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Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing joy in the workplace. I’m Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting. With me is my co-host and dear friend JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, also an HR consulting firm.
Our topic today is shifting culture. This podcast is a component of a larger SHRM – the Society of Human Resource Management – program offering called “Elevating Performance: A People Strategy for Building High Performance Organizations.” We think that there’s a lot of reasons why employers consider changing their culture, and we think probably there’s six that are really ones that JoDee and I have experienced in the past. And we’re hoping that at least one or more of these might resonate with you, listeners. Let’s start out with reason one, JoDee. Sometimes a business leader or the HR leader starts to see some red flags in the workplace. Let’s talk about some of those red flags that might make you think that your culture might need some shifting.
So number one could be high turnover. That might be throughout the entire organization, it might be in certain locations or departments, but there there’s a need for concern or a watchful eye around that if people are leaving the organization.
Absolutely. And I think it’s a great time to, if you’re doing exit interviews, take a look at the exit interviews. Are there any trends? Is there anything that’s speaking to, is this culture not one where people are coming and staying? You know, I also think sometimes you start to realize that the offers that you’re extending aren’t getting accepted as rapidly, or maybe your acceptance rate overall is going down. Maybe there’s something about your culture that’s leaking out into the community.
Right. You know, it’s interesting on that one, that we think about doing exit interviews. People don’t always do them. But that can be an opportunity to do some interviews, too, with people who turned you down, to find out, Why did they turn you down? What…what was going on there?
They may not want to be as honest as you need them to be, but you know what, I think it’s worth a real good effort, because that could be very enlightening.
Mm hmm. Another reason might be that you are seeing an increase in grievances being filed and trying to figure out what’s going on there. Is that a particular manager? Is that the culture overall? or What’s happening?
Absolutely. Same thing with EEO charges. Are you starting to see some litigation? Maybe there’s something in your culture that is creating behaviors that you don’t want to have.
Another one might be that absenteeism is rising, which is an interesting one a lot of people might not have thought about to check into. Are people not excited to come back to work or on a Monday morning? They’re not looking forward to getting up and coming back in? and What’s causing that?
And definitely your lower employee engagement scores. If you’re doing job satisfaction surveys of any kind and you start to see the numbers trending lower, maybe there’s something in the culture you need to take a look at.
Yeah. It could also be lower productivity numbers, which could be a result of everything we’ve just talked about already. And what is…what is causing that? If engagement is lower, productivity tends to be lower. If there’s more absenteeism, productivity could be lower, and on and on.
Fair enough. If you’re lucky, you’re going to get, maybe, real direct feedback from your employees. Maybe in your town halls, you’ll start to hear more negative feedback. Maybe employees will start expressing their concerns, if you’re lucky. Maybe you’re going to see, out on Glassdoor, negative reviews about your company. I never think it hurts to Google your company and take a look at some of the social sites to see what people are saying about you.
Clearly, you’re starting to see some flags, definitely you want to take some action. But maybe…. Reason number two that we should talk about – maybe you, as the HR leader, or being a member of the executive team, you start to sense that the culture isn’t quite in alignment with the mission, vision, values of the organization. JoDee, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this come up in any of the clients that you’ve dealt with or maybe the organizations that you worked with.
Yeah. I think of one specific example comes to mind with an organization I was with where one of our values was “one firm,” and that was specifically a value because we had 12 or 13 different locations, and they weren’t always on the same page. So we were making a real concerted effort to to view the firm as one and not as “my office,” “my location,” “our little corner of the neck of the woods,” but then at one point, pretty closely after coming out with that new value of “one firm,” there was an initiative that went out to say that the firm would pay for people to get a Master’s, a specific Master’s program that was only located in one city of the firm. And of course, that was back in the day where you actually went to class. You…
You had to physically live there to get to class, which was in such opposition to our “one firm” value. And I remember that was such a mistake and the organization realized that very quickly. I mean, it was a…it was a failure of that concept of the value, on… basically, what they were saying, “we’re only going to pay for the master’s program for the people that live in this location.” So.
