Sure you can do assessments, polling the whole organization, tracking it over time. But there’s a quick test you can use to determine if you’re in a company with a strong culture.
When people speak about the the company, do they use the word “we” or do they use the word “they?” When it’s “we,” clearly there’s a feeling of ownership, pride, and connection. With “they” there is a distance, a separation.
The feeling of “we” can be more powerful than you know. Tommy Lasorda said the greatest compliment he received from a player was from Kirk Gibson after the 1988 World Series win. Even though he had recently come from the Tigers, Gibson said, “I feel like I’ve been a Dodger my whole life.”
If you’re interviewing for a job, or consulting at a company, this can be very telling.
If you’re a leader, I hope you understand that you can’t make people say “we.” It comes naturally when people are co-creating the culture.
Here are the three key steps to any culture change.
1. Are you sure you have the right people?
If not, either lose the ones that must go, or fully commit to who you have.
2. Do you have clear expectations?
Do people understand what constitutes a fireable offense? What is required and what is optional?
3. Do you have agreement?
We assume agreement when it may not be there? Did you confirm people have explicitly agreed to do what you asked? And can they say no or challenge you?
Everyone knows about the “beta test” – try something new and see how it goes. (For a more prescriptive process, see the Beta Blueprint chapter in my book, The Culture Blueprint).
But even easier is the “Reverse Beta.” This is the exact opposite. Try stopping something that may not be working.
For example, at one company we had to fill out two forms and get two signatures to note our use of vacation time. It was a huge pain. HR was upset that people were not using it enough and vacation time was going unreported. Some people were taking too much, others were not taking enough.
What if the forms were killed entirely? What if people could just email firstname.lastname@example.org and simply tell HR that way? No forms, no signatures, just easy. Everyone was happier.
You can easily find sources for this by asking your people, “What is a total waste of your time?” And then try stopping it for 90 days and see what happens.
There is more and more research about how play is important for innovation, and the place where it’s needed most in culture is evaluations. This is a major source of frustration and I know the best companies are still figuring it out.
A bold leap in adding play to evaluations comes from Medium. Check out how they make employee evaluations fun, by using the concept of mad libs.
This may be considered sacrilege in my business, but I am stating that within the next few years, you will not need experts like me.
Of course, we’ll still be around. But think of it this way – rock music is still here, but in the current culture it does not have anywhere near the impact of hip hop and electronic music. No matter how many Grammys the Black Keys win, they are not having the same influence as Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake.
We can learn a lot from hip hop. It’s a collaborative format. Artists routinely participate in each other’s songs. And both hip hop and electronic music have democratized the art. You no longer need a decade of experience in a musical instrument, or even a production studio. You just need a Mac and a microphone.
Business is slow to follow, but it will. Companies that rely on experts, consultants, and best practices will find their people more and more disengaged because they are not authoring the story. I’m not saying these books and speakers are not valuable. But if people don’t take it and hack it, then any pre-fabricated solution will not work.
What is emerging is a new range of practices and technologies that allow for the wisdom of the people and the organization to be the guiding light, instead of worshipping at the foot of the next bestseller.
This post is simply a prelude. I will be writing more about these technologies and leaders who are creating the frameworks for organizations to tap into their real power.
As the rate of change increases in speed, you may notice that your company is at a critical inflection point. This is a moment in time where something bad might happen if the organization does not stop to think.
There are many reasons for it – you’re growing fast, you’re thinking about a new product, you’re expanding your offices, or your staff is frustrated and wants change. These are all good problems to have. But if they’re not addresses, then the wheels could fly off the machine.
I’ve noticed that a critical inflection point often happens when there is a tension between competing values. For example, you want to be nimble and quick, but sometimes it’s at the expense of quality. So you try process and procedures, but it comes at the expense of innovation and experimentation. You want your staff to be empowered but the autonomy means that costly decisions may be made without you.
So how does a company stop and think? How do we leverage the power of the group without devolving into group think, confusion and inertia?
I’ve found that the answers are always within. I recently lead team meetings for Intuit and Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project, and using a format called Open Space Technology we were able to use the right amount of structure to allow the group to self-organize, focus themselves and take action. Many said it was the most productive time they had ever spent with the company.
Whether you have a facilitator like me, or study Open Space on your own, here’s what you need to know: All the knowledge and answers are within your current staff and resources. We are quick to look for solutions, but they are always found within the problem itself. As Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”