Curating Culture

(Overview from speaking engagement with Hacking HR)

Nowadays, we aren’t short on articles, publications and journals sharing the importance of a creating high performing culture. On this topic, someone asked me a few months back while cycling, how I define culture, and my immediate reply was “it is complex, it is the “how” and the “what” coupled with the “why” and the “who.”

For me, culture is HOW people do WHAT, the decisions, communications, relations, when no one is watching and there aren’t any rules in place. Culture is how we do the what, as individuals, teams and as an organization.

Typically, I find individuals have a culture quote that they connect with, and leaders usually have a cultural philosophy they are inspired by. I sought out to see what some of the well known successful leaders cultural quotes were, and captured a few. Culture Quotes When I think about culture quotes, one comes to mind that many are likely familiar with: “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” I tend to think of culture as an equal player in the pursuit to achieve individual, team and organizational success. Culture can be misunderstood, overlooked, underestimated, and quite simply even ignored, and in my opinion (and many others), if it is, it will hinder performance.

On that bike ride while discussing culture, I attempted to capture the various elements, which surfaced top of my mind when discussing it. When I think about the word “cultureWords” in the workplace, it is a vast canvas with so many elements influencing it. Take a minute and think about your individual mind map, with culture being in the center. What words come top of your mind for you when you think about the branches influencing? These are not inclusive for me, but are many of the words that resonated for me. They are the spokes of the culture wheel with leaders being the hub.

When we ponder the “whys” of culture, these are the dashboard metrics finance and operations leaders track to take the pulse of organizational health such as, revenue, competitive advantage differentiators, talent and customer engagement and satisfaction, talent and client retention, new logos, increased share price, talent and customer turnover, etc.

Elements like building trust, efficient decision making, identification and shared understanding, healthy ideological conflict, 100% responsibility as well as enhanced collaboration, can easily double loop and sit in the “why” as well as the “how” and of course the “who.” The “who” of culture is all about leaders, partnering with people operations and talent. The “how and what” of culture are the manifestations and expressions of culture, such as communications, events, celebrations, recognition, rewards, symbols, traditions, etc., all being aligned to the core shared values.

Slide1This brings the question to mind, what is the role of human resources as it relates to creating a high performance culture? People professionals have an important role in the aim of cultural attainment and achieving potential. They are the advisors, coaches, curators, designers, facilitators, thinkers, builders, and implementers as it relates to the tools, systems, processes, guardrails, and talent management programs.

It is a mistake to believe and espouse human resources “owns” culture. Based upon my experiences paired with empirical evidence, it is essential the business leaders own a company’s culture. Leaders are the linchpin and play an instrumental role in shaping & sustaining culture. This is especially true when a change management initiative is launched. Anyone who has ever tried to make a change without key sustained sponsorship knows all too well it is absolutely impossible. In my opinion, culture is all about how the talent are led by their leaders and nurtured, and this is why subcultures exist.

The shaping of culture has key components. First, understanding the current culture includes exploring history, espoused values, subcultures, leadership styles, team dynamics, strengths, opportunities, etc. Next, assessing the strategic choices and environmental factors, to build a culture target that best aligns is important. So for instance, Whole Foods Market is purpose driven, whereas Tesla has a culture of learning, creativity, change and innovation. For instance, a culture with too much focus or a history of punishing mistakes, will likely be pretty good at setting high quality standards, but likely not as great at creativity and innovation. Then comes framing the cultural aspiration and business realities, to support translating the target state into priorities and organizational changes to be designed, implemented and measured.

Consider taking this high level process to the goal of curating values. Firstly, I am a big fan of co-creation paired with crowd sourcing and exploring and building upon the shared value trends. Secondly, be mindfulness of goals, and partner with the marketing and communications teams to ensure a goal of keeping the values simple, sticky, relevant and actionable with short descriptors and memorable icons is important. Next, explore the communication channels to enhance raising awareness, desire, and knowledge, which are critical. Lastly, implement and measure, ensure an agile approach with action planning with and a feedback loop is essential.

I am a curious learner and strive to continuously learn about culture. These are a few of my favorite go to guru resources around culture. Here in Austin, Texas, I recently had the delight to meet the co-founders of Cardigan Communications, Dr. Harold Hardaway and Shannon Hernandez who are absolute rock stars in culture. Their expertise both enthralled me and educated me in this important area. Fav gurus

Source: The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture, (Jan-Feb 2018). HBR




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