Thank goodness they realized that early on, because what a devastating impact on your culture, if they had not. Yeah.
You know, I had an example. Gosh, I would say at this point over 25 years ago, where I worked in a large organization. It was primarily a white collar organization, financial services, and we had one particular department that was our print shop, because we did a lot of our own marketing materials and certainly, from an internal communication standpoint, everything went to this print shop. Well, the print shop had a culture all of its own. It was so very different than the rest of this financial services organization. And in the print shop, there was just kind of more of a loose talk, tempers, people could rage when they were angry and there was no repercussion for it, there was kind of an in your face attitude. And so even if you were an internal customer, you’d go there, you’d be like, you’d walk real gingerly, you’d beg that your…your particular item would get printed, that you’d get it by the due date you needed it, so on and so forth. And it was just really completely opposite. The rest of the organization was very customer-focused – internal or external customer – appropriate, politeness was used all the time, just, you know, very, very careful. So there was this clash, and I think for a very long time in the organization, we just thought, “well, that’s just the way the print shop is, that’s…you know what, let it be, they’re doing a good job for us.” Until ultimately, it just got out of control and we realized that bad behaviors followed bad conduct, and so we had to really fix things, change things, and go through a real cultural shift.
And that’s a great example, Susan, of how a, you know, like, subcultures forms in our organizations, too, right? It may be different from the entire…. We think of having an organizational culture, but yet, we’ll have subcultures in there, too, that react differently or respond differently to the overall mission and values.
Yes. So reason number three that you might want to think about shifting cultures – you know, if you’re a company that is going through a merger or an acquisition, and you may have a culture you love, and that company that’s going to be joining your company has a culture that they love. Fact is, you’re not going to be able to integrate if you continue with two different cultures. So I think that takes a lot of real thought and planning about, What’s the culture of the new company gonna look like? Can we take the best of both?
Yes, I was a part of…well, we called it a merger, but basically, it…it felt like a buyout.
It depends which side of it you’re on, right?
That’s right. Where there were two organizations, quote, “merging.” And the message was best practices, best practices, best practices, and whichever group had the best practices, those would thrive. Well, what we quickly found out was that the other group, all of their practices became what we were going to do. And in hindsight, there was some value in that, to make it swift, make it easy, not wait to figure out what was best practices. I’m not suggesting that’s the way to do it all of the time. But for some of our locations that took that on, they moved very quickly to a culture shift, and it worked very well. But for other locations, where they took this “best practices” to heart and then it never happened, it was very difficult and made the merger process very rocky for people. So I think in hindsight, if we had just made it very clear, this is what we’re doing, and, you know, move forward and take it on and low expectations, I guess, on best practices…
That makes a lot of sense. I was part of a fairly large Midwestern bank that was merging with another fairly large Midwestern bank. And the bank that I came from – which was a terrific bank, great leaders, really have all the respect in the world for them – their approach with HR was that we were very fiscally conservative, and so we figured out what we were required to do by the law, and we would follow it to the tee. So if, you know, we were required to pay a certain amount of money on something, we absolutely would pay that, but not a dime more. So it turns out, when we merged the two organizations, I was part of a group of HR people that had a meeting at that time, it was up in Chicago, I will never forget it. I was sitting in the room and we were talking about, as we merge, there’s going to be layoffs, unfortunately, because we had a lot of redundancy in different states throughout the Midwest. And in there, we started talking about, What should the new organization’s severance pay plan look like? And I’m automatically thinking, Okay, for the states we’re in, what is required, what is not required? When will their unemployment start? I was just thinking about what was the minimum we could do? And they said, Okay, so clearly, you know, we’re going to start with two weeks per year, as a basis, but let’s start thinking about what more we really should do. It was like, I couldn’t get over it. That was just…what was required was the minimum talking point, and then we talked about what could possibly be, what was the best thing for the employee. I remember thinking, I have died and gone to HR heaven. I’m so excited about this new merged company.
