economic downturn or not, there are certain investments that must be made: in the employees, workplace culture, communities, the world at large. A socially responsible company knows and acts upon their need to work toward the greater good. Corporate responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and racial & social injustice in our country have been encouraging, but it’s still not enough and there is always more to do. CSR-led companies should recognize that they can be the ones to forge ahead and raise the standards.
Take action: Invest in things that ensure people thrive, such as engagement and development. Strategically utilize resources to achieve sustainable change and win-wins for all. Answer, “How might we define and achieve success from investments in our own communities?”
A platform for affecting change, inside and outside the company. Being an “entity” implies a longevity beyond individual leaders. Purpose, values, and long-term strategy work in tandem to drive progress. Knowing that our society’s brokenness could unduly influence what a company has worked so hard to build, the platform can also serve as a safe place for dialogue and reconciliation, within the workplace and in the community. People are experiencing the world differently, but what’s happening is affecting everyone. These forums need expert leadership and facilitation to ensure the conditions are in place for productive dialogue and outcomes. Our society needs help in negotiating where one’s rights end and another begins. In listening more than talking, lending their platforms for positive change, and taking action on what they learn, companies can role model and demonstrate their capacity for transformation.
Take action: Initiate dialogue inside and out, provide wellness resources, implement decisive steps and practice advocacy to help this nation heal. Answer, “How might we leverage our platforms for social change within and outside the company?”
Opportunity to Innovate. More and more, the world is depending on the private sector to solve its problems because they are better positioned to innovate. Recent examples include the rush to develop COVID-19 vaccines and the first commercial launch into space. Innovation need not be restricted to scientific achievement alone. Social progress has many needs that are just as (if not more) important. For innovation driven companies, they should be ready to rise to the challenge of solving the unsolved problems of the world.
Take action: Create or revise the company’s innovation strategy for a product pipeline with social impact. Answer, “How might me successfully align across innovation, people, and our products for genuine social impact?”
A company’s well-being is at stake, but even more than that the future of our society is at stake.
As shared by David Cooperrider, Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at Case Western Reserve University and the originator of Appreciative Inquiry, “We are perfectly designed for our current results.” Businesses must demonstrate leadership and deploy what they uniquely possess: purpose, values, resources, their platforms, and their innovation to achieve better results for all. In your next leadership meetings, ask “What are we willing to do for the greater good?” Then do it.
This article is also posted on Greenbiz
In the midst of a pandemic, a business can only triage and manage what’s necessary to survive. Many entrepreneurial companies are already accustomed to operating this way. The “fly by the seat of your pants” makes for a nimble response. However, this strength is also why they are especially vulnerable. They sometimes lack the foresight to plan ahead and set up strategies and infrastructure--not just for the long-term, but for the “what ifs.” Without some discipline of this persuasion, an entrepreneurial company can be caught unprepared to rise to a challenge, no matter how scrappy they might be. Now is the time for companies to begin preparing for the next global crisis, however it might present itself. Here’s a checklist of 5 To Do’s to get started, some of which may be surprising.
1. Culture the culture. This is the first thing to focus on, or nothing else will ever fully work. A company culture devolving toward toxicity could actually derail a business, either by a thousand tiny cuts or in one big devasting blow up. In contrast, culture can be a big differentiator, the asset that elevates an organization and accelerates business results. Culture is both pervasive and essential—it is in every part of an organization and determines how work is done. It is what bonds or divides employees, the very ones that need to be aligned, coordinated, and managed toward a common cause. Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @ Work explains Design of Work Experience (DOWE), the comprehensive step-by-step “how to” for company culture and employee experience. DOWE facilitates the design, implementation, and sustainability. Begin or renew efforts to intentionally manage the company’s culture as a business asset.
2. Optimize Talent. A crisis forces the need to acquire, develop and leverage organizational capabilities in unprecedented ways. These are the things a company does well that have genuine business impact. Sadly, in the effort to cut costs, many companies have already laid off top talent—who, as an entire group, might represent the shedding of a business’ core competencies if they haven’t been strategic about it. This doesn’t serve a company’s viability in the long-term. At this moment, organizations should be taking stock of their core capabilities and whether/how that differs from what their business needs to be competitive. The next step is two pronged: a) determine whether to hire, develop, or outsource each specific capability gap, and b) ensure remaining in-house talent remains evergreen with learning and development. Working from home is actually conducive to the latter—replace canceled initiatives and projects with capability building and learning opportunities. These need not be expensive.
3. Truly prepare on a continuous basis. Preparedness is not an end result, but an ongoing constant state that must be maintained. What to prepare depends on the specific company, but may address topics such as:
For some organizations, the preparation begins with the current crisis. Leaders at JLL Corporate Solutions business recently mapped out their COVID-19 Corporate Journey which leads to what they call “the next normal.”
