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October 6-8, 2024 • San Diego, CA

7 Ways to Create an Emotionally Fit Culture

We spend an enormous amount of time at work. Like 90,000 hours worth.

If people are going to work this much in their lifetime, it’s natural to be selective in choosing who they work for. This gave companies an idea: what if we offered people more than just a place to work? What if we covered their meals, took care of their dry cleaning, and even washed their cars for them? 

They assumed amazing perks = happy employees = good quality work. 

But is this actually true? Can we just give employees beer on tap and trust that’ll motivate them to do their best work?

But is this actually true? Dr. Emily Anhalt had to find the answer. She’s a clinical psychologist, and co-founder of COA, a startup that provides employee mental health benefit services. 

Dr. Anhalt did a research study on what makes up an emotionally fit culture. Her findings identified seven key traits.

  1. Healthy Leadership
  2. Agency and Trust
  3. Culture of Play
  4. Community and Belonging
  5. Proactive Mindset
  6. Stability and Integrity
  7. Communication and Transparency

We’ll break down what each one means and share tactical advice on how you each trait to create an emotionally fit culture in your workplace.

Trait #1: Healthy Leadership

Leaders need to be emotionally healthy themselves to have the abilities to lead an emotionally fit culture. 

As the leader, you’re building the ethos of the company. Your emotional baggage and past traumas will seep into the relationships with your team and the business decisions you make without you even realizing it. 

Even if you create healthy policies, change won’t happen if the employees don’t see you live out those values. 

How do you build better leadership health?

The best thing you can do is find a great therapist or work with an executive coach. 

As leaders, we often feel like we’re supposed to do everything on our own. But the truth is, everyone needs support. A therapist can help you understand your patterns, emotions, and relationships. A coach can help you think through difficult leadership decisions. 

Dr. Anhalt can’t think of an investment with a higher return than this.


Trait #2: Agency and Trust

Our main job as leaders is to figure out our team needs to do their job well and then set them up for success. 

Because guess what? People have different needs. 

  • Some people need noise and others need time alone. 
  • Some team members thrive in an office and others do their best work at home. 
  • Some employees are really good at sharing ideas on the spot. Others may need time to process their ideas before presenting them. 

Helping your team know these things about themselves, and fostering a culture where they can get their needs met, is how you get people to perform at their best (and also be the happiest). But this requires a space where people are comfortable to be honest and vulnerable. 

How do you build more agency and trust within your team? 

When Dr. Anhalt onboards a new team member, she invites them to complete an emotional fitness survey. This short questionnaire uncovers how each person works best so their managers (and teammates) can best support them. 

Some questions include:

  • Do you like to be praised in public or private?
  • Do you prefer feedback that’s direct and blunt? Or more gentle and kind?
  • How do you like to be cared for or cheered up during a tough time?
  • Do you prefer to be supported closely? Or would you prefer more space and freedom? 
  • What else do you want us to know about you? 

If someone prefers to be supported closely when they work, Dr. Anhalt will match them with a manager who likes to mentor others closely. If someone prefers a little bit of space before checking in during a tough time, Dr. Anhalt would leave them alone for a few days and circle back later with some flowers. 

By knowing how our team members like to be supported, we match their love language, making them feel seen and understood. At Dr. Anhalt’s company Coa, everyone on the team has filled this out, including the founders. Anyone can access anyone’s answers, and they’re editable over time because it’s natural for people’s needs to change (which is a great thing).


Trait #3: Culture of Play

Play is the ability to foster a safe space of connection and creativity. Playing in the workplace is hugely undervalued because play isn’t just about games. Dr. Anhalt likes to think of the improv definition of play, which is that when someone approaches you with an idea, you don’t just say “yes.” You respond with “Yes, and…” following your own ideas. 

Together, the two of you get somewhere that neither of you could have gotten alone. 

But the thing about play is that it can be tough to do. When we play, our guards come down, and that can be scary for people who work really hard to keep their guards up. The good news is that it gets easier over time, especially if leadership shows this is something that’s important in their culture. 

How do you build play?

One simple idea is to start your meetings with a quick icebreaker game. This connects people, gets them on the same level, and prepares your team to work more collaboratively. 

If you’re interested in a list of icebreaker games, email [email protected]. Dr. Anhalt has curated a bunch of games that are easy and fun to play at work. A lot of them can be done remotely too.

Trait #4: Community and Belonging

People will go to extraordinary lengths to protect a community they feel a part of. That’s the feeling you want for your team. 

You want people who feel like they truly belong. A team with high levels of psychological safety has the ideal environment to foster deep and meaningful connections. 

How do we build community and belonging? 

There are many ways to do this like team offsites or just being kind to each other. But Emily believes one of the most important things we can do is make sure that the community feels safe to people who come from many different perspectives. 

