Another version of this article originally appeared on Learnlight Insights.
As nice as it may sound, why would anyone want to have a learning culture? There are reasons that won’t suffice: HR needing a pet project, the company looking for good PR, or even an edict from above. All these lack meaningfulness for the ones who must carry it out—everyone else.
“What for?” should be answered by combining vision, business objectives and the need for new capabilities when solutions are unknown and conditions are ever changing. It then becomes clear that the only way a company could succeed is to learn. Now that’s something people can get behind.
In The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge defines a learning organization as one “that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future.” While every company must grapple with what’s to come, the ones that learn have the ability to do much more.
Besides that, to have a corporate learning culture means that learning is in the company’s DNA--not compartmentalized into a particular aspect of the culture, or within a certain department or functional area. All learning organizations have a corporate learning culture, and all corporate learning cultures lead to learning organizations.
What does a learning organization do?
Published by The Leadership Quarterly, Gary Yukl describes the essential processes of a learning organization as:
“the discovery of relevant new knowledge, diffusion of this knowledge to people in the organization who need it, and application of the knowledge to improve internal processes and external adaptation.”
This goes far beyond training programs. This is why so many L&D departments follow the Center for Creative Leadership’s 70-20-10 guideline (on-the-job/relationships/training). For learning to occur on a large scale, culture--with its power to influence behavior, perceptions, and interactions--must drive it.
As professors Victoria Marsick and Karen Watkins write in a forthcoming publication:
“Research and practice suggest that organizations focus…on cultivating a learning culture and environment that, in turn, motivates and incentivizes integrated work and learning architectures. This trend is consistent with a view of learning organizations that emphasizes the learning culture as key to strategic goal achievement… there is a significant relationship between a learning culture and organizational performance.”
People look to their leaders when culture change is imminent. Employees want to know where leadership stands and how they will lead. Leaders’ responsibilities don’t end there. They must actually follow through in guiding the organization before, during, and after these changes. They do this by:
1. Setting the vision. As the decision makers of the organization, leaders initiate change by communicating the vision for the future. According to Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’ classic Harvard Business Review article, vision is made up of core ideology (values and purpose) and the envisioned future (a vivid description of Big Hairy Audacious Goals). Setting the vision happens while building the case for a corporate learning culture, but needs consistent reiteration and communication.
2. Empowering employees through co-design. Leaders may have started the transformation towards a learning organization, but their people finish it. Forcing change from top-down has proven problematic time and again. Involving people as equal partners in co-designing a future they are expected to deliver shows greater promise for change adoption.
This is not about leaders bestowing an act of benevolence. It is about recognizing the limitations of one’s own perspective and utilizing talents and capabilities of the whole, à la Appreciative Inquiry’s Wholeness Principle, as described by the Center for Appreciative Inquiry:
“Wholeness brings out the best in people and organizations. Bringing all stakeholders together…stimulates creativity and builds collective capacity.”
Using a co-design framework that emphasizes learning, such as Design of Work Experience in Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @Work, will provide the guidance and discipline for productive co-design of the learning culture.
3. Deploying resources. Leadership must understand that sufficient access to necessary resources will set the conditions for success. Resources can come in the form of budgetary support, talent, technology, space (physical, virtual, or psychological), and their own time and attention. The organization must scale resources collectively identified (and thus properly vetted) during co-design.
4. Demonstrating leadership. An organization pursuing transformation requires visible and demonstrated leadership. True leadership doesn’t come from a job title. It is granted by people on a continuous basis. They want leaders who role model the changes and behaviors with consistency throughout the transformation and beyond. Doing so gives them the credibility to set expectations, recognize and reward success, and ensure accountability. Anything contradictory erodes trust.
The job doesn’t end there. According to Yukl in the same Leadership Quarterly article, leaders can directly influence collective learning by:
“…encouraging the use of procedures that increase creative ideas, nurturing promising ideas that are initially vague or controversial, obtaining resources needed to develop new ideas, encouraging members to experiment with new approaches to assess their utility, using after-activity reviews to analyze team processes, and monitoring external events that are relevant to innovative activities by the team.”
Notice how much partnership, facilitation, and empowerment of others is embedded among these day-to-day behaviors.
5. Learning with Agility. It stands to reason that a learning organization requires leaders who learn, especially agile learners. Learning agility is about learning from experience with speed and flexibility, as evidenced by research from Columbia University’s Dr. Warner Burke that resulted in the Burke Learning Agility Inventory (BLAI).
The capability reveals itself in enabling behaviors identified in the BLAI, such as: seeking feedback and information, performance and interpersonal risk taking, collaborating, experimenting, reflecting—and of course, speed and flexibility. As the most visible learners, leaders must demonstrate these behaviors to an observable degree everyday.
So if a corporate learning culture is truly desirable, leaders (and the HR and L&D professionals supporting them) should look to fulfill these five responsibilities—or, more boldly, obligations—to ensure that they play a pivotal role in creating learning organizations out of their companies. Combined with vision and culture, learning is unstoppable.
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
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.
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."
