According to Gartner “only 3 in 10 business leaders are confident their organization has the culture it needs to drive future business performance.”
We know that great corporate cultures improve customer service, increase sales and revenue, improve employee engagement and improve nearly every other positive business measure. So why is corporate culture a mystery, and why do organizations struggle to optimize their cultures to meet their business and customer needs?
- What corporate or organizational culture is, and whether or not it can be shaped.
- If certain cultural attributes are more important than others.
- How past beliefs can get in the way of true cultural reflection.
- How to find the right approach for your organization.
- How to go beyond surveys and data to get a clear understanding of your culture.
Brian: Thanks for joining today for a conversation around corporate culture.
I‘m happy to have this conversation with you. It‘s an exciting topic for me and I know it‘s an exciting topic for you, especially because you have been the president of Habanero Consulting Group for the last 23 years and co-founded the company.
Culture has been a big thing on your mind since you started the company and certainly is part of the work that we do with clients. So, it‘s exciting to be able to get into your brain about this topic.
Just speaking about it personally, I‘ve been working with you for the last 18 years. It‘s been a great journey. For the last eight of those years, we have decided to look for awards. We‘ve been recognized as a great workplace in Canada three exciting times and currently in the top position, reigning champions. Obviously, a lot of this is about the attention that we‘ve given to this concept of culture in our organization, so that‘s what this conversation is about.
Is there anything you think is really important for people to know that are listening about you in this conversation?
Steven: Yeah, you mentioned I think about it a lot. I‘m kind of obsessed with the idea of people and culture. In particular, my life‘s work is all built around this idea that if we create great workplaces with strong cultures, we can serve people to help them have amazing careers and ultimately live really fulfilling lives.
So that‘s my life‘s work.
Brian: Yeah, that‘s a pretty important journey. So, let‘s start with the big question in this conversation about culture. I think it‘s been defined a billion times and by many different people in many different ways. To set up the conversation, should we define what culture is to make it clear when we say that word what we mean?
Steven: Yeah, I think it‘s helpful. I always think of culture like the Edgar Schein-esque model where you have the picture of the iceberg.
The iceberg above the water level represents aspects of your culture that everyone feels and sees. How we talk to each other, how we dress – the really obvious bits.
And then you have the espoused parts of your culture that are the written-down values, the purpose, the strategies and the things that are said to be part of the culture that may or may not be felt in various ways.
And the rubber hits the road below the water level, the big part of the iceberg, and there‘s the behaviors and the beliefs that sit down there. That‘s really the operating system of the organization that sets up the groove that we run in every day.
You know, when we‘re in a culture and it allows our brain to take shortcuts, we can act in a certain way and expect a certain reaction back from people, that’s the underwater level part of the culture. The behaviors and the beliefs, they are really the most important things about the culture that guide us.
It‘s important to mention that cultures get developed over a long period of time. They do change over time, but very slowly. And that‘s one of the strengths of cultures. You can come in everyday and you‘re not showing up to something wildly different and you‘re having to figure out how to react today because it‘s Tuesday and it‘s a new week or something like that. Culture is slow moving and not quite fixed.
However, it’s very hard to evolve in an organization or takes a lot of force to move it. That‘s one of culture’s strengths, but it‘s also one of the things that confounds organizations that are trying to evolve and be more purposeful about their culture.
Brian: Yes. I think the iceberg is a good metaphor for that slow-moving process. There‘s a bit at the top of the water, but most of it‘s underneath and it‘s quite big under there.
Steven: Right, I imagine it‘etty hard to push an iceberg.
Brian: Yeah, exactly. I’d love to get your thoughts on the idea of change around culture. Because I think there are people out there that probably feel maybe we can change it, but it‘s really difficult or that culture actually is just immutable.
You use the terms, behaviors and beliefs. Can you say more about how those are important elements of a changing culture?
Steven: Yeah. I think there‘s every opportunity to be very deliberate with culture and to really understand the parts of your culture that contribute to the type of world you want to live in and the type of things you want to be successful at.
Habanero is a very purpose driven organization. We have a very clear dent we want to make in the world. Therefore, we need to spend a lot of time thinking about what aspects of our culture support that or what aspects might get in the way of that. We need to focus on turning the volume up on the ones that support it and trying to shift the ones that get in the way of it.