This could be through language, making sure your job descriptions aren’t gendered. It could be through imagery, making sure your website represents a diverse group of photos. If you could be through your events, making sure there are vegetarian options at your company outing. 

Doing this on our own is tough because you’ll have plenty of blind spots designing changes from one perspective. It’s important to bring in diverse minds to ensure you hear from different points of view.

Trait #5: Proactive Mindset

Preventing issues is simpler than fixing them. Opting for a healthy lifestyle now, with regular gym sessions and nutritious meals, is wiser than dealing with health problems in your 70s.

Similarly, taking a proactive stance at work to prevent issues is crucial. Instead of waiting for problems to arise and then scrambling to resolve them, it’s better to address potential challenges before they become fires you need to put out. 

What does a proactive mindset look like in practice?

One thing that Dr. Anhalt recommends is to add policies that prevent burnout. Because burning out is something that’s much easier to prevent than it is to fix. 

If you wait until people are already past their limit, it’s too late. They’re exhausted, unable to perform at their best, and might even leave your company in search of an organization that can better support their needs. 

Instead, we want to make sure a person never gets to that place of burnout. Here are some simple ways to do this:

  • Offer a no questions asked mental health day policy
  • Discourage email and Slack on nights and weekends
  • Allow work-from-home days
  • Encourage people to actually take vacation
  • Add “self-care time” into your calendar

Trait #6: Stability and Integrity

When you’re building a company, things are bound to change. The product will change, the team will change, or the entire direction of your startup could change 10 times during your tenure.

That’s expected, but at the same time, stability is important for our mental health. We need consistency in some areas of our life to weather the unexpected storms that are bound to happen. 

For example, having a stable core in your team that people can count on can help you endure  hard times. Or perhaps your product changes direction but your team’s core values don’t change the type of people you’re bringing on. 

How do we create stability in your company?

One powerful way is to create traditions and rituals. Traditions and rituals are actually at the heart of every ongoing culture, and work should be no different. 

They strengthen bonds, create reliability, and increase joy. You don’t have to overthink this one. You can try a bunch of traditions and rituals and just see what sticks. People will lean into the ones that they like and they’ll kind of lean away from the ones that don’t go as well. 

At Coa, they put a “mission” every Monday like “tell us about a time you overcame a tough challenge in your life and what got you through it.” The team posts their answers on Slack throughout the week and on Friday, everyone votes on which answer impacted them the most. 

This practice has helped their team learn so much about each other. Plus this activity lives and breathes their values around transparency and vulnerability. 

Another tradition Emily has seen is called Above and Beyond day. Once a month, someone gives a shout out to a colleague who has been extra kind, set a good example, or accomplished an important milestone. That colleague gets a special prize. Then the person who won gets to shout out the next person for the following month. It’s a way to recognize each other and reward hard work. 

A simple one anyone can do is celebrate anniversary markers. For every year someone has been at the company, they earn some kind of marker to indicate how long you’ve been around. Maybe it’s a patch on your company jacket or a wooden block that you keep on your desks. 

Emily recommends having someone be the “owner” of these rituals to ignite the initial spark and continue the momentum.

Trait #7: Communication and Transparency

Effective communication is everything for team success. Good communication prevents misunderstandings, solves conflict, and ensures we’re all working cohesively toward the same goal. 

A common misconception is that people can’t handle honest and transparent communication. But the reality is, people want the truth, even if it’s tough to hear. 

How do you communicate better in your company?

It’s important to create a structure of ongoing feedback. It’s common for companies to wait until someone does something wrong before giving them feedback. But having a structure for feedback gives people transparency into how they’re doing at all times. 

This could look like a quarterly conversation (recommended) or an annual review (less frequent, but still good). 

Another event that Emily does is Feelings Friday, a space where her team talks about things that have gone really well. Wins, times where they’ve felt supported, and shoutouts for one another. 

It’s also an opportunity to share moments where they felt unsupported and share things that didn’t go well. Or sometimes they share personal news like, “I had a tough week because I’m going through some personal stuff. Sorry if I’ve been a bit distant lately.” 

These meetings are a chance to catch small problems and prevent them from getting bigger. It also serves a way to genuinely hear what’s going on in each other’s lives.

To sum it all up

We invest a significant portion of our lives in the workplace. While enticing perks may contribute to employee happiness, what matters most is fostering a thriving and emotionally fit culture. 

Dr. Anhalt’s research further identifies seven key traits that make up an emotionally fit culture. 

  1. Healthy Leadership
  2. Agency and Trust
  3. Culture of Play
  4. Community and Belonging
  5. Proactive Mindset
  6. Stability and Integrity
  7. Communication and Transparency

By embracing these traits, you can proactively cultivate an environment that radiates psychological safety, which promotes better trust, collaboration, and the well-being of your teams.