So what’s reason number four?
That can be when your organization is fairly young and had a bootstrap culture that helped launch, but as it has grown, more people have joined the business. I certainly have seen that happen with several of our clients who started out as young startups, and they wanted it to be loose. It was, you know, maybe the younger generations, they didn’t want to have a lot of policies, they didn’t want to have a lot of procedures, it was…especially things like PTO, performance reviews, FMLA if they got to 50 people, maternity leaves, we want to make this a great place to work for everyone. But as the organization grew and they started have more questions or more issues around paid time off or whatever it might be, then we’d get the call that says, Hmm, I think we need a policy around this, I think we need to create a handbook, I think we need to have more procedures. Because the more people you have in your organization, more of those issues are going to come up. And so…and that was very difficult for many of them to say, Hey, we built ourselves based on having this flexible culture with no rules, but maybe that’s not where we should be right now.
Yeah, I see that as well. And the talent that gets attracted to that bootstrap, wild west, anything goes very rarely enjoys being in a company where we start having policies and practices. And you have those because of fairness, right? You have to have some type of structure when a company gets to a certain scale or certain size. I think a good example of that would be Uber, Travis Kalanick ran starting in 2010 all the way to 2017. There certainly was an awful lot of things written about the culture problems that they, as they kept growing in size and scope, that included allegations of ethical issues and sexual harassment, that really over the last few years, they spent a lot of time trying to shift cultures in that organization. Which makes a lot of sense.
Lots of other examples of top leadership of startups that exit so cultures can really change as they need to. Yahoo’s Jerry Yang, Jet Blue’s David Neeleman, BlackBerry’s Mike Lazaridis, and many, many others.
What’s reason number five, Susan?
Well, I think sometimes a new CEO or Executive Director or agency head comes on the scene, they’re hired because of their ideas and because the organization wants a new change agent or change leader. And so I think that new leaders sometimes feel like it’s their role to come in, assess the culture, and make changes quickly. One example of that was Satya Nadella, who took over Microsoft back in 2014. He was really vocal about the fact he was there to work on changing the technology giant’s real culture. Things that he did was written up by Samantha McClaren in a LinkedIn Talent blog back in December 4 of 2019. The approach they used, which I think is kind of a nice model for everyone, is first of all plan. They started out by securing buy-in from their leaders. They surveyed their workforce and decided on what kind of a culture they wanted to have, what should they keep, and what should they get rid of.
Step number two was build. They created and told stories to reinforce the change they wanted to see and they were on the lookout for those detractors who weren’t helping to build that culture.
JoDee, you’re a big believer in, when you’re trying to inspire change and do things, telling stories.
I think you’re really good at that.
And that has been a part of the Microsoft culture, actually, for the…at least – maybe forever – but at least for the past five to six years, they’ve incorporated storytelling. Actually, maybe it came with this change of direction in 2019.
Makes sense. And then finally, they’ve really focused on maintaining. You know, they had to then adjust all of their people management processes, their roles, their policies, to align with a new culture. And that really, I think, is an important thing you don’t want to forget as you make a shift to all of the rules that you have in place. Do they support this new culture? or Are they old and they need to be shaken…shaken up a bit so that they really do get in alignment?
There are lots of other examples of companies that have done this, like McDonald’s new CEO, Chris Kempczinski, who joined in November of 2019. He came in very vocally about being on a mission to change the culture after McDonald’s corporate headquarters went through an awful lot of allegations about bad behavior, inappropriate personal relationships, and promoting a party culture.