Culture isn‘t just something you‘re stuck with. I think a lot of organizations treat it that way, they‘re not deliberate about it. There‘s no sense of ownership. There‘s no sense of stewardship. There‘s no vision for where their culture should go. And there‘s a lot of conversation about the impact of culture indirectly.
And there‘s a lot of lightweight conversation about the types of culture we have. Such as: we‘re a “work hard, play hard” culture or we‘re a “get shit done” culture. Those are fine ways to characterize things, but they rarely get to the truth of the culture, the parts of the culture that really matter, the subtle nuanced aspects of behaviors and belief that really make things happen and really get in the way of progress. And I think that‘s at the heart of what people need to get to if they’re thinking about changing their culture.
Brian: So there‘s this unconsciousness around culture or this growing consciousness perhaps. Thinking about why people might even be listening, I think there is this interest of people wanting to figure out more about culture, like how to discern it, how to change it. What do you see is the impetus right now in the world for why this is an important topic for organizations?
Steven: I think you’re right. There’s more and more interest and keenness in this. This is all fantastic. If you step back and you think about what’s happening in the industry (the US Bureau of Statistics has been charting since 1972 or something like that), the percentage of the economy that does simple mechanical type tasks and the percentage of the economy where the people are doing what they call heuristic tasks or tasks that are creative (that involve decision making and using creative thought and that’s not visually creative but just having to solve problems) has been changing.
And so the economy has been steadily shifting for many decades to being one where more and more people are having to do more creative things. That creates this growing complexity and that’s moving us from this complicated world to this complex world.
At the same time, those people who are doing more creative tasks, they’re doing more things in teams.
So just think of all the interactions. Whereas 50 years ago we had an assembly line with people jamming brake assemblies on a car. It’s a very mechanical task. That’s a complicated world to get your head around and managing and leading in that.
Now we have teams of people who are all influencing each other and influencing other teams. Everyone on that team must solve really difficult problems using a lot of creativity and trying to bring the big brain – the super brain you get when you have a large group of people thinking about the same problem – together to really be successful. That’s a totally different world.
So, we can’t bring the same management and leadership ideas that were helpful in the old world into this one. So, people are realizing that culture is not the single answer to all that. But all these things, like the operating system analogy I used before, is the system that all these people run on, these teams run on.
And getting your hands around or understanding where the culture supports a higher performance and where it gets in the way of that, it’s becoming more and more obvious that that’s just sort of a requirement to understand the culture, the role that your culture plays in that and be able to make an impact on that.
Brian: Yeah, that makes sense. It makes sense to me because of what I’m hearing in the market – the hot cultural topics are around being a more innovative culture. Probably in response to that complexity that you’re saying.
So being able to respond quickly to change, having organizations that have agility. And then of course to that collaboration thing, we’re seeing things like psychological safety come up more and more in conversations. So, on that thread then, do you feel there’s a nirvana culture model for organizations like these cultural attributes and traits that are better than others?
Steven: Yeah, that’s a fascing topic.
We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about groups like responsive.org and a lot of these models that we aspire to. And from my perspective, the first thing that’s really important to keep in mind is that a culture develops through the successes that have happened in the organization.
So if you take Habanero for an example, 25 years ago Neil Jensen and I started fooling around with this idea and where we had success we’d get up the next day and repeat that success. Because we knew it worked for us, we had learnt that the day before. And so, in this simplistic model, we built habits around the successful parts of our business and we tried to eradicate the non-successful parts of our business.
This is how teams grow. And very quickly you find that the successful habits become rote to you – they become subconscious. They go to the back of your mind and you apply your brain to the more vexing things that aren’t really working. And so, if you scale that up over lots of people, over lots of time zones and offices and over decades, culture and the roots of it become very much hidden like way, way, way down below the water level.
So, there’s this subconscious aspect of it, but also the roots that are born in the success of the organization.
What I find a lot is that, for example, we have an organization that wants to be more agile and wants to be faster moving. That’s nice at a high level, but there are a lot of things that made that organization strong and successful that are actually getting in the way of them being agile. And if they just moved towards being an agile organization, however they define that, and throw away all the things that made them successful, it’s going to be at their peril. It will hurt the organization.
