Back to Culture

As I write this, the school year is starting up again. With it comes a sense of getting back to business — not only with families, but for the workplace as well. People are returning from vacations, and there’s a collective push to get things done before the end of the calendar year. Now’s a good time to know where you are and where you’re going with Design of Work Experience’s (DOWE’s) Culture Study. A Culture Study goes far beyond what you think you know and examines the complexity of your organization. It’s a deep-dive into your unique culture, a collaboration to explore talent and the context in which they are working. The co-creation process captures the current state from different angles, creating a holistic view that connects what happens at the individual, team, and organization levels. This is the first step to becoming a learning organization that purposefully manages its culture.
Why Now?
Back to school is a good time for a Culture Study. A poll from Workplace Options and Public Policy in 2012 reported increased stress during this time of year, affecting workplace “productivity and personal work-life balance”. What better time to engage people, let them know how important they are to the business, and demonstrate your efforts toward helping them succeed?
If you know your customers better than your own employees, it’s time to start investing in them. Or if you have big decisions that will affect people, know what’s really going on first. Mistakes in talent management have repercussions. Have the guts to gather information, build organizational self-awareness, and confront what’s great and not-so-great about your company. A Culture Study synthesizes data into actions with impact.
 “We’re too busy” is a poor excuse. DOWE’s Culture Study can fold into work-in-progress, integrating into what’s happening through the normal course of business. After all, the goal of this phase in DOWE is to establish where you are today. The work of the Culture Study could also replace things that have become less effective through the course of routine — for example, regularly scheduled team meetings, town halls, poorly attended lunch and learns, trainings that have little impact. These are opportunities to reallocate time and resources.
There’s an alternative. Many organizations do in fact delay culture work in the face of other business priorities, but what they are choosing in its stead is the risk of organizational entropy (what isn’t maintained, deteriorates). “A watched pot never boils,” as they say, but we never hear about the stove starting a house fire until it’s too late. Try repairing your employer brand and reputation afterwards and you’ll realize that a little more up front can go a long way.
Not ready for the enterprise-wide initiative? Start with individual teams or departments and understand their sub-culture first. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, there’s an entry point to managing culture.
What to Expect

Every Culture Study unfolds differently, but anticipate that after kickoff, the first step is user research (or rather, employee research). This yields a treasure trove of data from which insights (key learning points) are derived. The depth of understanding acquired through this work informs the development of criteria, which in turn is used for decision making when it comes to talent and culture. Should the organization seek to continue in the DOWE process beyond the Culture Study, the whole of the organization has the opportunity to participate in co-designing the future direction of their culture and the employee experiences that go with it. From there, it’s a change management effort to bring the organization forward in the journey and sustain results.
Your company’s organizational health determines not only how people feel about their workplace, but also affects how well your business goals will be achieved. What you get in practicing DOWE is a more connected, engaged, and capable workplace where the conditions are set for both business and people to thrive. To learn more about DOWE framework, click here.