January Issue: Breaking New Ground

By Eugene Sepulveda & Myste Wylde

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of culture unlike any time in corporate history.

Management’s average scores for caring are 4x those before the pandemic according to Harvard graduate student, Heloise Jardim, in her presentation at Harvard’s SHINE Summit, which we attended in November 2021.

Heloise’s research also showed that during the pandemic, coworkers’ scores for caring also went up by a factor of 5. Despite this increased support, anxiety, loneliness, mental health, and depression have reached frightening levels, especially among female employees.

Overwhelmingly, CEOs continue to focus on communicating with team members throughout the organization. “CEO as Chief Communicator” is a major through-line for us in 2022 beyond just the Summit. The need for clarity and connectedness has never been higher, and surveys indicate many (though not all) CEOs rose to this challenge.

So, are we breaking new ground or is this groundhog day? That’s the question of the moment as Omicron continues its ruthless march across the globe.

We’ve done this before, but are we actually getting any better at it? Or is every wave its own fresh adventure?

Our collective language is certainly changing.

The example we’ve noticed most frequently: managers, supervisors, and bosses are now leaders, mentors, and coaches. Enhancing the feeling of belonging is increasingly an objective of DEI initiatives, if not the measured outcome. We’re redefining the employee compact, better defining what we offer and what we expect.

If cultures of caring are what is needed most right now, how do we design workplaces that feel joyful, that leverage physical, psychological, and social assets?

Together with our Knowledge Partners, Microsoft and McKinsey & Company, we are programming this year’s in-person Culturati Summit along four pillars: The Great Resignation, the Future of Work, the Science of Culture Building, and Civil Discourse. And, we’ll discuss Social Capital as another through line.

During our breakouts, we will, of course, cover other topics including the mental health crisis. And, we are returning to our roots — an intimate Summit of mostly CEOs, CHROs, investors, and scholars. We favor conversations and dialogues over presentations. It’s the collective experience of these attendees inspired by the data, science, and war stories of our speakers that generate the most powerful engagement and takeaways.

We’ll explore why employees leave, why they stay, and what meaningful action will retain them. One solution is to create better managers, another is a fundamentally new orientation to work, a culture reset, with a lot of mental health consideration built in. Recommended reading from McKinsey & Company: The Great Attrition or the Great Attraction?

Powered by Microsoft’s extensive research into the Future of Work, we’ll also be examining enabling technologies, work trends, the Hybrid Paradox, the new employee compact, organization for the future, real estate, and frontline employees and managers.

Jointly, we’ll be advancing the Science of Culture Building: how social capital is as important as financial, intellectual, or human; the role of the CEO as chief communicator; and research, metrics, and indices of productivity.

Our other pillar this year is Civil Discourse, which will question the role of corporations in a polarized America, our responsibilities as civic actors, how to handle the erosion of trust, and what practices will best allow us to have tough conversations and make sure we’re getting all of our employees’ ideas sans self-censorship. Evidence suggests polarization has crept into the workplace, even into our board rooms.

Last month we ran Part 1 of Steven Tomlinson’s guide to civil discourse, and this month we’ve published Part 2. Together they offer a playbook for having better meetings and better conversations that you can put to good use starting right now.

Our invite-only event on April 3–4 2022, will take place at the Campus on Lake Austin, an extraordinary 44-acre educational retreat designed by Lake Flato and Ten Eyck Architects.

Completed in 2020, the 180-room residential village rings a natural meadow and commons featuring a lounge, coffee bar, full-serving kitchen and dining, expansive porches for indoor/outdoor integration, a 300 person event space, and classrooms — all state-of-the-art and finished in elements of wood, stone, and metal for an inviting Hill Country aesthetic. An amphitheater and two-story dock provide creative outlets for outdoor education and entertainment, while Charlie’s place is the ideal place to unwind with a craft cocktail by the fire.

Two nights’ accommodation are included with each conference ticket, and guests will check-in on Sunday afternoon. There will be ample opportunity to explore the tree-lined walking trails or enjoy paddle boarding and kayaking on the lake before the opening ceremony that evening. After an introduction by Culturati co-founders and a provocative keynote firing conversation, attendees will break off into groups of 10–12 for our highly anticipated dinners, mostly hosted by local CEOs and other luminaries, including Austin Mayor Steve Adler, in their homes.

Monday will start with yoga on the lawn followed by breakfast, the morning’s keynote, and two breakout periods — each with five sessions to choose from. A fresh and flavorful lunch will provide sustenance before an afternoon keynote and two more sessions of five breakouts. The educational component will then close with a final keynote before the transition into the evening’s entertainment, featuring surprise entertainment and a sunset cruise.

Along with supplementary sessions, we will format the thought leadership generated at the April Summit into practical, “how to” application for June’s Summit which will be open enrollment. This is an excellent chance for VPs, directors, managers & supervisors to engage with the content before bringing it into the organization.

We’ve got some big keynote announcements coming down the pike that we can’t wait to tell you about. Stay tuned, and keep your ideas coming! We love hearing what you’re thinking, what you’re reading, and who’s got your attention to start the year.

Speaking of which, we want to give a big thank you to this year’s Steering Committee, which has been burning the midnight oil to design an incredible experience for you all this spring.

We are also working on programming with underwriters DLA Piper, NI, and Atlassian.

And a special thanks goes out to sponsors Hagerty, Sailpoint, Silicon Labs, and Google for helping make our Summits happen. We could not do this without you!

If you’d like to inquire about an invitation to the April 3 & 4 Culturati Summit, please contact Myste@efctx.org.

As we enter this new year resolute and well-intentioned, we acknowledge the challenges that we’ve all faced with the continuation of COVID-19.

Whether you have suffered personal loss or struggled with changing professional dynamics, we recognize the difficulties that you’ve been through. Our mission to take care of people starts in the workplace, but we hope that it reaches home too.

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