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.
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:
- Outcomes. These are the things you want (and don’t want) your culture to achieve.
- Behaviors. These are the very visible parts of your culture—the positive or negative actions people perform everyday that result in the desired or undesired outcomes for your company.
- Enablers and blockers. These are the formal or informal policies, rituals, actions, and rules that enable or block your culture—the elements that are truly intentional to achieving a desired 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.
Outcomes: What are you trying to achieve?
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:
- People perform poorly
- People hate coming to work
- People have checked out
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:
- People are happy at work
- People are engaged
- People do their best work
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.
Behaviors: What do you want to see in people inside your organization?
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:
- Individual behavior. Show little interest in their work, procrastinate (surf the web), avoid responsibility
- Team behavior. Participate in in-fighting and blaming, look out for oneself, have a personal agenda, sabotage projects
- Leadership behavior. Care about personal power and prestige, only focus on quarterly numbers
Then think about what are the good behaviors that could counter bad behaviors. You might list the following:
- Individual behavior. People show passion for their work, are transparent about their work and progress, people take ownership; and most importantly, people look forward to coming into work
- Team behavior. Collaborate and help each other, are open and honest, have fun
- Leadership behavior. Listen to teams, help people grow
Enablers & Blockers: How do you intentionally shape the culture?
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:
- Incentives are a basic element of doing good work. People should be paid fairly and competitively for their roles, and increases in compensation should be a predictable process. In addition to pay, the culture should work to reward results generated versus hours worked. Employees shouldn’t feel anxious about how visible they are in the office or on projects, and strict timekeeping can create a sense of mistrust between teams and management. Lastly, and this is something we care about a lot, good failure should not result in career suicide.
- Context and rules will determine what rituals and processes allow people to do great work. If initiative is punished instead of rewarded, people will feel less compelled to push new ideas internally. The ability to make quick judgment calls and move decisions forward will outpace any lengthy or cumbersome internal approvals process. The same goes for autonomy and flexibility—do you trust your teams to lead while you get out of the way? Are teams allowed to participate in flexible work options that encourage their productivity? Your teams need the right tools and resources to do their job—are they spending more time fighting for what they need? If access to those resources is limited, individuals will be less inclined to take part in initiatives with so many blockers in front of them.
- People are the core of a great organization and the processes and systems you use to hire, promote, and reward them can be both enablers and blockers. Bob Sutton’s famous “no asshole rule” is an important factor when hiring people for your company, especially if they’re “star performers”. Sutton believes that star performers who are demeaning can wreak havoc on organizations. You just can’t compromise your business on people like that.
- Leadership has to play a role in the culture if the whole organization is to transform. And leading by example is a pivotal component of management enablers (and blockers: leadership can lead by poor example as well, of course). If leadership exhibits the behaviors expected of teams and individuals, then people in the organization will follow suit.
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.
Your completed Culture Maps
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.
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:
- 10+ minutes. Do a quick assessment to map your current culture. Have everyone think hard about enablers and blockers. Quickly capturing your current culture will allow you to carry over any existing enablers and positive behaviors that can also work in your desired culture.
- 60+ minutes. In a slightly longer session you can facilitate a shared understanding of your current culture with people contributing their perspectives. Collaboration is key. How has your Culture Map changed with others sharing their input?
- 180+ minutes. In this long session, you can move to defining your desired culture and kick off a conversation about how the company can move from the current culture to its desired culture. Individuals, teams, and leadership can collaborate to discuss and capture the desired enablers and behaviors that everyone can begin to experiment with and implement internally.
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.
Grab Your Free Culture Map
Start intentionally discussing and capturing the company culture you organization desires. Download your free Culture Map in our Resource Library.