Monthly Culture Inspiration: May 2017

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

Visual: 10 Guiding Principles of Organizational Culture

Here are 10 Guiding Principles of Organizational Culture from Jon Katzenbach, a practitioner in organizational strategies at PwC’s strategy consulting group. Jon shares that “although there is no magic formula that will guarantee results, we have gleaned some valuable insights through decades of research and observation at dozens of enterprises” about how to mobilize your organizational culture.

Book: Time Talent Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Teams Productive Power 

Michael Mankins and Eric Garton are experts in organizational design and effectiveness at Bain. They’ve written a great new book, Time Talent Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Teams Productive Power. In the book, Mankins and Garton argue that most modern organizations' scarcest resources are the time, talent, and energy of their people, and the ideas those people generate and implement.

The first two thirds of the book have suggestions about how to attract and deploy great talent, and how to unleash the energy that people bring to their work. However, the authors admit that these suggestions usually “provoke two frustratingly simple and deceptive questions:" 

  1. "All this seems pretty much like common sense. Why doesn’t it happen in the ordinary course of business?
  2. If we follow these prescriptions, how do we make sure that they all stick—and that we get and sustain the results we’re looking for?"

The authors write that "the answer to both questions comes down to a clichéd but critical element of any organization: its culture. On the first question: many companies don’t take these seemingly commonsensical steps because they don’t fit with the company’s culture. Try to implement them and the culture attacks them like an immune system ridding the body of a foreign intruder. On the second: culture will determine whether the changes you make can last, and whether they will generate the results you seek. Get the cultural elements right and your other steps will fall into place, even reinforce one another. Get culture wrong and you’ll find yourself constantly frustrated, because nothing will stick. Former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner captured it well when he said, 'Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization’s makeup and success … I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game; it is the game.’”

Along with great case studies, the authors offer three ways to build or restore a winning culture:

  1. "Raise the strategic ambition and recenter your company’s purpose in a customer- or socially focused mission. Ask yourself whether you can see your company’s purpose come to life every day in your employees’ actions. 
  2. Reawaken the ownership mindset and performance orientation through 'constructive disruptions' at moments of truth, both the symbolic and the routine. Reinforce the behaviors you want with feedback systems and consequence-based performance-management systems. 
  3. Reset the company’s operating model, especially its ways of working and talent systems, to embed the change. Renew your talent acquisition strategy, leadership behavioral signature, and talent-management systems to attract difference makers. Ask yourself whether you are encouraging culture-strengthening or culture-weakening behaviors."

Article to Bookmark: The Org is Your Product. The People are Your Customers.

Gabe Kleinman was a designer at IDEO, then head of People Ops at Medium, and now Director of Content and Marketing at Obvious Ventures. In his most recent Medium post, "The Org is Your Product. The People are Your Customers” he writes that "the vast majority of Human Resources and People Ops-related programs are devoid of both humanness and people-ness. Leadership tends to overlook the key moments that matter with candidates, employees, and alumni in favor of a focus on process, administration and box-checking.” He then gives suggestions on how organizations should treat employees during the hiring process, the first 100 days, throughout their career development, and after they leave. I was tickled to see that he referenced an article I wrote with Kate Judson on exploring different feedback systems. Gabe's article is critical for anyone who works in a talent-related role to read.

12 Best Podcast Episodes about Organizational Culture

The average podcast listener listens to about six podcasts on regular rotation. I have about 20 on rotation (I don’t listen to every single episode of every single show, but I do keep tabs on these 20 shows and download episodes that seem interesting). I mainly listen while commuting or doing mundane tasks around my apartment (cleaning, packing, etc).

I love lists of podcasts*, but I recently noticed I’d never seen a list of podcasts about workplace culture. So I decided to create one. Without further ado...

1) IDEO Futures Podcast, Episode 42: The Wisdom of Peter Drucker with Zach First

Peter Drucker was one of the first academics to study management in a formal capacity. His most famous quote about culture is, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In this podcast, IDEO business designers Diego Rodriguez and Susan O'Malley interview Zach First, executive director of the Drucker Institute. This episode will make you think differently about management, leadership and life. Other good IDEO Futures episodes: Episode 44: Bob Sutton on leadership + organizational life.

2) Emergent Agenda Podcast by August, Episode 5: Cheese, Jazz, and Feedback

August is an organizational development consulting firm founded by some of my former colleagues at Undercurrent. In this episode, one of their team members gives advice on how to give and receive feedback. You’ll learn simple frameworks you can use in your own organization.