Your company has had some bad press lately. The CEO’s been called to a congressional hearing. Perhaps a recall or disappointing results led to a drop in stock price. Or maybe a respected leader (and many others) left the company. Or a bad leader stayed too long. Whatever the reason, your employees aren’t happy. Many organizations just buckle down and hope it passes. Sometimes they try and address the cause, but fail to do much else. Results are hit or miss. Others don’t know what to do.
When this happens, the company should care enough to take intentional, strategic action because here’s what’s really going on: for starters, that thing and the employees’ feelings about it are occupying mental space. It’s distracting from their focus on work, impacting productivity, straining relationships, and ultimately hurting business results. By now, you’ve also got a lot of negative mojo out there and it’s spreading through news, rumor, and gossip. That continually depletes the emotional bank accounts Stephen Covey wrote about in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Tapping people’s reserves means they are losing their resilience—that is, their ability to bounce back and recover quickly. Even worse, for some people (and depending on the severity of the situation), the company has broken a psychological contract. The “this isn’t what I signed up for” violated your employees’ expectations of their job and that needs to be renewed or renegotiated. With no improvement in sight, they will otherwise get frustrated and leave.
Simply addressing the cause of the strife is not enough because of these reverberating effects. You can’t wait, and it won’t pass. The longer-term consequence of this climate will influence people’s behaviors. Patterns of behaviors and their associated interactions will impact culture overall. Before you know it, the company evolves to an undesirable version of itself.
You can do something about it. Design of Work Experience (DOWE)“partners employees with their employers to co-create customized and meaningful work experiences that set the conditions for people and business to thrive.” As a methodology to create, affect, and sustain culture, DOWE:
The running theme throughout DOWE is engagement. Especially in difficult times, a company must involve their employees more deeply and work to bring the company even closer. Building walls, practicing avoidance, or denying the reality of the situation only serves to worsen the damage done. With DOWE, you are course-correcting and creating circumstances for different outcomes in the future. This gives life to people, not drains it.
Look for the upcoming book, Culture Your Culture: Innovating Experiences @Work.
I’ve been beating the drum about the role of culture in mergers and acquisitions since graduate school, when I worked on a deep dive into the 2001 HP-Compaq deal and saw just how “largely incompatible” (my words) the two cultures were. Even then, 18 months after the closing, the culture clash was evident. All employees felt the impact regardless of their legacy employer. Three years later, the headline was, “Why Carly Fiorina’s Big Bet is Failing.” In 2016, it was “Worst Tech Mergers and Acquisitions: HP and Compaq.” One could argue some sort of vendetta keeps bringing this particular deal back into the dialogue. Another explanation is that the effect has been long lasting and there’s a lesson to be learned here. This particular merger failed for a number of reasons, but low and behold culture has been named as one of them (see examples here and here). This merger is one of many who experienced the culture clash. I would even go so far as to argue that all mergers go through it because every organization has its own unique people, context, and culture regardless of all the “synergies” between two parties. Bringing them together will never be a seamless fit, but intentionally managing it will make a difference. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to M&A and culture, and how Design of Work Experience (DOWE) can help you navigate through it all.
Make culture a part of due diligence. If every organization is different and a culture clash between two entities merging into one is inevitable, then doing this should be a given. Evaluating culture is just as important as looking through the books, IP, assets, business operations, etc. as part of due diligence. For each organization, determine where and to what degree these differences exist through DOWE’s Culture Study before the decision to merge or acquire. Are there cultural strengths to leverage on both sides? Does the buyer actually want to acquire the culture for sale? Are there red flags that could signal a deal breaker? This helps the two sides to go into their new world with eyes wide open.
Forge a new shared vision and culture. During the highest peaks of M&A activity, the focus isn’t typically on the aftermath—it’s all about getting the deal done from a legal and regulatory standpoint. This myopic view leaves organizations ill prepared for the fall-out, despite the fact that all employees care about is what happens to them afterwards. Instead of having two cultures forge a battle royale or see one culture cannibalize the other, partner with your employees using DOWE. You’ll be able to articulate a new vision and culture as well as design new employment experiences that reflect them. Create a new identity that employees from both sides are proud to join. Instead of a mass exodus of talent, you might just garner enough attention to attract new talent at a time when business performance is so critical.
Deploy Change Management early and continually. Use of full-on change management is shockingly low during business as usual, despite the need. After all, change is constant in business. Something as huge as a merger or acquisition makes disciplined, well strategized and executed change management an imperative. With the culture studies in hand, DOWE helps organizations determine the distance and the path from the current to the future state. This brings people along for the journey as engaged collaborators throughout the integration. Isn’t that preferred over force-feeding the new state with all the pain that comes with disengagement and attrition of your best talent?
Sustain Changes. If you’ve gone through all the trouble, then you’d want to make sure your changes stick for as long as you need them. The positive aspects of the new vision, culture, and experiences post-merger need to be the new norm. The way to do that is to continue managing change well past integration. The DOWE process creates the opportunity to ensure that enough is done to set the conditions, support them systematically, and measure progress.
So before you go into your next merger or acquisition, think about how you want history to remember it. Then consider how these steps might help you. Thanks for reading!
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.
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