Monthly Culture Inspiration: September 2018

Happy September!

My writing, elsewhere:

An article I wrote about what my day-to-day work is like as an org designer is now up on IDEO's blog. Check it out here.

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Every month, I post three types of culture inspiration: a visual, a book, and an article to bookmark.

Visual: How Real Leaders Melt the Iceberg of Ignorance with Humility

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This clever illustration of the "Iceberg of Ignorance" is from Corporate Rebels, a consultancy (with a fantastic blog that my readers will love) based in The Netherlands. The iceberg "originated (so it is said) in 1989 when consultant Sidney Yoshida studied the work and leadership habits of Japanese car manufacturer, Calsonic. He uncovered a poor distribution of power and information within the hierarchy. Specifically, knowledge of front-line problems went up in smoke the higher he climbed the management chain. Indeed, he found that company leadership was hardly aware of any of the real problems the organization faced. They were, as he put it, only aware of the tip of the iceberg. Yoshida found that, even though 100% of front-line problems were known to the front-line employees, only 74% were known to team leaders, 9% to middle management and just 4% to top management!"

 

Book: The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

Daniel Coyle has written one of my favorite books on culture this year. In The Culture Code, Coyle goes inside some of the world’s most successful organizations—including the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six, IDEO, and the San Antonio Spurs—and reveals what makes them tick. He demystifies the culture-building process by identifying three key skills that generate cohesion and cooperation: 1) build safety (psychological safety), 2) share vulnerability, and 3) establish purpose.

In the chapter about how to share vulnerability, Coyle writes about how leaders can encourage open discussion. To share an example of how the best leaders do this, Coyle interviewed one of my favorite former colleagues, Roshi Givechi. Roshi was a former partner and managing director of IDEO NY. “I’ve found that whenever you ask a question, the first response you get is usually not the answer,” says Roshi. Roshi advises asking team members to “Say more about that” and advises suggestions should only be given after a “scaffolding of thoughtfulness” has been established. I was so happy to see this section of the book, because Roshi does indeed do this (I actually remember conversations with her when she said, "Say more about that" to me). It's a skilled leadership technique to create a culture of open conversation.

 

Article to Bookmark: The Leader's Calendar, Harvard Business Review

From 2011 to 2013, I was a research associate at Harvard Business School working for Dean Nitin Nohria and Prof. Michael Porter. I studied how CEOs of Fortune 500 companies spent their time. The resulting article is finally out! To set up the research, I traveled to the CEOs’ global headquarters, training the CEOs (and their assistant) on how to track their time and interviewing them about their most pressing business issues. We tracked when the CEOs ate, slept, who they met with, where they traveled, their family time—it all went in our data forms in 15 minute increments. The article has several great findings, but I'll share one here about the CEO's role in culture: 

"Culture—which encompasses an organization’s values, beliefs, and norms—is another key CEO lever for reinforcing strategy and influencing how the organization as a whole goes about doing its work. CEOs can shape a company’s culture in many ways, from the time they spend talking about it at various forums, to personally living the valued behaviors, to recognizing, rewarding, and celebrating those who exemplify the desired culture while taking corrective action with those who don’t. It is the CEO’s job to champion the organization’s culture and constantly look for opportunities to strengthen it."

Writing a Book! + Monthly Culture Inspiration: August 2018

I'm excited to announce that I'm co-authoring a book, along with information designer and illustrator Liz Fosslien!

No Hard Feelings: Emotions at Work (And How They Help Us Succeed) will be published by Penguin in January 2019. The book is a visual exploration of how to embrace emotion at work and become more authentic and fulfilled while staying professional. It's a wickedly funny interactive guide to un-repressing your emotions at work, finding constructive channels even for jealousy and anxiety, demystifying digital interactions and coworker communication styles, and ultimately allowing readers to be the same person in work and in life.

Liz and I are launching a newsletter, which you can sign up for here. Every month, we'll send you our favorite emotion-at-work-related articles and research, a little bit about what we're up to, and an illustration. We promise we'll keep it short and sweet. If you ever want more (wow!), you can browse our book website here (lizandmollie.com), or follow us on twitter @lizandmollie and instagram @lizandmollie.

 

Now back to my regular monthly post...

Every month, I post three types of culture inspiration: a visual, a book, and an article to bookmark.

Visual: Deckaholic, the largest online library of card decks

 StartupKit is a deck of cards for start up companies that can be used to help clarify thoughts, develop ideas and structure work.

