A happy and engaged workforce is the result of an intentionally designed company culture. It's not something that you just let happen. In this post we explain how to intentionally design culture that engages individuals, teams and leadership to contribute their best work, and we give you a tool and approach to help you do it.
This post originally appeared in Harvard Business Review.
Right now 7 out of 10 people in your organization are not actively engaged at work. Disengaged workforces are a global problem; and the costs are high. In the U.S. alone, companies are haemorrhaging $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity each year.
Companies try to motivate their people with incentives and unique perks like ping-pong rooms and free meals, but none of those approaches address the deeper issue of why employees are so disengaged.
We believe the answer is culture—the formal and informal values, behaviors, and beliefs practiced in an organization. Very few companies intentionally work on their culture—in fact, many companies just let culture happen.
XPLANE founder Dave Gray says that a company’s culture is like a garden. You can design culture but nature will still be a force. You can’t control everything about your culture but you can intentionally take it into your own hands. Culture will emerge through constant care and nurturing.
To become more systematic about culture design, we use a tool that our company, Strategyzer, and Yves Pigneur co-developed with Gray. It’s called the Culture Map. The Culture Map allows you to have a conversation about the three key elements of organizational culture:
Let’s look at how you can use the Culture Map to intentionally design the culture you want to increase happiness and engagement.
There is no right or wrong way to design culture. Every organization is unique and you will design what fits your needs. The Culture Map is simply a tool to help you facilitate a conversation with you and your team.
You start by describing the outcomes you don’t want—what you’d see if your people weren’t engaged. What are the outcomes you don’t want to see? You could pick a theme, instance, or incident that has taken place internally to get the conversation started. In this example, the main theme or incident is unhappy and unengaged workers. This helps you understand what you’re trying to actively avoid.
The outcomes you’re trying to avoid may include:
To illustrate how this process works (and keep it simple), we’ve selected three broad outcomes. When you start to discuss implementation inside the company, your conversation will yield a greater number of more detailed outcomes.
Next you’ll identify the outcomes of your desired culture that will counter the negative outcomes.
In this context you might identify that you want the following:
Your desired outcomes may often be the opposite of your undesired outcomes but it might be helpful to think about what your company has and what your company may desire. For example, “an internal pro-environmental stance” to become a carbon neutral workplace may engage individuals, but the outcome may not directly answer a negative element in your existing culture.
Then you look at behaviors—the very visible part of your culture. These are the actions people perform every day that result in the outcomes you’ve just listed. That is, what do you want people in the organization doing and not doing? We recommend that you look at three categories of behavior: individual, team, and leadership. Again, here you look at undesired and desired behaviors.
In this example, you might list the following undesired behaviors:
Then think about what are the good behaviors that could counter bad behaviors. You might list the following:
This is where you have the ability to influence the outcomes and behaviors you’ve identified. The enablers and blockers are the formal and informal levers that leaders, teams, and individuals can intentionally pull to drive a company’s culture.
Think carefully about each of these four elements:
Once you’ve captured the conversation, you’ll want to break down the enablers into day-to-day activities and experiments. This will allow you to gather evidence as to whether you have the appropriate enablers in place to encourage positive behaviors and outcomes. As leaders, you will not only oversee many of these experiments but you’ll participate in them, too. For example, you might run an experiment where you enable teams with the autonomy and flexibility to make certain decisions on a project without leadership involvement. By getting out of the way and enabling teams to make decisions, you may create behaviors that foster trust, honesty, and collaboration. You’ll be able to see if the experiment results in the outcome of happier and engaged employees.
This is what the two versions of your Culture Map will look like. They will serve as an important reference tool as you assess if you’ve made progress toward your desired culture, and help you steer clear of the undesired culture.
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Company culture can feel like a beast, which is why many leaders avoid having these tough conversations. But there are small ways to get started. Here are three things you can do together in order to begin the conversation in:
Companies should be as intentional about culture as they are about strategy and business model innovation. We believe that a tool is incredibly important for discussing and capturing organizational culture. Each one will be unique to the challenge the organization has to face, whether that’s tackling growth, crisis, or disruption. You can’t create a culture that will do any of that without the right tools.
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Start intentionally discussing and capturing the company culture you organization desires. Download your free Culture Map in our Resource Library.
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