4. Recession proof the business. The terminology here is intended as a verb. A company must know what it will take to minimize the negative effects of a recession and perhaps even thrive in the midst of one. Doing this requires thinking outside the quarter-to-quarter mentality, and even looking beyond the tenure of individual leaders. Strategies might include shoring up product pipelines, securing cash reserves (and other liquid assets) at the ready, cultivating multiple/alternate revenue streams, nurturing potential partnerships, etc.
5. Innovate. To do this, two things need to happen. Acquire the know-how to innovate (as an organizational capability) and actually deliver innovation with impact. The capability to innovate comes with other cultural benefits: creativity, flexibility in mind and action, resiliency when it comes to change, and learning agility. All are really helpful when it comes to dealing with business threats. Most companies don’t really want to innovate for innovation’s sake and fall into the “before their time” trap. Innovation without adoption doesn’t actually build business or change the world. Being able to innovate out of a pandemic, for example, is a company’s path to remaining both sustainable and relevant.
The bottom line is this: it’s not the time to scale down activities and wait for the crisis to pass, this is the time to prepare. If a business can manage to survive this one, make sure it doesn’t fall short for the next crisis. Or there won’t be a next time.
This article also appears on Forbes
Hope you enjoyed the last post about Customer Experience (CX), Everyone Has Customers (Including You!) Since then, I've been able to contribute to Bloomfire's "The CX Trends to Watch in 2020, According to the Experts." Check it out!
Now on to this edition--I thought I would end this decade where I started...with Human Resources. Whether or not you work in HR (or some iterative version of the name), this one’s for you. Because warts and all, it’s an essential function of the business to maximize the talent in the organization.
That should be everyone’s job. What goes for HR, goes for company leaders especially. Take for instance, employee experience. In my HR Professional magazine article, “What HR (and Everyone Else) Should Know About Employee Experience,” I wrote about 3 important characteristics: relevance, differentiation, and co-creation.
These are things companies try to do with their products and services already, and certainly with multiple functions working together to do it. If only more businesses turned these efforts toward their employees, we would see fewer toxic, burned out workplaces that underperform to their potential and create business risk.
Employee Experience in turn influences and reflects the company’s culture. I talk about the relationship between employee experience and culture in my book, Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @Work. You can read a book excerpt via TLNT.com.
Employee Experience and Culture is clearly not just HR’s job—leaders must lead and employees are included given how patterns of individual behaviors shape and reflect culture too. Leadership, which includes Culture and Employee Experience (IMHO) can’t be in- or outsourced to HR alone.
Sure, HR has specific roles to play. My article, “It’s More than a Job: The Role of HR in Organizational Culture” is one example. While they may be the educators, facilitators, evangelists, sponsors, and connectors, they can’t “own culture” because no one (or few) people can wield its power. Culture is shared.
While there is always much to do, start with these:
… when it comes to deciding whether HR needs a culture change, think about whether the function has met its full potential with energized, engaged, and inspired employees who take the entire organization to a higher level.
Every company needs strong HR expertise. Having the firepower will enable them to deliver huge initiatives for the business, such as digital transformation. I happen to have some Tips for HR when it comes to Change Management and Digital Transformation, also published on Learnlight.
With the budgets related to the cost of doing business, wouldn’t you need your biggest asset—knowledge and talent that only comes through people--to be the best? Talk to leaders who trust their HR partners. They will tell you your investment will pay dividends.
Regardless of our roles, we all have customers. Those customers have experiences with each of us and, more broadly, our organizations. What does that have to do with culture and employee experience? More than you think.
When Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @ Work was first published, the target audience was primarily company decision makers and culture practitioners, regardless of industry. To my surprise and delight, the CX community enthusiastically embraced the book and its framework, Design of Work Experience. The connection between employee experience and customer experience makes total sense when you think about it. Here are some reasons why:
1. Your employees are also your first customers. As a company’s external interface, they are the ones who communicate and reflect the quality of an organization through their words and actions (for better or worse). Few leaders fully understand this or behave as if they do. Those that "get it" have great proof of their success. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, said:
“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
I quoted Angela Ahrendts (former CEO of Burberry and SVP Retail at Apple) on page 19 in Culture Your Culture:
“Everyone talks about building a relationship with your customer. I think you build one with your employees first.”
So if your company has customers and employees, you should be treating them as if they are important to the success of your business—because they are.
2. CX & EX are inextricably linked and co-dependent. Employees are also consumers themselves. They have purchasing power and thanks to social media the ability to promote or disparage brands. According to Accenture:
“…as the lines between professional and personal life blur, employees increasingly want the relevant, convenient and engaging experiences they have outside of work to be replicated on the job.”
Tools for EX and CX can be used to help each other. Consider one step farther: intentionally designing and implementing CX & EX together—for continuity, consistency, alignment, and IMPACT.
3. Progress is limited or enhanced by company culture. Here’s what Forrester predicts for 2020 when it comes to CX:
“We expect innovative, customer-delighting experiences to come to market that combine technology, creativity, and deep customer understanding.”