StartupKit is a deck of cards for start up companies that can be used to help clarify thoughts, develop ideas and structure work.

 Innovating for People L+D Cards offer over 70 suggestions for managing group life and deepening the connection between collaborators.

Innovating for People L+D Cards offer over 70 suggestions for managing group life and deepening the connection between collaborators.

 These Organisation Culture Cards map patterns of behavior in organizations related to change, learning, knowledge, and information.

These Organisation Culture Cards map patterns of behavior in organizations related to change, learning, knowledge, and information.

 These cards from SY Partners help you uncover your workplace superpower, like Decisiveness, Harmonizing, or Problem Solving.

These cards from SY Partners help you uncover your workplace superpower, like Decisiveness, Harmonizing, or Problem Solving.

I love card decks as a tool to convey information and spark conversations. Deckaholic is a website devoted to cataloguing the universe of card decks. It's the brainchild of Stephanie Gioia, former director of consulting at design consultancy XPLANE. Stephanie also teaches a very cool class on designing with card decks at Stanford's d.school. The library includes decks about language, food, and colors, but the decks I've highlighted above all relate to organizational culture. 

 

Book: The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker

A friend recommended this book to me, and in turn I have been recommending it to everyone I talk to. Priya Parker is a facilitator and strategic advisor, and the founder of Thrive Labs, which she helps activists, elected officials, corporate executives, educators, and philanthropists create transformative gatherings. In The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker points out that many of the gatherings in our lives are lackluster and unproductive--which they don't have to be. She explains her approach to creating gatherings that are meaningful and memorable, whether for work or play. In the book, she shares examples of gatherings-- everything from work conferences and meetings, to Diner on Blanc (a global dinner-party series hosted all over the world where everyone wears white), to an Arab-Israeli summer camp-- to show what works, what doesn't, and why. 

Big meetings, workshops, and "off sites" are a common part of most organizations' culture. For these gatherings, Parker recommends sending out a digital “workbook” to participants to fill out and return to her ahead of the gathering:

"I design each workbook afresh depending on the purpose of the gathering and what I hope to get guests to think about in advance. The workbooks consist of six to ten questions for participants to answer. For a gathering on the future of education at a university, I asked questions like “What is one moment or experience you had before the age of twenty that fundamentally impacted the way you look at the world?” and “What are the institutions in the United States and abroad that are taking a bold, effective approach to educating the next generation of global problem solvers? What can we learn from them?” For a gathering on rethinking a national poverty program, I asked questions like “What is your earliest memory of facing or coming into contact with poverty?” and “How are our core principles the same or different from when we started fifty years ago?” For a gathering of a technology company’s executive team after a merger, I asked questions like “Why did you join this company?” and “What are the most pressing questions you think this team needs to address?”

I try to embed two elements in my workbook questions: something that helps them connect with and remember their own sense of purpose as it relates to the gathering, and something that gets them to share honestly about the nature of the challenge they’re trying to address. The workbooks aren’t so different from a college application in that sense: Sure, they give me a sense of the person and the dynamics of the group, but they also help the person think through the things they value before they arrive. I then design the day based on what I see in their answers. I also weave quotes from their workbooks into my opening remarks at the convening. And the workbooks do one further thing: They inadvertently create a connection between each participant and me, well ahead of our time together, which makes my job much easier once I’m in the room. By crafting the workbooks and sending them out, I am sending the participants an invitation to engage. By filling them out and sending them back to me, they are accepting. The relationship, and the sharing of confidences, begins well before we enter the room."

I love this and want to try this in the future!

 

Article to Bookmark: Culture is the Behavior You Reward and Punish

Jocelyn Goldfein is a general partner at San Francisco VC firm Zetta Venture Partners, and formerly was an engineer at Facebook and VMware. In this Medium article, she shares how Charles O’Reilly, a Stanford GSB professor, came to VMware for a workshop and asked her and her colleagues to do a simple exercise. He asked them to write down on the white board "what makes people here successful." Goldfein writes, "When we finished, O’Reilly pointed at the whiteboard with a magician’s flourish: 'That’s your culture. Your culture is the behaviors you reward and punish.' At first, I was stunned. When I thought of culture, I thought of big mission statements and values, like our emphasis on innovation...I didn’t think of responsiveness to email." This is a great exercise to help articulate your organization's culture. What behaviors are rewarded and punished at your organization?