Second Chance Culture: An Interview with Michelle Cirocco 

We were thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Michelle Cirocco, Chief Impact Officer at Televerde and Keynote Speaker at Culture Summit 2023. She shared the importance of fostering a culture of second chances and her own transformative journey. 

Her unique perspective not only encourages businesses to rethink their hiring practices but also reinforces society’s need to change its perception of individuals with criminal backgrounds.  

Her words serve as an inspiration for others to become advocates for change within their organizations, promoting the transformative power of second chances. 

Learn more in our interview below. 

What initially sparked your interest in fostering a culture of second chances within the workplace?  

My personal journey sparked my interest in fostering a culture of second chances within the workplace. I served a 7-year sentence at the Arizona women’s prison when I got my first exposure to Corporate America through Televerde. This opportunity for a second chance was not just a lifeline but a complete transformation. It saved my life and opened my eyes to the untapped potential within the incarcerated community. However, the stigma associated with this community was a barrier that kept many of us in the shadows. I saw talented, capable, and qualified women who had built significant knowledge and experience while working for Televerde during their incarceration being sidelined in the hiring process after their release. They were cast aside because of a past mistake, and their applications were discarded when they checked the box indicating a felony conviction. This was a heartbreaking reality that I was desperate to change. I wanted to challenge this narrative and bring to light the capabilities and potential of these individuals who, like me, were seeking a chance to prove themselves. I wanted to show that a person’s past does not define their future and that the stigma of incarceration should not be a life sentence in itself. 

Despite the awareness of the benefits, why do you think companies still exclude qualified talent from their hiring practices? 

Despite the clear benefits, many companies still exclude qualified talent from their hiring practices due to a combination of risk management and unconscious bias. The stereotypes associated with individuals with criminal backgrounds often overshadow their potential. These conscious or unconscious biases paint a picture of dishonesty, unreliability, and potential harm to the company’s reputation. This is a narrative we need to challenge and change. The reality is that people with criminal backgrounds are just as capable, hardworking, loyal, trustworthy, and dedicated as anyone else. They deserve the opportunity to prove themselves and contribute to society. By excluding them, we are not only denying them a chance at redemption, but we are also limiting the diversity and potential within our companies. 

From your experience, what are the business benefits of investing in “second chance” employees? How does it positively impact companies? 

Investing in second-chance employees brings significant business benefits. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Getting Talent Back to Work initiative and research released by SHRM, the SHRM Foundation, and the Charles Koch Institute, hiring individuals with criminal backgrounds can increase loyalty, lower turnover rates, and create a larger talent pool. These individuals often display high commitment and dedication, grateful for the opportunity to prove themselves. Furthermore, consumers increasingly demand total inclusion, making it not only a moral imperative to invest in this community but a business one. These individuals are not just employees but a testament to the power of redemption and the potential for transformation. They bring unique skills and resilience that can contribute to a company’s innovation and adaptability. 

Why must HR and culture professionals actively work towards building a culture that allows second-chance employees to thrive? 

It is crucial for HR and culture professionals to actively work towards building a culture that allows second-chance employees to thrive. This is not just about doing the right thing morally; it’s about smart business. True inclusion means not excluding anyone, including individuals with criminal backgrounds. By fostering a culture of second chances, we are not only giving these individuals an opportunity to rebuild their lives but also enriching our companies with a workforce that embodies resilience, determination, and diverse life experiences. We are challenging the status quo and pushing the boundaries of true inclusion. It’s about recognizing the potential in every individual and creating an environment where they can thrive and contribute to the company’s success. 

Could you highlight what makes your session at Culture Summit 2023, “How a Culture of Second Chances,” a not-to-be-missed session for Culture champions? 

Our session at Culture Summit 2023 How a Culture of Second Chances Will Help Businesses Thrive in the Future of Work is a must-attend for culture champions because it challenges the status quo and pushes the boundaries of true inclusion. It’s an enlightening exploration of the untapped potential within the incarcerated community and a call to action for companies to embrace a culture of second chances. This session will not only change the way you view hiring practices, but it will also inspire you to become an advocate for change within your organization. You will leave with a renewed perspective on the power of redemption and the potential for transformation. It’s not just about giving someone a second chance; it’s about changing lives and enriching our companies. 

Combating Loneliness in a Remote-First Workplace: Insights from Anthym’s CEO Brian Mohr

This week, the Culture Summit team had the opportunity to interview Brian Mohr, the CEO of Anthym, a trailblazer in the HR/Culture/People space.

He will share insights on  ‘Building Real Connections in a Remote-First Workplace’ at Culture Summit 2023. We discussed why combating loneliness is a vital concern for today’s HR and Culture professionals.