You know, Susan, you mentioned earlier about the culture of expenses and how much a new organization was spending or not spending, and it reminded me of a time when we had a new leader in an organization I was in, and I didn’t even realize it until the change was made, that basically our organization – I would describe them now as being very tight – that we did not really have that nice of an office, that our leader didn’t drive much of a fancy car. It was just kind of a simple culture, and I heard that leader say once that he didn’t want our clients to think we were overbilling them so that we could live an extravagant lifestyle, basically. So he always wanted his perception to be that we were very cost mindful. Well, he retired, and we brought in a new leader who had a totally opposite philosophy. I don’t know if it happened this quickly, but in my mind, we completely renovated the office in the first 30 days. I mean, we got new carpet, we got new furniture. And he believed in successful people want to work with successful people, so he wanted it…he wanted it to be known that we were successful, and he drove a big fancy car, and he dressed very expensively, and I was probably, I don’t know, in my mid 20s, so I think it really made an impact on me early on in my career, about thinking about, What kind of message do you want to send to your clients? and that can be based on the car you drive or the office you have or how much money you’re spending.
Isn’t that interesting. And for the employee, which I think is a great point, sometimes as leaders change cultures, as employee, you could have whiplash watching change if you don’t understand the why behind it. Right? But fortunately, it sounds like in your 20s, that new leader did explain, I want people to see us as successful and so we’re gonna act like we are. So that was a good lesson for you.
It was. It was.
I think I spent too much time at the organization that was very frugal, because I ended up still being very frugal myself. I needed to be in a culture where they were spending lots of money earlier in my career!
That’s fun. So the sixth and final reason that we often see organizations wrestle with the idea of changing their culture and shifting things is that a company maybe never really spent any time thinking about their culture and they don’t really understand what their team members want or need to thrive. They just have never spent any intentional time on it.
Yeah, so I, too, in transitioning to two different organizations earlier in my career…. The first one I worked with had a very defined mission, vision, values. We looked at those on a regular basis, we made some tweaks and we made some changes to those along the way. And then I went to another organization, very successful, great culture, but none of that was actually defined, and when I went ask questions about that, about, What are our values? and they would say, Oh, we’ve got values, we believe in this, or We believe in that, but it was never actually written down. It was not something that was documented that…that I can point to, and as a recruiter for the organization, I had always used values of our organization as a part of those recruiting conversations, so it became very difficult for me to really put an emphasis on that. And again, it didn’t mean they didn’t have them. Right? It was that underlying culture, but we never really assessed what that culture was and…and made it written to allow people to focus on those, and that was hard for me.
I feel like when you haven’t really spent time looking at your culture and figuring out, Does this represent us? Is this where we want to be? that you’re leaving too much to chance. I just think it’s way too risky. And I think all of us as HR professionals, we see ourselves a risk mitigators, and I think that not defining it, not spending real time on it, not understanding your employees, what’s driving them, what they need to have in order to feel fulfilled, you’re leaving too much to chance.
Well, and as you know, we talk about…. I mean, our title of our podcast is about having a JoyPowered® workspace, and so thinking and assessing, What are those values that represent a JoyPowered® workspace for your organization? because they’re not the same for everyone. At Purple Ink, our values are creativity, flexibility, and positivity, and we talk about those. We talk to prospects, we talk to clients about those, but that doesn’t mean that needs to be the values for every organization. That’s what works for us, and that’s what we depend on and look to when we’re making decisions.
Brilliant. So where do you begin when you want to shift your culture? There’s a lot of reasons to want to do it, but, like, where do you start? Well, I think that SHRM’s “Elevating Performance” course encourages employers to figure out how they can, with key stakeholders, assess where your organization is now, consider where you want to be, analyze those gaps, and develop an action plan to get you where that culture needs to be. As, JoDee, you just said, every plan is going to be unique, because it’s going to fit your organization.
What we see many successful organizations do is to create a culture of continual learning and growth. And that is certainly one value that I think many organizations can point to as a place to start, or as a place to point to about having an emphasis on that for people. And that might be even celebrating failures, because we learn from them. You know, in my example earlier about the “one firm” concept that was immediately seen as a failure in those other outside offices, but that they stepped up to the plate and said, Hey, we realize this. This was a problem. We didn’t recognize this, and we’re gonna put in some other options to make it work for people.