If you are in the business of serving internal or external customers (and I know you are), what happens when these new offerings are introduced to your company? Will your culture embrace, resist, or even ignore them? What happens after that? Chances are you have the foresight to answer these questions.
Whether good, bad, or just ok, get a handle on your culture. Understand its complexities and how you should manage its strengths and shortcomings to ensure it becomes a business asset, not a liability. Your CX, EX, and the success of your company depends on it.
If framing CX and EX together is new to you or just something you haven’t thought about recently, whet your appetite on my conversations with these Customer Experience gurus:
Amazing Business Radio with Shep Hyken
Crack the Customer Code with Adam Toporek and Jeannie Walters
CX Conversations with Vivek Jaiswal
RARE Business with Adrian Swinscoe
Photo by freestocks.org
Last week an exclusive group of executives and consultants gathered at EXcelerating HR to discuss next level topics, such as Big Ideas, Coaching and Leadership Development, Staying Relevant During Economic Downturns, The Future of Work and HR, Innovation and Digital Disruption, Design Thinking, Growth, and Innovation, and Women Leaders in the Workplace. Recommendations for books inevitably emerged through our discussion. Some were ahead of their times and more revealing than ever today. Others are newer entrants shaping our path forward. Everyone inside and outside that large hall could benefit from all this thought leadership--leaders most of all. Here is the running list (so far) below, in alphabetical order:
An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization
Black Holes and White Spaces: Reimagining the Future of Work & HR
Bullseye! Hitting Your Strategic Targets Through High-Impact Measurement
Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @ Work (my book!)
Evolve Yourself: Conscious Personal Evolution
Focus: Creating Career + Brand Clarity
Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change
Principles: Life and Work
Safe Enough to Soar: Accelerating Trust, Inclusion, and Collaboration in the Workplace
Self as Coach, Self as Leader
The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World
The Character of a Corporation: How Your Company's Culture Can Make or Break
The Dip: A Little Book that Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)
The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace
The Lessons of Experience: How Successful Executives Develop on the Job
The Whole Brain Business Book : Unlocking the Power of Whole Brain Thinking
Three: The Human Resources Emerging Executive
Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (And How to Fix It)
Since it's likely I inadvertently left some out, I will continue to add to this list as I hear from colleagues.
*Please note the links above are affiliate links*
As I said, it's been busy. Check out the just released newsletter below as a summary of the last few months. If you like what you see, subscribe!
Where has the time gone?! It's long-overdue for a dispatch from Culture Land (a.k.a my world), chock full of resources for you (and shared on my social media feed this summer):
1. Did you ever wish for a better culture, but didn't know where to start? Check out the #CYC30DAYS Challenge! Launched in commemoration of my book's publishing anniversary, you can start the challenge in your organization any time. Just be sure to tag me on social media so I can share.
2. Here are articles where I was featured:
3. Articles I wrote:
4. Interesting bits I shared on social media this summer:
There's more to come! Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or LinkedIn so you don't miss a post. Likes, shares, retweets, etc. are always appreciated.
Long time readers of my newsletter know that I continually experiment with content and format. Stay tuned for upcoming editions organized around themes, starting with Customer Experience (CX) and Human Resources (HR).
As for me, I continue to work with clients on projects such as cultural identity development (purpose, mission, vision, values) and founding team dynamics with startups. I had a great Fireside Chat a few weeks ago with Startup House. This week I'm on a panel discussing the Future of Work with Business Insite Group's EXcelerating HR Conference, and next week I will be speaking at Silicon Valley Advantage's Demo Day. I can't wait to announce a few more activities in my pipeline! In the meantime, please keep me in mind as a resource for your organization or those in your network. New client conversations are always welcome. More details on my offerings can be found on the website.
Now it's your turn. How are you? I'd love to hear what you've been up to and how I can help.
As you can see, it's been busy! I'm pleased to share 3 podcasts that launched over the spring and summer season, all in the Customer Experience (CX) space. It's been a joy to be embraced by this community, starting with Adrian Swinscoe and Ricardo Saltz Gulko of eglobalis. You'll find that each of these, like my other podcast interviews, are all very different from one another. Enjoy by clicking each of the images above and let me know what you think!
It's the Goodreads Giveaway! From May 1 - May 31, 2019, click below for a chance to win one of 10 copies of Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @ Work. Every organization needs this!
SPREAD THE WORD.
*Sorry, available in the US and Canada only
It was a privilege to be a guest on Carolyn Kiel's Beyond 6 Seconds podcast recently, and not just because it was a personal milestone (my 20th podcast!). Experience showed me how truly different every conversation can be, even if the premise is to talk about about my favorite topic of company culture. Between her wonderful radio voice, curious mind, engaging questions and our easy rapport with one another, we talked well beyond our scheduled time. We covered so much territory that it necessitated a second bonus episode about Culture Your Culture's journey to publication. My hope is that our fun translates to your enjoyment as listeners. Give it a listen and let me know what you think!
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