The Changing Shape of Workplace Relationships

In the modern workplace, Mohr notes, remote-first environments have become increasingly prevalent, posing challenges for building authentic connections among team members. There are financial implications, too, with disconnected and lonely employees costing US companies $400 bn annually. Further info.

Mohr emphasizes the significance of relationships as the foundation for all accomplishments, and he firmly believes that not only the work itself but also the people we work with significantly impact our professional and personal lives.

Indeed, combating loneliness is now a societal issue in the US. He highlights how the US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, has identified addressing the isolation and loneliness epidemic as a key 2023 priority for his department. Learn more  

Mohr’s company, Anthym is combating loneliness through action. For example, they are hosting FriendFest on August 1st, 2023, the United Nations International Day of Friendship, to unite people and combat isolation.

Cultivating Real Connections in a Virtual World

So how do we drive real connection when working apart? Mohr suggests implementing a routine that enables team members to get to know each other on a personal and human level. This practice fosters trust, connection, belonging, safety, and inclusion within the team. You can learn more about his approach to building connected teams in his 2023 podcast ‘The Secret Sauce for Building Connected Teams’.

Learn more about Building Team Connections at Culture Summit 2023

If you want a fresh perspective on cultivating meaningful relationships within virtual teams and gain actionable insights to enhance your workplace, attend Brian Mohr’s session at this year’s Culture Summit!


Session Information

Title: Building Real Connections in a Remote-First Workplace

Date: Tuesday, September 26, 1:00 pm-1:45 pm PT

This session will help you to learn the latest techniques to build connections in a remote workplace!

Register for Culture Summit 2023

How to Combat the Invisible Epidemic of Loneliness at Work 

Upon reading The Washington Post’s recent article on the growing public health crisis of loneliness in the U.S., we, as the founders of Make Believe Works, experienced a mix of emotions. We were heartened to realize that our business could make a meaningful impact in addressing this issue, yet saddened by our own firsthand knowledge of the pain and isolation that loneliness can inflict. As many of us culture enthusiasts well know, isolation and loneliness aren’t just limited to our personal lives, it also significantly impacts workplace morale and productivity, and contributes to quiet quitting and low retention rates.

At Make Believe Works, our expertise lies in crafting immersive and interactive experiences that foster creativity, collaboration, and connection. We firmly believe that by bringing people together in enjoyable and engaging ways, we can help alleviate the feelings of loneliness and isolation that plague so many individuals, while simultaneously cultivating the empathy and trust that teams need in order to thrive together.

One of the key ways in which our business combats loneliness is by providing a safe and supportive environment for individuals to connect. We understand that social anxiety and the fear of rejection often act as significant barriers to forming new relationships at work, particularly for those who already feel disconnected from others. That’s why we place a strong emphasis on creating events and experiences that are talent-agnostic, non-competitive, and welcoming, encouraging participants to let their guard down and engage with others naturally and comfortably.

Another powerful approach we employ to combat loneliness is by fostering creativity and playfulness. We believe that play is an integral aspect of human connection, and by harnessing our imaginations and embracing a sense of wonder, we can shatter barriers and create fresh opportunities for genuine connection. Whether it’s shaping our fondest memories out of clay or crafting symbolic gifts for colleagues with pom poms and feathers, our events are designed to encourage participants to shed their inhibitions and tap into their inner child.

Through enjoyable and low-pressure creative prompts, we empower individuals to connect with themselves and others on a deeper level, enabling them to share their unique perspectives and experiences. Our work with a diverse range of companies, non-profits, and schools has allowed us to facilitate playful yet meaningful activities that promote self-expression and community building both in-person and remotely. Witnessing firsthand the transformative power of these experiences has only fueled our enthusiasm to continue making a positive impact.

We are particularly thrilled to offer participants of the Culture Summit a chance to immerse themselves in our work through a half-day workshop in September. Central to this workshop are a series of imaginative activities that are both playful and impactful, aiming to help individuals connect internally with their own creative spirit, establish connections with new people, and foster a connected culture in the workplace. During the workshop, we will also deconstruct our approach to deepening trust, building connections, and accelerating collaboration, allowing participants to apply the insights gained to other real-life situations. By the end, attendees will depart feeling reenergized, rejuvenated, and connected.

Make Believe Works is firmly committed to addressing the hidden crisis of loneliness at work. Through the provision of safe and supportive environments for connection, and the transformative power of play and creative expression, we can help individuals feel more connected, supported, and valued. We take immense pride in the work accomplished thus far by our team and eagerly look forward to collaborating with Culture Summit as we collectively explore new and innovative approaches to tackle this pressing social issue.

