This article originally appeared on the SHRM Executive Network HR People + Strategy Journal Blog.
What does it mean when “culture” is a part of your job title or role description? Can one person (or even a whole functional area) alone be totally in charge of and wield its power?
Culture is not about amenities, employee appreciation days, company picnics, or community service events. It is “a construct reflected in all things that have the power to influence behaviors, interactions, and perception within a socially defined entity or institution…[delineating] the boundaries of what is acceptable and not acceptable. [It] is manifested in how people behave, interact, react, and perceive reality. Culture is created, reinforced, and experienced by people.” Because it’s shared, no one can control culture, and yet it is accessible enough that a single person can make a difference. There are a number of roles for HR to play when it comes to culture:
Educator. The topic of culture can be intimidating to some because they don’t understand it. This might lead them to push it aside or ignore it when they really shouldn’t. Who will enlighten them? If this describes HR, corrective action is needed if they truly want to be the conscience of the organization. The educator must first be educated, and there’s nothing like having to learn something in order to teach it. As attributed to William Glasser, we learn 95% of what we teach others. People have to learn the importance of culture, how it impacts behaviors (like decision-making), and influences outcomes (for better or worse). Leaders have to understand that culture is more than a liability--it can also be a business asset.
Facilitator. Culture change gets that extra boost and attention as a designated initiative, but it must also be continually managed as part of “business as usual.” In either scenario, the CEO should be the ultimate culture champion. In partnership with or in the absence of that leadership, HR must step up to make it happen. Either empower others, or lead yourself.
Evangelist. When it comes to culture, be visible, communicate frequently, and consistently demonstrate by example. Recruit other evangelists across the organization regardless of role, level, background, or responsibilities. Make culture the backbone of how your company operates and integrate awareness of culture into daily work life. Compel people to take active roles in supporting and experiencing a healthy culture. You’ll know how successful you are based on how well the aspirational culture sticks.
Sponsor. A sponsor doesn’t just endorse. Sponsorship means you are willing to stick your neck out for it and be an active advocate. If you believe in the aspirational culture the company is promoting, there should be no hesitation. I don’t mean that you sacrifice yourself for the cause (without champions of culture, things will be worse off). Influence as much as you can for the intended outcomes.
Connector. Should you and your HR function assume these other roles, you become a nexus point in the organization, one that knows what’s going on, who’s who, and what’s to come. This enables you to connect people and create the platform where new connections uncover possibilities and catalyze results.
Notice advisor is not on this list. That’s because assuming this role could lead to the misconception that you “own culture,” which isn’t true and won’t help your cause. Advising also promotes a certain emotional distance and separates you from being a part of the shared community. Leave advising to the external consultants. Remember that within the company, culture is accessible to all as “consumers of the work experience,” and “everyone is prequalified to contribute.” Avoid being known as the culture advisor.
HR is by no means restricted to these roles, and there are certainly connection points and overlaps. Resist the temptation to see these as a checklist—instead, treat it as a collective state of mind that influences actions on a perpetual basis. If fulfilled, HR will have an amazing impact when it comes to culture, for it creates a virtuous cycle of positivity when done well. Healthy culture = trusted HR function.
Where to start? First, there are things you can do right away in your of daily life. Look for and pay attention to culture and how it is revealed day-to-day—in meetings, interactions, written communications, decisions, etc. Ask yourself: How is our culture influencing our perceptions or actions? What anomalies or individual circumstances might create an undesirable long-term impact on the culture? Are we reinforcing a desirable or undesirable pattern or norm? Are we building up our culture or eroding it? Do our words match our actions? What are the cultural consequences of my behaviors as a leader?
Adopt language that indicates your understanding and priorities when it comes to culture. Point out what you are paying attention to and observing. This reminds people of culture’s pervasive influence and encourage others to follow suit.
Make employee engagement a priority--not just in task or operationally--but strategically. Start with a deep dive into the current state to uncover and understand its complexities and mechanisms. Answer: Do values, brand, and intentions match lived experience? Are cultural norms intentional and positive? Are other experiences compromising the integrity of the culture? What strengths enhance the organization? Where are the unmet needs when it comes to culture?
With that knowledge, the excuse of ignorance is no longer valid. That’s a good thing, because now you can take informed action. Design of Work Experience can guide your organization through the process of understanding your current state, designing for change, implementing for the future, and sustaining it. Don’t wait to leverage culture for the better, because you could be heading off a brewing firestorm without even knowing it. A better, stronger future awaits.
All quotes from Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @Work by Karen Jaw-Madson (Emerald Group Publishing, 2018)
It's every speaker's dream to have an engaged audience. I was truly honored to present Culture Your Culture at The Design Collective's Salon in SF last night, which included lifestyle brand makers and creative directors, furniture designers, high-end plumbers, an auditor, life coach, product designers, purveyor of wall coverings, a UX designer, an architect, writers, and other creatives. Highlights from the dialogue are worth sharing!
This article originally appeared in the September, 2018 issue of HR Strategy and Planning Excellence Magazine, a publication of HR.com.