The opportunity is to go down and get a higher fidelity understanding what is it about them being more deliberate and say slow moving, that’s actually keeping them strong and is still important to their survival today. And what aspects of that, what behaviors and what beliefs, are actually getting in the way and we can say goodbye to those and change those.
So, it takes getting down below the water level if you will, and into those more detailed behaviors and beliefs to really pick out the good from the bad and really clearly understand, with accuracy, what you want to change.
I find that a lot of organizational change comes down to these high-level ideas.
And getting back to your original question, looping back around, a lot of these ideals around openness and transparency and honesty and a growth mindset and all these things, purpose oriented, those are all, no doubt, wonderful, amazing things, and they are things that we aspire to in our organization.
But they aren’t necessarily 100% inherently good in every organization in the way we might think they are. Because every organization is so different and they’re coming from such a different place and they’ve built the patterns of success in different ways and they’ve defined their success in the future in different ways.
So those are great ideas to bring into your organization and throw around and think about how they might apply. But they’re not in and of themselves targets that everyone should shoot for in a generic way.
Brian: I was reflecting, as we were preparing for this conversation, about the book by Marshall Goldsmith about what got you here won’t get you there. Even the title gives you a sense of what the book’s about.
And my curiosity would be: are there these organizational characteristics or traits which organizations need to shed, like get rid of? And what I heard from you just now – it’s actually some of those organizational traits or things that made them successful. So, it’s more complex than that.
But I am curious: how do you reconcile the idea of something that perhaps you feel like you need to shed? Or is that even what people are thinking about when they come to us from our culture right now? Or are they more looking at creating new cultural attributes that didn’t exist before or refining cultural attributes? There’s a little bit of everything.
Steven: Yeah, it is a mix. And actually, I want to go back to your Marshall Goldsmith analogy because it’s a really clever one. So, in his book, which I’m sure is over 10 years old now, it’s really this idea that as we go through life, the unconscious growth that happens through our young adolescence that builds ego and to establish ourselves.
We have to grow out of that, and we have to learn to sort of get out of our own heads and gain objectivity on how we show up in the world. That’s a characterization of the book. I’m not sure how happy he’d be with that, but that’s kind of one of the things that I got out of it.
But that’s what a lot of this is about: we need to stop thinking we’re victims of our culture. Culture is not something that’s impossible to understand. It’s not something that’s impossible to shift. Just like humans have to start growing their empathy for the people around them and growing their self-awareness and their understanding of self and how they show up in the world, organizations go through a version of that too.
And so, if you aspire as an organization to go to that next level and create change and have them change your business model and square off against some of the immense competitive forces that exist in the world right now, you need to develop that self-awareness. You need to develop that same capability that allows you to move from surviving in grade eight to becoming a sophisticated adult in your, well I don’t know, whenever you do that – in your 30s somewhere.
So, this idea that we have to really get some perspective on what made us successful before and not create this kind of glory around it that stops us from really having self-awareness and the capability for change. It’s really important at an organizational level.
Brian: So if we take that parallel, what are the common methods of self-reflection that an organization can turn to. I think of specifically a lot of organizations leaning on and leveraging their employee surveys as a way to discern what’s working, what’s not working and maybe even leaning on them to test something like: are we innovative? Let’s ask.
What are your thoughts on that – specifically using surveys, but also more broadly the tools that an organization should be considering for reflection?
Steven: Yeah. So at a broad level, what you’re trying to get is an objective perspective at a more detailed, more accurate level of what’s going on. Like where are we right now? Where are people? What are people’s experiences? How do they feel about their life in the organization? How does that impact how they show up?
And I love the David Gray idea: the trick is to be able to be on the dance floor and execute exclusively on the dance floor, but also be in the balcony and see the big picture and things going on.
When you’re part of the system, when you’re a person in the system, it’s very hard to have the perspective on the system. So one of the things we bring is the ability to be on the balcony and to be on the floor with that person, understand it at that level but also be on the balcony.
We are objective because we’re from the outside of the organization. You talked about quantitative tools like surveys and things like that. They’re wonderful for getting you some directional guidance and where problems and opportunities are in the organization, but they really lack the fine resolution that we’ve been talking about in this conversation so far if you really want to make nuanced changes in the organization.