(Check out Make Believe Works workshop on Wednesday, September 27th at 1 – 4:30pm PT)

The Imperative of Work-Life Balance: A New Era for HR and Culture Professionals

The global pandemic has spurred profound shifts in the workplace, compelling 58% of employees to reevaluate their work-life balance  [View Bain Report]. As HR and Culture professionals, it’s become imperative to understand, adapt, and lead this change, or risk losing valuable talent.

Work-life balance is no longer about segregating professional and personal time. It’s about integration, understanding the fluidity between these two spheres, and allowing for a more human approach to work – a transition from work-life balance to life-work integration. Learn more about work-life integration in this article from timetackle.com

Why This Matters

The pandemic’s influence on work and personal life has altered the employer-employee relationship Employees now seek companies that acknowledge their human needs and adapt their strategies accordingly. As HR and Culture professionals, we have the responsibility to foster a culture that supports these needs. It’s time to reimagine our strategies and create a more human-centric approach to talent management. Learn more about new attitudes of employees post-pandemic in this ehstoday.com article.

Guiding the Change

Flipping the switch to life-work balance demands a new framework. It calls for dynamic leadership, clear boundary setting, flexible work models, and a genuine appreciation for time off. This transformation underpins the creation of a more empathetic workplace that not only retains but also attracts top talent. People are moving towards work-life integration to gain more harmony in their life.

Learn from the Experts at Culture Summit 2023

To successfully navigate this new landscape, join us at the Culture Summit 2023, where industry experts will guide the conversation into new approaches to work life balance.

Keynote: Flip the Switch: Work-Life Balance

Monday September 25, 3:45 pm – 4:45 pm PT

  • Claude Silver, with her extensive experience and unique role at VaynerMedia, as Chief Heart Officer, brings a wealth of knowledge on creating a human-centric workplace. Marta Riggins, an authority on Employer Brand & Employee Engagement, offers invaluable insights into how to engage and retain talent in this new normal.

Together, they will discuss the switch from work-life balance to life-work balance, sharing actionable insights and strategies to implement in your organizations.

This is a rare opportunity to learn from the industry’s best and redefine your approach to work-life balance. Join us at Culture Summit 2023 and be a part of this transformative conversation.

Register for the Culture Summit 2023 here.

“How We Culture” With Aubrey Blanche of Atlassian

Are you gearing up for the Culture Summit? Let us help you get in the mood by introducing you to one of this year’s speakers, Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diversity & Belonging of Atlassian.

Name: Aubrey Blanche

Position: Global Head of Diversity & Belonging @ Atlassian

What initially attracted you to the Culture space?

I honestly didn’t join this space on purpose, necessarily. I’m profoundly motivated by a sense that the world should be a fair and just place, and I’m flabbergasted when people just accept that it isn’t. When I joined the tech industry after dropping out of my PhD, I was shocked to find that I was one of the only Latina women I could find. When I started asking around for answers, I heard myths like “we’re a meritocracy” or “we don’t want to lower the bar,” which are just excuses the industry has used for years to justify discriminatory hiring practices and toxic cultures. That really motivated me to do what I could to make the system and therefore work culture and a substantial part of people’s’ lives better.

How has that attraction evolved throughout your career?

Most days, I wake up and can’t believe that I get to go to work and help people all day. But what really keeps me excited is the constant challenge the issues I solve are systemic and culture is constantly evolving, which means that there are always new things to learn and ways to continue improving.

If you couldn’t work in the Culture space, what would you be doing?

Practically, I’d probably still be a researcher, perhaps still looking at the use of private military contractors in counterinsurgency. In my dream life, I’d curate and own an independent bookstore that was a gathering place for the community and had a really excellent tea and snack selection.

How do you define culture? Do you think there is or should be a universal definition?

Culture is fundamentally how people interact and get work done. Defining exactly what culture is, is a bit difficult, but we’d likely all agree that we know how it feels. At Atlassian, we talk about the fact that our values stay the same but that our culture is constantly evolving. I think that helps us move past damaging concepts like “culture fit” and instead look for people who are excited to work in line with our values: with candor and directness (Open Company, No Bullshit), a sense of fun and consideration for your teammates (Play, as a team), and willingness to go the extra mile to make things better (Be the Change You Seek). We’ve built these values into our interview process and our performance assessment, which helps our culture align to those values even as it’s changing as we scale.

What are some common misconceptions about culture?

The biggest misconception is that you would want to look for “culture fit” in a teammate. Empirically speaking, culture fit is really just a morass of unconscious bias and helps ensure that teams have low innovative potential and huge potential for groupthink. Teams are better off looking for people who align with the type of work practices you’d want to encourage and add something new – a perspective or competency – that wasn’t there before.

What’s the best culture advice you’ve ever received?

“Culture is what you repeatedly do, what gets rewarded and punished.” I think this is incredibly valuable because it’s easy for us to define culture by how we want it to be or based on some abstract principles. But if you take it from that lens, we’re all accountable for our actions and their impact, and it’s really empowering.

