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)
This post was originally published in HR Professional magazine's September 2018 issue. Download just the article or the entire issue.
WHAT HR SHOULD KNOW ABOUT EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE
Of all the conversations around the Future of HR, two topics are most likely to make an appearance: technology and the employee experience. Both can be disruptive in good ways and bad, and both will change the role of HR going forward. Though much has been covered about advances in software and automation, employee experience has received far less attention in comparison. Given its ability to be equally game changing, it shouldn’t.
Experience is the “act of living through events.” In psychology, events are a type of autobiographical knowledge. Events (and experiences of them) are linked together as memories, grouped by themes, and organized hierarchically in our human minds. Combined with recall and perception, they feed into broader experiences that span periods within a lifetime.
Employee experience, then, is what people go through in the workplace, all that distinguishes “what it’s like” to be employed in a particular organization. The framing of work as an experience is fundamentally people centered, and it reflects a profound shift in mindset when it comes to managing the workplace. Instead of transactions and metrics, it’s all about what they perceive, how they feel, what compels them, how they interact, how they respond, what they remember. This is how humans are coded, and “how life is lived and remembered.” Look for proof everywhere: museums, music festivals, vacations packaged as experiences, retail customer experiences, even subscription boxes—all are intended to delight the consumer in differentiated, unique ways. No wonder driving HR with policies and procedures against data, costs, and profits is problematic. (Queue the proverbial tail wagging the dog.)
It’s already established that every employer benefits from highly engaged employees. Intentionally designed work experiences encourage engagement, flow, and meaningfulness needed for high performance.
If employee experience is the leading approach to designing the workplace, the next question might be, “Now what?” Typical responses might be to panic, become overwhelmed, avoid or ignore it for as long as possible. This is a losing battle because whether or not anything is done, an existing employee experience is in place--one that can deteriorate without intentional management. Others might look into how competitors do it, consult with experts, and then implement away until something takes, momentum slows, or resistance takes hold. Adoption of new practices wholesale won’t work either.
What’s missing are three important characteristics every exemplary employee experience needs:
Relevance. All organizations come with their own unique context, the combination of business factors, culture, environment, behaviors, experiences—and of course—people. A well-designed employee experience is based upon a deep understanding of the context for which it is intended. Dragging and dropping, or taking anything off the shelf for plug and play and expecting it to work the same way every time demonstrates (intentionally or unintentionally) a lack of understanding and perhaps even carelessness.
Differentiation. Just like branding, employee experience should be unique and differentiating. Leveraging strengths in one’s unique context goes a long way with establishing differentiation—however, it must be reflected in actual, lived experience to have the impact needed to be memorable. Blasé experience = blasé employees, and the war for talent can’t be won by everyone doing the same things.
Co-creation. Who better to design the experience than the people who will be expected to live it? Engaging with employees as co-creators allows an organization to leverage their talent, empower people, ensure relevance, and even foster enrollment. This sets the conditions for success and facilitates change management going forward.
Now that “the what” of employee experience is established, “the how” comes next. With roots in values-based leadership, design thinking, and Appreciative Inquiry, Design of Work Experience (DOWE, pronounced [ˈdü ˈwē]) “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” that enables an organization to prioritize, define, develop, and implement aligned people strategies, culture, and employee experiences. The DOWE co-creation model is a 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.
“UNDERSTAND, the first phase of DESIGN, is made up of three learning loops: People & Context, Insights, and Criteria. Activities in People & Context include: aligning purpose and scope, identifying early assumptions and key questions, planning and implementing user research. The Insights learning loop begins by using different mindsets to develop insights from raw data collected during user research. As a result, thinking is reframed and drives the development of the provocative proposition. Learning is further catalyzed through the creation of visuals. Criteria uses what was learned to establish the most critical requirements in two sets: from the organizational POV and the employee POV. This becomes the decision making tool later on in the DOWE process.
CREATE & LEARN applies learning ‘into the creative design process and combines it with generated ideas through play and experimentation’ in co-creation with others. The learning loops, Explore, Brainstorm, and Play, net ‘brainstormed ideas to develop and refine for the new strategies and experiences.’ In Explore, the design team ‘builds knowledge and inspiration by learning from everything and everywhere, hunting and gathering anything that could inform their perspective…it goes beyond doing primary and secondary research—it seeks stimulus to synthesize concepts and ideas.’ In Brainstorm, facilitation guides people to ‘work together to generate options, ideas, or offerings that could solve for critical needs and define or enhance a work experience.’ The phase concludes with Play, where the team experiments with ideas to see how they relate to one another, how they work or how they might be modified to work.
The DOWE process converges with the DECIDE phase, which is comprised of the Prototype and Select learning loops. Prototype is another form of exploration that further refines ideas and gathers intelligence toward bringing the team closer to decisions. Select brings the development of the Strategy and Design Blueprint to full fruition when the team chooses what best meets three constraints: what is viable, what is possible, and what satisfies the previously established criteria.
The PLAN phase comes next and prepares the organization for the change that inevitably accompanies the implementation of the Blueprint to 1) ensure that change reaches sufficient depth and breadth across the organization while maintaining connectivity/reinforcement across all content, actions, and activity, and 2) cover what will be done and how during IMPLEMENT. The DOWE process walks the design team through iterative planning to form the Roadmap and Action Plans.
In this last phase of the DOWE process, IMPLEMENT, the Strategy and Design Blueprint is brought to life with the implementation of the Roadmap and Action Plans through the learning loops of Manage, Measure, and Sustain. Manage goes beyond carrying out plans, it manages meaning in the creation of a new reality at the individual, team, and organization levels. Measure serves to ‘gauge progress toward key milestones and enable timely adjustments’ as well as ‘provides data and content for communication and contributes to the change narrative.’ ‘Both a process and an outcome,’ Sustain drives continued momentum and ensures that changes stick for as long as they’re needed.”
Though every organization can benefit from it, Design of Work Experience has requirements not everyone is willing to satisfy. First and foremost, it only works for those that care about people. DOWE also demands the investment of talent, time, effort, and a commitment to doing things differently in order to get different results—culture work needs all this because people do. “Sounds like a lot of work” some may say. The challenge to that might be to ask: What if nothing is done? Or how is it working now? One only needs to read the headlines to see the consequences of neglect, and the excuse of ignorance is no longer valid. Perhaps it should’ve been this way all along, but the best disruption for HR would be to put the “human” in human resources.
Kumar, V. (2013). 101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.
Conway, M. A., & Pleydell-Pearce, C. W. (2000). The construction of autobiographical memories in the self-memory system. Psychological review, 107(2), 261.
Jaw-Madson, K. (2018). Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @Work. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.
Co.-Design of Work Experience. (2018). CYC Book Summary. Retrieved from http://www.designofworkexperience.com/book.html
Jaw-Madson, K. (2018). Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @Work. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.
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
A place to share interesting concepts that will inspire, spread, and/or apply new ideas. This page is dedicated to sharing my twitter feed, announcements, and blog posts.