Monthly Culture Inspiration: February 2018

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

What is Company Culture

Visual: Alfred Lin's Culture Slides

Alfred Lin is a VC at Sequoia Capital, and formerly was COO an Chairman Zappos with Tony Hsieh. When he guest lectured for Sam Altman's ‘How to Start a Startup’ class at Stanford, he defined what culture is and why it’s important. You can watch the entire lecture here on YouTube, or see a few of the slides on kissmetrics' blog

Book: Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More by Morten Hansen

Why do some people perform better at work than others? To answer this question, Morten Hansen conducted a five-year study of more than 5,000 managers and employees, and found seven "Work Smarter Practices” that anyone can use to perform better. I love books that give recommendations based on real data, and Great At Work is definitely rigorous and research-based. For example, one work smarter practice is: "Top performers collaborate less. They carefully choose which projects and tasks to join and which to flee, and they channel their efforts to excel in a few chosen ones. They discipline their collaboration." Hansen looks at each practice from an individual and an organizational level. He writes, "Organizations and employees struggle with twin sins: undercollaboration and overcollaboration. Some people talk too little across teams and departments, and some people talk too much." There are so many more good nuggets and tips in the book.

Article to Bookmark: The Culture Factor in Harvard Business Review

In this month's issue of Harvard Business Review, HBS professor Boris Groysberg dives into culture. Groysberg writes that leaders can use both strategy and culture as levers to make organizations more effective, but often leaders know how to shape strategy more than they know how to shape culture. Culture confounds leaders because it is more elusive. But Groysberg writes, "It doesn’t have to be that way. Our work suggests that culture can, in fact, be managed. The first and most important step leaders can take to maximize its value and minimize its risks is to become fully aware of how it works. By integrating findings from more than 100 of the most commonly used social and behavioral models, we have identified eight styles that distinguish a culture and can be measured." The eight styles are based on how people in an organization respond to change (do they value stability or flexibility) and how they interact with other people (do they value independence or interdependence). The eight styles are: caring, purpose, learning, enjoyment, results, authority, safety, and order. In the article, Groysberg gives examples of organizations for each type, as well as four levers for evolving culture. Read more here.

Monthly Culture Inspiration: January 2018

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

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Visual: Why Organizations Must Change 

Virpi Oinonen, also known as The Business Illustrator, has a series of wonderful illustrations about organizations. I like this one about Why Organizations Must Change.

Book: The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America

A friend introduced me to David Whyte, a poet who works with organizations to help them bring soul back into corporate life. We all have emotions in the workplace, but we don't always have the language for how to talk about them-- so the language of poetry can help. His book The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America is a lovely exploration of what it means to be human at work.

Here are a few passages that I loved:

This split between our work life and that part of our soul life forced underground seems to be at the root of much of our current unhappiness. This is now changing. Continually calling on its managers and line workers for more creativity, dedication, and adaptability, the American corporate world is tiptoeing for the first time in its very short history into the very place from whence that dedication, creativity, and adaptability must come: the turbulent place where the soul of an individual is formed and finds expression. These first tentative corporate steps toward understanding personal artistry and individual creativity are bringing to life a swirling natural boundary where human beings have always lived uneasily: one foot planted solidly in the light-filled world, the other desperately looking for purchase in the dark unknown. 

Corporate America now desperately needs the powers historically associated with the poetic imagination not only to see its way through the present whirligig of change, but also, because poetry asks for accountability to a human community, for rootedness and responsibility even as it changes. The twenty-first century will be anything but business as usual. Institutions must now balance the need to make a living with a natural ability to change. They must also honor the souls of the individuals who work for them and the great soul of the natural world from which they take their resources. Facing the invitation to write this book, I grew fainthearted at the prospect of melding the fluid language of the soul with the dehydrated jargon of the modern workplace.

Soul has to do with the way a human being belongs to their world, their work, or their human community. Where there is little sense of belonging there is little sense of soul. The soulful qualities of life depend on these qualities of belonging. It seems to me that human beings are always desperate to belong to something larger than themselves. When they do not feel this belonging they not only feel as if they are running in place, they quite often feel as if they are dying in place. Without belonging no attempt to coerce enthusiasm or imagination from us can be sustained for long. Preservation of the soul means the preservation at work of humanity and sanity (with all the well-loved insanities that human sanity requires).

Article to Bookmark: Shaping Design Culture

Mia Blume is a product designer and design leadership coach. She previously worked at Pinterest, Square and IDEO. In this Shaping Design Culture post on Medium, she gives 7 tips for leaders growing a small startup team or improving an existing culture, along with examples from design-led cultures.