Most surveys and survey tools would struggle to get you to that level of resolution. And that’s where you generally move from the quantitative world back to the qualitative world.
So, in our way of seeing the world, there are terms for that, our fancy consulting term for that is empathetic research. And it’s really the process of going into your organization and creating these moments, whether with a small group of people or an individual or an interview but creating these moments of high psychological safety and allowing that person to express, tell stories and share ideas about what their lived experiences are about.
So the process of this is to go in, not necessarily with a hypothesis about what you want to change, but to go in with an open mind and discover the opportunities, the problems, the experienced highs and experienced lows in the organization by allowing people to sit in a position of their deepest level of expertise, which is their own experiences.
You’re not asking them to prognosticate about the future of the world or ideate about changing the company or come up with sophisticated ideas or critique other people. You’re asking them to share their experiences. And people are very, very good sharing their experiences.
It’s the process of taking those lived experiences, pulling the themes out of them and gaining a real understanding of where the organization is at and where are the really, really strong parts of your culture and where the experiences are really strong and where you can amplify those. And conversely where they’re weak and how that shows up in the friction and how that holds people back, which gives you a lot of great insight into how to remedy those weak spots.
Brian: So that’s great. That makes a lot of sense to discerning culture, understanding it alongside perhaps quantitative tools to the challenges and opportunities in the organization.
I was reflecting on an article that said culture in earnings reports since 2010 has increased by 12% annually. So, this idea of culture is hot right now is increasing. And yet when they poll HR leaders in their organizations, there’s a general consensus and feeling that they’re not confident that the culture they have as an organization is the thing that’s going to drive future business performance.
There’s a lot of anxiety out there around: a) culture’s really hot; b) we may not have the cultural needs.
So, you talked a lot about discerning what’s there. How does an organization go a little bit beyond discernment and look at and understand what’s the appropriate culture for them or what are the cultural attributes that are going to move them forward?
Steven: Yeah, our processing in general we would start with more of an understanding of the business strategy and the changes that need to happen. So, there’s an aspiration somewhere that exists in the organization, probably driven by the leaders that we need to get to this spot. And so that’s a really important piece of context and the empathetic research part I talked to, that’s sort of a really good picture of “you are here.”
So now we only have two partial parts of the puzzle. We know where people are at right now, we have this aspiration of where to go and we can start to marry those ideas together and start to think about where we want to prioritize change.
And one of the amazing and cool things about processes like this is it involves a lot of people in the organization who are also the people that are at the heart of the change. And so, the minute you actually start empathetic research, the minute you start talking to people, things start changing (like their attitudes and beliefs and their thinking) because of the conversation.
And you have this opportunity to take portions of those people you’ve talked to or the people you engaged in that process and get involved in co-creation, get involved in opportunities. Once we have this baseline of understanding of people’s lived experiences and we have our club, this clarity about where we want to go as an organization. We can marry those things together and prioritize areas to put focus into and we can engage people in the process of designing their own future.
This is so different than the traditional world of understand a problem, do some analysis, design a solution, launch it, train the users how to deal with the new system, software or cultural change. That’s the old life cycle. Now you’re engaging people in the diagnosis of where the problems and opportunities are. You’re engaging them in the design build and test cycle. You’re iterating more quickly your understanding where your ideas work and where they don’t work. It’s not a monolithic thing.
Change management in the old world was like, create some posters and do some training classes. Whereas now, bringing people along the change journey is a completely different thing. They’re partners in it. They’re not victims or customers in it. They’re actually part of the process.
And so, this idea of how you engage people and bring them along the journey is really fundamental to this whole idea.
Brian: That’s specific to the processes that we use at Habanero around culture. Because there are other ways, other tools, other techniques people turn to or look at to reorient their culture. What are your thoughts on the other options people have?
Steven: The truth is there’s a lot of things you can do to affect your culture, good and bad, positive and negative, meaningful like in a way you want to or unintentional. And the truth is for a lot of them, if you’re thoughtful and put some smart people on it, they’ll make a positive impact.
So, I really feel it’s better to think about them as multilateral efforts. So sometimes leadership development is really critical and sometimes there are organizational design components that have to go with it or there’s deep system redesign or there’s some training and development at an employee level that has to happen and those are all helpful things.