If you had to pick one culture-enhancing practice or “tactic” most companies could or should implement, what would it be?

Delete referrals. Knowing someone is not a job qualification, and indexing on people very similar to who you already have on the team builds a homogenous, exclusive culture.

If you could impart one universal understanding about company culture to every senior executive in the world, what would it be?

Every choice you make about the design of people processes and business influences your culture. Do you prioritize hiring from elite schools? Then you are actually just providing opportunities for people whose parents are economically privileged. Look for geniuses or rockstars? You’ll likely hire many more straight White men because fixed mindsets about talent cause us to rely more on stereotypes than objective data in evaluating candidates. Spend more on the beer than learning & development budget? That’s what your values are. All of those things are choices and ones that leaders actively control. Make sure you’re choosing intentionally and aligning yourself with what you truly value.

It’s the year 2030, what is the workplace culture dialogue talking about?

I hope that we are having a serious conversation about how to build roles that give people balance and fulfillment. I’d love to see companies intentionally designed for individuals’ full-life wellness, and helping people learn and grow in ways that are important to them.

What are you excited most for at Culture Summit this year?

I’m always excited to learn what other amazing practitioners are doing in the space, to get ideas and increase my knowledge. Also, kind of hoping for some excellent book recommendations.

“How We Culture” With Michelle Lee and Jenny Gottstein of IDEO

Are you gearing up for the Culture Summit? Let us help you get in the mood by introducing you to one of this year’s workshop facilitators, Michelle Lee and Jenny Gottstein of IDEO’s Play Lab.

Name: Michelle Lee

Position: Portfolio Director, Design For Play @ IDEO

Name: Jenny Gottstein

Position: Design Lead, Design For Play @ IDEO

 

What initially attracted you to the Culture space?

Michelle: Early in my career, I switched from the aerospace industry to toys because I needed to understand how my work could create positive emotional impact. Seeing a child deeply engaged with a favorite toy energized me in a way that couldn’t be matched by the launch of a satellite that, while amazing in its own way, was virtually invisible to the end cell phone user. My days in the toy industry taught me that through human-centered design, I could inspire joy, creativity and optimism.

Jenny: Before working at IDEO, I worked at The Go Game for 7 years (first as a game producer, and later as director of the game design department) as we designed team-building games for companies around the world. It was an eye-opening experience – I saw firsthand how much culture contributed to the overall success of the company. After a while, it became easy to spot the teams that were driving that success.

Here was the key indicator: they played well together! They cheered each other on, they complimented each other’s strengths and worked collaboratively to find creative solutions to curve-ball challenges. All of these teams, no matter what industry, had the same magic ingredients: Trust, laughter, curiosity, risk-taking and creativity. Based on those observations, I knew I wanted to design playful opportunities to help teams tap into those magical ingredients. 

 

How has that attraction evolved throughout your career?

Michelle: I’ve had the fortune of being a designer at a time when the role of design has greatly expanded. Previously seen as a way to make products more aesthetically pleasing, design has now evolved into design thinking – a method that is being widely applied to meaty challenges that extend to systems and organizations. We now create impact not only through products, but also through organizational tools and processes. This includes teaching teams to use design thinking themselves. One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is seeing team members light up when they realize that they can be creative and have fun while tackling some of their company’s biggest challenges.

Jenny: As a game designer, I know how to design for a healthy competitive spirit that will produce outstanding results. But I’ve also seen that, when unchecked and rooted in individualism, competition can be disastrously toxic. At IDEO, one of our core values is “Make Others Successful”, which is why the company’s culture is so vibrant. Watching my colleagues embody this value every day has been a huge inspiration, and has reinforced my passion for designing experiences that help people bring out the best in each other.

 

If you couldn’t work in the Culture space, what would you be doing?

Michelle: I’d probably be co-writing a children’s book with my kids. I love the idea of a role where there’s limitless potential and room for creativity. This should be true of most job opportunities, but children’s books are boundless, letting you imagine the craziest characters and adventures. Add in some pretty rad co-workers, and it makes for one amazing work environment!

Jenny: Wind-tunnel dancing.

 

How do you define culture? Do you think there is or should be a universal definition?

Michelle: Culture can be difficult to define because it’s so much greater than the sum of its parts. It’s how a group behaves, what it believes, what’s acceptable and what’s not, but more so it’s a feeling you get when you’re surrounded by a certain group of people that drives how you act in those surroundings.

In game design, we talk about the concept of emergence. In emergence, individual pieces come together and interact to generate something new that could only have emerged through those interactions. If you think about this in terms of culture, culture isn’t static. It continues to evolve as different players interpret and act upon elements of the culture that have previously been established. The role of HR gets really interesting here, as HR can help shape culture by hiring, recruiting and elevating individuals who may reinforce an existing culture or push it in a new direction.