I truly do believe that organizations that embrace failure, they’re getting the…probably the least expensive on the job training program that you can have by letting employees try new things. And if they don’t work, okay, that’s terrific. What did we learn from it? I heard Lionel Richie on the American Idol last night, saying life is like a win-win, you’re either going to win because you got it right or you’re going to learn because you didn’t get it right the first time. So I just love that. Yeah.
Right. Love it. I think, too, that we can think about even our feedback, feed forward, performance management processes, whatever you call it, and how we align those into our culture and our values. As an example of that, I think… Are you evaluating people based on a set of competencies that don’t align, per se, with the mission and values of the organization? or Are you rewarding people with bonuses on competencies that are not measured as a part of your performance management process? Right? If you tell people you want them to be focused on on culture and diversity and inclusion initiatives, for example, but then you pay them a bonus that only is based on sales dollars… Right? There’s a disconnect between the culture you’re trying to shift and the rewards or the the feedback mechanisms that you’re providing to them.
Absolutely. I think organizations who really believe in continual learning and growth as an environment for their employees, they need to articulate that, not just once, but all the time. So in their…in their town halls, in as they introduce different initiatives and whatnot, they need to say, We believe that there’s opportunity to continue for us to get better at whatever, or, These are resources we have found out there that’s going to help everybody sharpen XYZ skills. You need to be really verbal and verbose about it and make sure that people understand that you believe it and you put your beliefs into action.
I think another example of that can be… How are you helping people to create personal development plans or learning plans? So if you’re only sending them to additional training, certification, or conferences around technical skills, for example, but not encouraging them or allowing them to learn more about how to be a better manager, or a better leader, or a team builder, or all of those other leadership skills that are so important to your growth, what that’s telling people is, Your technical knowledge is the only thing we value right now.
Yeah, you’re… Oh, that’s very true. So I think the other point is, you’re just beginning to think about how do we shift this culture, and you’re going to let them know that this continual growth is really important to us and how you grow. I think…I think you also want to start with making sure your employees understand that the work that they do truly matters, that there’s a purpose behind it. I think that so often, people go to work, and they think, Okay, here’s my job, and here’s what I need to do, but they don’t realize or see that connection to the overall mission of the organization. And so where we can figure out how to help employees see where their actual output helps the whole organization, or the customer, or whatever the mission is, is going to really pay dividends.
Yeah, I love it.
Early in my career, when I was doing lending, I was part of an organization that we, you know, lent money to individuals. I remember I had worked so hard to get through school without borrowing money, and I was working so hard to…actually had to borrow some money in order to buy a wardrobe to go to work, all those types of things. I was very, you know, concerned about being in debt and how I was gonna get out of debt. So the whole idea of being in a job where I was getting people into debt, helping them get into debt, I just, I was really thinking, this is kind of soul sucking, I… Yeah. Is this really what I want to do? Is this helping people? And then I had a shift, and I’m sure it was the organization I was working for at the time, because they were trying to help us feel good about the culture we were in and about what our mission was. And they started talking about, it’s really important that as lending officers, you’re helping people realize their life’s dreams. You’re helping people get the education that they need in order to be that particular professional they want to be. You’re helping somebody buy a car that they don’t have the money to do that’s going to enable them to get to work to feed their family. And I started thinking about, My job is important. I need to help people get what they need in order to live the life that they deserve. So it worked on me, and I think that it…it’s really true. If you realize your work matters, you’re going to love it more.
I love it. Great example. I think we’ve given our listeners today several opportunities to think about their culture, right? And when…what’s working, what’s not working, when they might need to make a culture shift or re-examine some of their values or cultural impact they’re having on their employees or even future employees.
Absolutely. And we’re hoping that you’re going to enjoy “Elevating Performance: A People Strategy for Building High Performance Organizations,” and really go deep and figuring out what’s going to work in your organization and developing an action plan that makes it happen.
Susan, if our listeners are interested in signing up for SHRM’s program, where can they go?
I would go to shrm.org. Look under the education section, and you’ll find many programs, including this really wonderful one.
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