The trick is knowing that you’re aiming at something very specific and to really try to avoid the temptation of slapping in programs because they worked at Google or because they feel right, but it hasn’t really been tested in your organization to be a real contributor to the future you want to create.
Brian: Right. It’s funny that you say that because we went through about 15 years of everyone comparing things to Apple and how they did things. I think organizations like Google with things like psychological safety, the way they do teams and just structures of these organizations, there’s a few of these companies out there that seem to be hot topic companies that everyone wants to copy or replicate something. So, you’re saying that’s not an ideal approach.
Steven: Yeah. I mean they’re admirable and I was thinking it’d be cool if we created a piece about culture that didn’t involve Google, but I guess we haven’t.
But I think those ideas from organizations like that should be inspiration. They shouldn’t be a map for you to follow.
Every organization, every culture is so incredibly unique that the idea that a feedback system in a culture like Google’s would apply in your organization, that’s very dangerous thinking in my mind. Particularly in that example, I would say there’s a lot of horror stories.
Brian: If we are writing the next Marshall Colton’s book, it might be what works for them might not work for you.
Steven: Yeah. And that’s not to say that those aren’t admirable things. It’s not to say that those organizations aren’t great fountains of learning and insight. But you can’t just take what they did and change it a bit for your organization and expect it to have the impact that you want it to have.
Brian: Yeah. And when you say it like that, it seems so obvious. So, I’d like to turn just a tiny bit because it’s a curiosity for me. Everything you’ve described makes sense; I’ve seen it obviously happen within our organization quite a few times.
What are your thoughts on subcultures and the sort of scale of a cultural insight that large organizations are trying to discern? Is there anything different that organizations would do to try and scale those insights or look for elements of cultural uniqueness that might exist in certain departments or certain business units or certain countries or is that even a thing?
Steven: Yeah, what an interesting question. I’m launching into my answer not really knowing or where to go. For sure organizations, teams, different groups, geographies, they all have their uniqueness. And particularly when humans are physically together, they can really share this rich experience of working together, being successful together that will necessarily build cultural elements that are unique to that group. And that’s awesome.
A successful, large organization is not a melting pot of culture, it’s a mosaic of culture, to use a little national analog into it. So, celebrating that and understanding that I think is a really powerful thing. Differentiating those variances, that differences, the richness of that from the elements of the culture that need to be consistent is absolutely critical.
At a really simplistic level, we have these shared ambitions and ideas like purpose or values or vision where we’re going to and the place we’re going to. Those are the clear, espoused parts of the culture that hopefully actually cut below the water level and are part of people’s beliefs and behavior system.
But they are opportunities to understand what other elements exist in your culture that are that pervasive that maybe, aren’t conscious or espoused and maybe not even helpful.
There are elements of culture that will run through the entire organization no matter how large it is. Understanding what those are and engineering them to be the ones that are helpful is part of the game that we’re talking about. But also recognizing and reflecting and celebrating the fact that there’s quite a bit of diversity in a large, particularly distributed organization over lots of time zones, multiple languages.
Getting really clear about what needs to be consistent in that and what should be similar but doesn’t have to be consistent and what can be totally different and be totally fine, that’s a very important aspect of cultural design in my mind.
Brian: So there’s an aspect of your answer that is that breadth, making sure that you have the right breadth for the organization, especially as you said, in relationship to what you think you’re trying to change or what you’re trying to discern.
Steven: Yeah, and my experience of this in large organizations is the more they get their hands around the diversity and the breadth of cultural groups within the organization, the more they realize there’s a lot of power in that.
And it’s sort of like realizing you’ve got a bunch of really strong teammates that you hadn’t really noticed in the past or you’ve got some real strengths that you’ve never leaned on because you didn’t realize they were there. I find that’s the experience of getting clear at a bigger scale about the diversity in our organization, that there’s a real opportunity in it.
Brian: So we’ve kind of covered the elements of the first part of the process. We’ve talked about the first thing that we do: sitting with the organization, understanding their business drivers, starting to understand the ideas that they’re considering that are about supporting their next wave of growth or their next wave of goals and then doing the work to go into the organization with an empathetic listening and discerning what is, finding ways to define and view the iceberg if you all entered into the water.