There’s definitely room for different interpretations of culture. Just as I think of culture from the perspective of game design, others will have their own ways to approach culture.

Jenny: Culture is like a party. When it works, EVERYONE wants to show up. When it feels forced, everyone makes lame excuses to leave early. Like a party, culture should be thoughtfully designed, and yet no one should feel like they are forced to attend. It’s important that everyone can co-create the party experience!

 

What are some common misconceptions about culture?

Michelle: Many people look to management to establish culture when it can actually be influenced by anyone in the company. It also doesn’t need to be established through company-wide policies, values or traditions. Individuals contribute to culture through how they interact with others on a daily basis.

Another misconception is that play contributes to culture only by providing breaks from productive work. In fact, integrating a playful culture into key aspects of work can make for greater creativity, innovation and satisfaction.

Jenny: Culture is not an “add-on” feature, nor a switch you can turn on or off with happy hours and perks. It’s a practice that has to be exercised every day in every corner of the company’s operations.

 

What’s the best culture advice you’ve ever received?

Michelle: When David Kelley first started IDEO, he talked about never wanting to employ more people than could fit on a single school bus. While the company now has more than 700 employees, it still feels like a small company. This is largely because David set the stage with his early vision. Within IDEO, different locations, disciplines and portfolios are empowered to create their own subcultures within the larger company culture, enabling them to have their own flavors while still holding human-centered design and IDEO’s company values at their core. Each group is like its own school bus in a fleet of buses all headed in the same direction.

In the Play Lab, where the Design for Play team resides, puns are commonly mixed into everyday conversation, fun surprises will be left on desks, meetings will conclude with purposely awkward high fives and prototypes are often seen flying through the air. On top of this, you’ll find a team that loves to collaborate, isn’t afraid to throw out crazy ideas, is quick to prototype and truly believes that all ideas belong to the group. Having smaller subcultures such as these creates a sense of pride and connection that feels authentic and right. It also enhances an employee’s sense of stake and purpose, in the smaller group identity as well as the company as a whole.

Jenny: The managing director at one of our IDEO locations is a huge proponent of hiring “unicorns” – people who don’t necessarily fit in a prescribed role, but have a unique perspective and combination or quirky skills. Each time he hires a unicorn, he tells them “The only way you will fail here is if you conform. We hired you because you DON’T fit. The whole point is for us to grow in new directions – you can help us change our DNA.” I think that’s brilliant because it flies in the face of hiring ‘good culture fits’ which can lead to homogeneity.

 

If you had to pick one culture-enhancing practice or “tactic” most companies could or should implement, what would it be?

Michelle: One practice that often gets missed in the race to constantly innovate is taking the time to reflect, celebrate and look beyond your walls. This can take the form of an annual review to look back and see how much has been accomplished over the course of a year, but it can also be accomplished through smaller gatherings that happen quarterly, monthly or weekly.

Every Tuesday, our location gathers over lunch. The meal is cooked fresh by James, a beloved member of our Experience Team, giving the event a very personal flavor. Katie, another member of the team serves as MC, providing her own energetic and quirky flair that have become critical to our culture. The next hour is filled with individuals sharing lessons from recent projects; inspiration from personal trips, local events or global news; celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries; and occasionally a heartfelt, if slightly goofy, award for someone who has gone above and beyond. In a world of emails and Slack messages, there’s still something very magical about physically coming together in one space.

Jenny: Listen for laughter! Studies have shown that laughter increases creativity. Wherever laughter is, innovation is not far behind.

 

If you could impart one universal understanding about company culture to every senior executive in the world, what would it be?

Michelle: Cultures can be designed, just like products and services can be designed. At the heart of it, it’s about creating positive human experiences.

When we design, our first step is to build empathy – taking the time to listen and observe. Next, we identify opportunities. What elements of culture are already bubbling up from different sources? What’s resonating with your employees while aligning with your company mission? What can you continue to nurture and grow? Also, where is your company facing challenges and how could culture help address these challenges?

From here, don’t be afraid to prototype. Rather than make one big statement about culture, try small experiments to see what works and surface leaders who are excited to build your experiments into larger agents of culture change. Finally, iterate to create a stronger culture over time that can evolve with your company’s changing needs.

Jenny: You can’t mandate culture, and it won’t change over night. You have to till the soil, tend to it with TLC, and have patience until culture blooms organically.

 

It’s the year 2030, what is the workplace culture dialogue talking about?

Michelle: Technology advances are putting an abundance of data and information at our fingerprints. Over time, it will be interesting to see how those tasked with shaping workplace culture embrace these new tools. As we can track more and know more, there will inevitably be discussions about how to do so responsibly, balancing quantitative data and statistics with the understanding that our jobs are to support complex human beings who shouldn’t be simply distilled down to numbers.

