Culturati in Conversation

By Myste Wylde, Culturati COO

Quiet quitting and return to office are top-of-mind with the labor force, economy, mental health, and the broader Resign, Resigned, Re-sign not far behind. For those with fireproof pants, questions remain in queue on ESG, the future of work, and DEI efficacy.

Search “return to office” online and every major publication has put in their two cents. Over the last 48 hours alone, we have RTO insights and opinions from The New York Times, Fortune, CNN, Bloomberg, even Vanity Fair.*

More CEOs are pushing to get employees back in the office and more employees are pulling away (see: quiet quitting). Forbes reports that in their latest quarterly survey of more than 10,000 knowledge workers, only one in three globally work in the office full-time — with only one in five actually wanting to. According to Kastle’s “back to work barometer” — the U.S. national occupancy average is 43.8% (led, interestingly, by Austinites). The key seems to be flexibility. (Read more at McKinsey & Company.)

The trending term “quiet quitting” may be a new name, but we all know it’s an old game. When considering this in relation to evergreen issues such as productivity, performance, and attrition, Harvard Business Review suggests looking first at middle-management. In research gathered since 2020 on 2,801 managers rated by 13,048 direct reports, the lowest rated managers* had only 20% of their employees willing to go the extra mile while 14% were quietly quitting. This compares to managers with the highest ratings who saw 62% of their direct reports willing to give more and only 3% performing the bare minimum of their job description.

Culturati in conversation…

Over the past few weeks I’ve touched base with some of our Culturati Scholars to discuss what they’re hearing, what they’ve been working on, and what they predict for the future. On the phone with Professor Steven Tomlinson (Seminary of the Southwest), we talked about potential rules of engagement for civil discourse.

Watch Professor Tomlinson’s talk on “Civil Discourse as a Competitive Advantage” at Culturati: Summit 2022

Forming good habits on how we talk, listen, and make room to understand pre-judgment is critical not just in navigating our polarized world and work environments, but in breaking down barriers to build truly inclusive communities. (Read more from Steven Tomlinson in Harvard Business Review.) He also highlighted how the issue of working from home vs. returning to the office affects people differently in material ways, as well as the importance of examining whose power is being amplified and whose is reduced in either case.

Live from San Francisco (via Zoom), I had my “face-to-face” fangirl moment with Rajkumari Neogy. Culturati Scholar, speaker, author, and executive coach focusing on epigenetics and neurobiology, Rajkumari is crazy smart and gets straight to the point. She’ll be helping us define what inclusion means and determine how we can better embody the values we espouse. At the forefront of her work these days are issues of gaslighting, psychological safety, divergent diversity, racism’s effect on both sides of the brain, and the science of hope. I’m excited to join her Biology of Belonging bootcamp starting September 23rd.

At the University of Texas at Austin campus (hook ‘em!), I met with Dr. Ethan Burris, Senior Associate Dean, McCombs School of Business & Professor of Management. We chatted about everything from trending topics (quiet quitting) to evergreen (backfill) to cyclical (new spins on employee engagement and satisfaction). Currently, the latter we’re all calling “thriving.” Microsoft even provided us a handy definition via HBR a month or so ago which is “to be energized and empowered to do meaningful work.” With each iteration of this construct (every five or six years) comes a new set of techniques and strategies… The best of which you can find here and in our newsletter. As Ethan describes our Culturati community, we are “leaders who are interested in culture and developing a business model where you don’t treat people like shit to make a buck.”

On the west side of campus at the IC2 Institute, I sat down with Dr. S. Craig Watkins who is the University of Texas at Austin’s Ernest A. Sharpe Centennial Professor, founding director of the Institute for Media Innovation, Director of the Good Systems Racial Justice Research Focus Area, and the MLK Visiting Professor at MIT. Craig spoke at our 2022 Culturati Summit on Ethics & AI, and we explored this in greater detail at our recent meeting. We thought more deeply and intentionally about wellbeing in the workplace, how we can create space to build workplace cultures and environments that are future-oriented, how corporations and organizations evaluate their impact, and how designing more inclusive economies will lead to healthier communities.

His work on AI with researchers from MIT helps organizations think about and identify blind spots in predicated, biased data which may have equity implications when building or acquiring AI-based technology. The fear is scaling historical discrimination. The goal is to define a pathway to solve for this. We want to help develop a framework and vocabulary for organizational application. We’re also interested in commissioning research to standardize a toolkit to screen for and identify fault lines, particularly for verticals such as health and finance.

Professor Watkins at Culturati: Summit 2022

As I engage more deeply with the context of Culturati, I find it fascinating how the main challenges of our time care naught for org size. We have a () small but mighty team, and though I’ve only ever worked remotely with them (which my dog and tbh, I, vastly prefer of the time) we’re still figuring out how to optimize culture in shifting settings. Mondays we have our L10 on Zoom. We start by sharing a personal and professional highlight from the week before which is by far my favorite part of the meeting. Yes, please tell me about what your dog did. (Oh wait, that’s me.) The rest of the time we chat on Slack (though Eugene will text or call). We also stay organized via Monday.com, and I have to say…big fan. Something about changing the color codes to “in progress” or “complete” is ridiculously satisfying, and it’s an easy way for the team to flag my attention as needed.

And not to jump on the bandwagon, but what we’re trying to incorporate more of now is in-person time. Though studies show, and , that teams can absolutely still be connected, productive, and organizations can have great cultures being totally remote there’s just about the energy exchange that only happens when you’re together IRL. As Eugene can attest, this is something I’ve sometimes found difficult or frustrating when trying to interpret directives, and I know I’m not alone. Online onboarding is hard — especially so when it’s as tight-knit as two co-founders and a handful of insiders. These guys don’t even need to finish a sentence to convey a message to one another…aaannndd I just walked into the middle of the conversation. (And don’t even get me started on imposter syndrome… Or do and that’ll be next issue.)

Don’t miss…

In this edition of Culturati: Magazine, Eugene checks-in from the CODE conference in Los Angeles. Co-founder, Josh Jones-Dilworth, issues an “order of magnitude” challenge. Staff writer, Annie Parmelly, explores the challenges of RTO edicts. Speaker, author, and Fortune 500 consultant, Anne Grady shares her incredible story and how it shaped her specialization in resilience training. And member company, Cushman & Wakefield, provides ‘return to office’ reports.

Excited to share…

Culturati: On Demand is officially live and ready for your perusal. Search by keyword, topic, speaker, or any one of our advanced filters. Congratulations to 2022 Culturati: Summit Chair, Albert Swantner, on a hugely successful Big Brothers, Big Sisters Ice Ball which he and his wife, Sarah, presided over as Co-Chairs. (I’ve applied!) Albert and I are working on the next chapter of the Culturati: Fellows program. TBA…

I’ll be speaking next week at the Junior League of Austin on DEIB. We’re adding more neuroscience to our thought leadership & programming. And, finally, stay tuned for surveys coming soon for your thoughts on next year’s pillars and through lines. We welcome your insight, and I’d love to be in 1:1 conversation anytime. You can reach me at myste@efctx.org.

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Culturati Team

Culturati is a community of CEOs, entrepreneurs, investors and other c-suite leaders who practice & study culture building and share our play books.