What is your view on the thing that happens once organizations have that sense of what the organization is, that they’ve defined or had some more discernment about the iceberg and then they have a clear sense of the direction that you’re trying to head into? What does the next step of that journey look like to you?
Steven: Yeah, it’s really defined by the types of changes they want to create. And often when you get in and you do the work to understand what people’s experiences are, you pretty quickly start to surface where the gaps are or I guess the opportunities.
So sometimes we find that organizations need to work on purpose, there’s not enough emotional resonance in the why of the organization, in people’s hearts. And that’s a huge opportunity.
It’s really interesting actually finding that in non-profits and healthcare when your customers are walking in the door and you’re saving their lives every day and there’s still a gap around purpose in an organization like that. And it just shows that you can’t ever take purpose for granted. It’s so powerful.
Brian: And it’s not to be med.
Steven: Yeah. And this one example, they’re literally saving people’s lives every day, all day. There is still a massive opportunity for them to put in time and energy into purpose and get it clear. It could be on values, or on various elements of the employee experience or tools or systems or organizational design. Those are all interventions that you could choose to take to realize the opportunities that you’ve found in the research part and the research design part. You’re designing the future and that’s where you’re really getting clear about the opportunities.
We use the term road map, which is a terrible term because of the idea of a road map in my mind is the sequential number of steps to get from A to B. But really, it’s a more of a catalog of capabilities that the organization needs to apply themselves. There’s some sense of prioritization and sequencing in it, but it’s definitely not a job jar that you pull from sequentially.
We like to really create these large kinds of visual versions of these roadmaps where we’re mapping in the evolution of the employee experience kind of through the empathetic lens.
So, what are people thinking, hearing, saying, doing, if we’re successful at this, what are they saying. If we’re not successful, what are they saying?
I have to really keep people moored on the idea that through this journey, what we’re trying to affect is the employee experience. We’re changing our culture by changing experiences people have within the culture. That keeps people really grounded on what matters in the change that we’re working on.
Brian: Yeah, roadmap isn’t the right word for that and we’ll have to come up with something else. I know what they look like of course, because I’ve seen many of them. They’re these things that we want to do with the organization that are going to have an impact that are broken down into phases. But then there’s this messiness that exists, which is when it gets up on a wall and it’s really big and you start marking it with a marker and realizing the second you start, the rest of the journey’s already changing.
And so, the word roadmap makes it seem like there’s this nice clear path to something, but it’s not always.
Steven: I mean it’s all about trying to create some clarity and surefootedness moving forward. But not at the risk of oversimplifying this kind of complex nuanced journey to say that we know exactly what’s going to happen the next two years just keep rolling through these steps.
Because we really need to take a step forward, learn, adapt, and then think about our next step. This is sort of these agile, lean principles coming to life and you may not want to call it those things, but this realm of evolving and changing culture requires us to operate in that way.
We don’t have to call them sprints, we don’t have to do them in two-week intervals, but we need to lift our head up quite frequently to look at the changes we’re creating to test that, to measure that. And put that back into our idea of where our current place is and where the future is and recalibrate.
So that recalibration needs to happen on a pretty consistent basis. And this is exactly an example of going slow to go fast. If you are good at that, if you’re good at taking the time to be thoughtful as you go through, you will make much faster progress than if you just charge ahead and blast away at your next five initiatives.
Brian: It reminds me, I went cave diving one time and in the bottom of the caves you have to put this headlamp on. And when you look down, everything’s really bright, you can kind of fill out your next five or six steps. But when you look up, it’s fuzzy in the distance. And so, you kind of have to play this game of looking out far to kind of get that big sense of where you’re going and also looking down to really understand each step.
Steven: I’m glad you made it of the cave eventually.
Brian: I did. It was quite actually.
So, we’ve covered this idea of what is culture, why organizations are perhaps looking at it right now, the idea that there isn’t one right culture for anyone and perhaps put a bitter taste in people’s mouths around trying to copy someone else’s culture. We talked about this distinction of discernment and looking underneath the water and trying to figure out what that big hunk of ice looks like. And then using that alongside the organizational goals and the objectives and the instincts around where people, what needs to show up in the organization as a way of plotting the path forward and then using something like a roadmap or whatever we’ll end up calling it eventually as a mechanism to create some momentum and hopefully be interactive about those next few steps.