SHOEMAKER’S CHILDREN NO MORE: CHANGING HR’S CULTURE
When an organization needs culture change, sometimes HR is charged to lead—or worse, it’s frozen out all together. Both circumstances (and everything in between) are fraught with pitfalls, and it’s hard to figure out the starting point. Regardless of the scenario and contrary to most, culture change must start at home, within HR. This is especially the case if the function wants to play any meaningful role, lead or otherwise, in the life of the organization. For whatever we in HR do, we must do so from a place of strength, one where our collective capabilities are both evident and demonstrated. After all, what credibility or voice comes with a broken, dysfunctional, and divided HR?
Culture change eventually needs to spread throughout the organization and will take time to get there. A large initiative as part of an organization-wide effort can be taken, but it may also begin small, even within a single team. Consider HR the pilot, if you will, or perhaps the experiential lab where strategies, ideas, and approaches may be developed and tested in a learning environment while honing people’s culture-building skills. There are so many targets where HR can start:
All that being said, the best way to determine where the smallest amount of effort will net the biggest impact (along with priorities, in order) begins with a deep dive into the current state of HR in your organization. A Culture Study will go beyond what people think they know to “what is”, uncover the complexities and the conditions that create them, and develop unprecedented levels of understanding about the experiences working with and within HR. Design of Work Experience (DOWE) begins this process and takes you all the way through designing, implementing, and sustaining a new culture.
Design of Work Experience (DOWE, pronounced [ˈdü ˈwē]) is a co-creation model, framework, and process that “partners employees with their employers to co-create customized and meaningful work experiences that set the conditions for people and business to thrive.” It provides the much needed, step-by-step “how to” for culture and employee experiences. There are 4 main components: the combination of DESIGN and CHANGE processes enabled by ENGAGEMENT and CAPABILITY throughout.
These are arranged as a series of 5 phases, each with progressive learning loops of specific activities.
Ultimately, the model yields an in-depth understanding of the current state, a strategy for the future state, and a plan for how to get there.
All aspects that factor into how one is satisfied at work can be purposefully designed (or co-designed), including: behavior, interactions, climate, people practices, workspace, processes, etc. Unlike much of what’s out there in the world of “human resources best practices,” DOWE is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Its remarkable power comes from designing solutions out of a deep, empathetic understanding for an organization’s unique context, rendering solutions that are relevant and impactful. Nothing is “off the shelf” here.
Everyone involved can benefit from this. When engaged in great experiences they help create, employees are bound to find meaning in their work, leading to more productivity and higher performance. This in turn translates to business success.
So 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. If things are not at their best, there’s no question. Do something to prevent further deterioration and make it a turnaround story for the ages. Even if all is well, think about the potential left on the table in the absence of a culture initiative to provide that extra boost.
In the midst of whatever else is going on in the greater organization, now might be the chance to do something about HR’s culture. Should enough change take hold, people will pay attention and look to HR as the example or beacon for everyone else. Maybe then we will no longer be the shoemaker’s children, for we are finally taking care of ourselves before everyone else.
Learn more about Design of Work Experience (DOWE) in Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @Work
Wow, what a great conversation with host Mike Sedam of Crucial Talks! We covered so much territory in just over half an hour:from the individual, team, and organization levels of scale, how Design of Work Experience (DOWE) is different from case studies, the importance of culture and experiences, human nature, meaningfulness at work, to untapped potential in organizations. Give it a listen.
When does high-performance become overwork? Mildred Culp, PhD of WorkWise asked this question in her recent column and put in a quote from Co.-'s Karen Jaw-Madson. There's a point at which high performance becomes overwork and eventually burnout. Multiplied with many people and sustained over time, there's a cultural impact. Both employees and employers share a responsibility in this, and it should be managed intentionally. Check out the column and look into how this topic applies to your company.
Co.- joined Adrian Swinscoe on his RARE Business Podcast to discuss why design thinking is part of Design of Work Experience's approach to culture work: among a number of reasons, it's people-centered, achieved through learning, iterative, experiential and necessary for good change management. We also touched on how DOWE is a form of organizational mindfulness. In the same way individuals practice this, organizations can pay attention to the present in ways that could positively impact their future. Adrian also published a companion summary article to this podcast on Customer Think, which has garnered a number of views and shares across social media.
Being physically safe at work should be a given, but unfortunately it isn't. What's more, it's not just about physical safety, but also psychological safety and well being. Does your organization do enough to keep people safe?
Remember this if you want an engaged workforce: safety > threat. Without this, people will operate in fear of negative consequences. That, in turn, creates the conditions for an unhealthy workplace and matching business results. Paradoxically, THIS creates MORE RISK for organizations.
Find out why creating a culture of safety isn't enough in Co.-Design of Work Experience's interview with Safety and Health Practitioner, and while you are at it, read the blog post about why there's no such thing as cherry picking A Culture of "This or That."
My interview with Tayo Rockson, MBA on As Told by Nomads #podcast is LIVE!! So many topics covered, including my upbringing as a child of immigrants, development of my cultural identity, then of course the importance of managing organizational culture and how Design of Work Experience (DOWE) can help.
I recently joined Swag Sam of What Up Silicon Valley on his podcast, Brand Hero. The discussion centered around the importance and alignment between culture and brand.
Perfectly timed to be posted on the same day as the book's launch, this Inc. article covered some Q&A for Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @Work:
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