3) Invisibilia Podcast, The New Norm

Invisibilia interviews Shell Oil company executives who make huge changes to the company’s workplace culture by learning to talk about emotions. Once they open up with another, they make the oil rig a safer place to work. You’ll think differently about the power of language and emotions in the most stoic of cultures.

4) HBR Ideacast, Episode 574: Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant on Resilience

In this episode, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant talk about how to build resilience after loss. Sheryl touches on how important workplace culture is for supporting employees through resilience. She says, “I never would have gotten through this without work.” You’ll learn how to be there for co-workers, and what to say after they experience loss. Other good HBR Ideacast episodes: 549: Re-Orgs are Emotional, and 535: The Zappos Holacracy Experiment

5) Stanford Innovation Lab with Tina Seelig Podcast, Healing Broken Teams from Inside Out - Michael Terrell  

Stanford Professor Tina Seelig interviews executive coach Michael Terrell about team issues. Terrell points out that we’re rarely taught the skills we need for teamwork. “If you think about going back to your time in college or high school, when was the last class you took on self-knowing, or on working well with others? For me, it was elementary school, which was playing well with Johnny on the playground. We’ve got very few examples where our education system funnels us towards these sorts of skills.” You’ll learn how to improve team dynamics and how to diagnose team issues. Other good Stanford Innovation Lab episodes: A Deep Dive into Silicon Valley’s Diversity Challenges with Tracy Chou

6) How I Built This Podcast, Patagonia: Yvon Chouinard

In 1973, Yvon Chouinard started Patagonia to make climbing gear he couldn't find elsewhere. Over decades of growth, he has implemented a unique philosophy about business, leadership and profit. You’ll learn how he developed Patagonia’s unique culture. Other good How I Built This episodes: Southwest Airlines.

7) StartUp Podcast, Episode 19: Diversity Report

In this episode, Gimlet looks inward at its own staff’s diversity, and comes to some tough realizations: 24 of Gimlet’s 27 employees are white. But Gimlet founder Alex Blumberg sits down with Brittany Luse, the company’s only African-American employee, to discuss how the company could overcome unconscious bias and to figure out what diversity should mean for the company going forward. This is an amazingly honest show. Other good Startup episodes: Shadowed Qualities, Episode 20: DisOrg Chart

8) The Ezra Klein Show, Cal Newport on Doing Deep Work

Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, discusses how organizations can create cultures where employees can concentrate and do better work. You’ll learn how to actively promote depth in your work and reduce distraction. Newport shares fascinating research on why we feel bad not responding to an email, even when it means we interrupt more important work.

9) Bregman Leadership Podcast, Episode 72: David Burkus - Under New Management

Peter Bregman interviews David Burkus, the author of Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as Usual (which I also recommend reading). The episode discusses how many of the principles of business management are misguided and even counter-productive. You’ll learn about the pros and cons of salary transparency, among other insights.

10) Cold Call by Harvard Business School, IDEO is Changing the Way Managers Think about Thinking

This episode is based on the HBS case study written about IDEO. Professor Ryan Buell explores this IDEO’s design thinking process through the example of Cineplanet, a leading movie cinema chain in Peru. This is a deep dive into how IDEO’s culture and management philosophy work.

11) Radical Candor, Episode 11: Creating a Culture of Radical Candor

Radical Candor is a framework, book, and now podcast from Kim Scott. The idea is that in order to be a good boss, you have to care personally at the same time that you challenge directly. In this episode Kim and her co-host discuss how can you take these ideas and make organizational change. You’ll learn how to create a culture of Radical Candor in your own workplace.

12) Virgin Pulse Talks, Patty McCord (Former Chief Talent Officer, Netflix)

Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix talks about company culture and creating new ways to work, including giving people feedback in real time. She explains how the famous Netflix Culture Deck came to be. I absolutely love her “real talk” approach. Other good Virgin Pulse Talks episodes: Duane Bray (IDEO Partner), Katie Burke (VP of Culture & Experience, HubSpot)

*PS: Here are some of my favorite lists of podcasts:

I am also fascinated by the business of podcasting, and subscribe to a great newsletter about podcasts, Hot Pod by Nick Quah

What are your favorite episodes and podcasts about workplace culture?