It seems like maybe an oversimplification of this world of cultural change. Is there something else that would be important to note in that journey?
Steven: Yeah. So, one of the most exciting opportunities in doing this kind of work with organizations is yes, we’re creating a change in the culture. We might be doing some broader things; we might be doing some specific things. You mentioned topics like trust and things like that. We might be working focused in those areas. But what we’re doing along that journey is we’re teaching that organization to be more humanistic and to develop skills and capabilities to create that self-awareness.
Going back to the analogy of growing up, we’re helping that organization become more self-aware and have more self-control and understanding of who they are and where they fit in the world. That is the most exciting part when we’ve worked with an organization for a while and you go back in and the way they see themselves, the tools they use to gain objectivity like employee experience design and how they’re able to use them to just be so much more surefooted in their journey forward and so much clearer.
And there’s so much less of just breathing their own air and believing in their own stories and so much more healthy reflection. That is so exciting to me. Like that’s the real gift. Through this process, you almost can’t help build the capabilities to do more of it in the future yourself.
And we always think about this journey, it’s very meta. We’re in an experience design project around culture and employee experience project, but we’re also experience designing the experience of the project itself or the work itself because we know that’s how organizations learn the best.
It’s even more powerful when these first projects are really successful, and everyone looks to that and there’s a lot of energy around it. And they’re like, “oh, what are those techniques? How can we use that over here? How can we get some more experienced design thinking in this part of our business?” You find really quickly they’re being really ingenious about thinking about different ways to bring these ideas to life in their own organization. It really catches on. That’s so exciting.
Brian: So putting myself into the shoes, ears, places, some of them might be listening to this, obviously they’re interested in their own corporate culture at some level. Trying to figure out something about their culture. Maybe it’s about how to discern it. Maybe it’s about something they feel should change. What’s a piece of advice for something that they could do next to move that along?
Steven: First of all, give yourself a pat on the back because more often than not, we’re brought in not to make a cultural change, but to help make a system change. And the system change could be we’re having problems with safety outcomes with field workers or we are having problems with people engaging productively with their managers and there’s a low level of trust or we want to implement this collaboration system to help people connect and share it because we think it will help innovation.
So, we’re brought in initially to look at these system changes in a way. What organizations are really good at is thinking their way through using their high intellect, IQ and experience to think through the system change. They’re just not necessarily very good at bringing in the human element. And if they do, being facetious, they say, “we need to bring the change manager, so we can make some posters and to do some training after we’ve done our system change.” Those poor per change managers ... Thankless role.
So, if you’re listening to this and you’ve already cottoned onto the idea that you have a cultural change in front of you, let me tell you that you’re ahead of the pack already because you’re thinking about cultural change. And I think that’s awesome. First of all, pat yourself on the back.
Second of all, it’s really about finding your way outside of the system, outside of your own worldview of what’s going on and trying to gain some objectivity on the reality of your culture. And trying to drill down to the understanding of what are the absolutely critical, helpful behaviours and beliefs that drive us to be successful and the ones that are getting in our way and why. And so that’s a tough journey.
I would argue you’ll do better with some external help because they’re automatically more objective. But I think really that’s the first step in the journey is to really understand where you are right now. It’s easy and fine and fun to think about the future but you’re sort of wasting your time getting too caught up in that world until you figure out where your current world is.
Brian: Steven, that’s a great way to close.
It inspires the next steps for people. Anlove the pat on the back idea. It is true, I think despite how popular this term is and the increasing number of times this is mentioned in earning calls, I think especially people like senior leaders in organizations still aren’t able to understand or discern elements of their culture.
Steven: Or even appreciate the culture’s issue or the opportunity or how it shows up.
Brian: There’s usually a proxy for organizations to lean on. So, thanks so much for joining me for the conversation, Steven.
Steven: Yeah, it was a lot on. Thank you.
Brian: That’s the end of our webinar today. We have been recording this, so if you want to listen in and we’ll be posting it on Habaneroconsulting.com as well as hopefully turning it into a podcast.
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If you do have any questions, we have our contact information here and we really thank you for listening in. I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation as much as I did and have a great day.