Jenny: Play audits and laughter metrics as key performance indicators! Inquire within for details… 😉

 

What are you excited most for at Culture Summit this year?

Michelle: I’m extremely excited to meet with others highly invested in creating positive human experiences at companies across a wide range of industries. Knowing that we may be facing similar challenges, I look forward to opportunities to mindmeld and cross-pollinate ideas, discovering amazing ways that individuals are approaching culture at their respective organizations.

Jenny: I’m excited to play with all of the brilliant culture designers in attendance! Looking forward to sharing what we know about leveraging play to design vibrant work culture, and learning from others in the room. Please come find us before, during, or after our workshops. We can’t wait to meet you all!

Culture Summit 2018 Recap: Culture Isn’t an HR Priority, It’s an Everyone Priority

The 4th annual Culture Summit took place July 10-12, 2018, bringing more than 500 culture champions together to talk about how we can bring more humanity into the workplace, ask questions from experts who have been-there-done-that, and connect 1:1 to build communities where that have an even bigger impact.

We can’t share the delicious food through the blog, but we can give you a look at key ideas and takeaways from attendee’s favorite keynotes each day:

Culture Summit Day One

“Unleashing the Power in Every Team” with Atlassian’s Helen Russell

Helen Russell, Chief People Officer at Atlassian, kicked off the conference with a powerful keynote about the role recruiting and hiring plays in building culture – in building a culture that leads to business success, in particular. As a part of the Atlassian team, Russell has studied and worked with hundreds of different kinds of teams over the years and shared a few points about what companies can do to acknowledge big transition points – which for Atlassian was going public and scaling to 2000 – while staying true to core values at the team level.

HelenRussell-Atlassian-CultureSummit

“Building Culture Across Remote Teams” with Julian Lute, Sarah Elizabeth Graham, Katie Womersley, and Shane Metcalf

In the afternoon panel discussion, “Building Culture Across Remote Teams,” Julian Lute from Great Place to Work facilitated a discussion with Twitter’s Sarah Elizabeth Graham, Buffer’s Katie Womersley, and 15Five’s Shane Metcalf. Panelists shared real-life examples of how they encourage a sense of belonging among new remote employees (Buffer), how they communicate and monitor expectations (15Five), and how they work to create balance between remote teams and on-side or headquartered teams (Twitter).

RemoteCulture-TwitterPinterest15Five-CultureSummit

“Leadership in 2018: How Managers Can Lead Inclusively in Times of Volatility” with Awaken’s Michelle Kim

Michelle Kim, Co-Founder and CEO of Awaken, tackled the challenging topic of how managers and executives can lead inclusively in politically volatile times, sharing real-life examples of how leaders can create spaces for awkward conversations that actually build culture rather than suppress it. Kim focused on the important role managers play in building culture – after all, 70% of variance in employee engagement scores is due to managers and 93% of employees say trust in their direct boss is essential to staying satisfied at work and doing their best work – and what companies can do to prepare managers to model inclusive behaviors and encourage belonging within your company culture.

MichelleKim-Awaken-CultureSummit

Day One also featured practical keynotes from the following speakers:

  • Rajesh Subramaniam with FedEx spoke to how company culture can bring unity from diversity
  • Christina Kosmowski with Slack showed us how to design an employee experience using customer experience best practices
  • Carrie Staller with The Go Game explained the importance of psychological safety at work and how prioritizing playfulness and structured team games can create space for a healthy culture to grow
  • Robin Zander kicking off an experimental new Culture Summit session, “The Fishbowl,” in which attendees volunteered to step up on the stage and share their hard-won advice from the field

Culture Summit Day Two

“Culture in Everything You Do” with Pinterest’s Cat Lee

Day Two kicked off with a compelling keynote from Cat Lee, Head of Culture at Pinterest, who spoke to the importance of weaving culture into absolutely everything your company does – from the very first interview to company-wide traditions to the last day of work. Lee shared several steps leadership teams can take to help employees take ownership over core values and build the habit of using those values to make every decision. In particular, Lee focused on the importance of using culture as a guide for who joins the company, how they contribute while they’re there, and the understanding of culture they’ll take with them to new opportunities when they leave.
CatLee-Pinterest-CultureSummit

“The Importance of Rituals & How it Reinforces Company Culture” with Warby Parker’s Susan Lee

Later in the morning, Susan Lee, the VP of People at Warby Parker, explored how even the smallest, simplest traditions can be powerful opportunities to build culture if they’re based on core values. Lee also walked us through how Warby Parker builds rituals that build culture, but emphasized that it’s not the ritual that’s precious – it’s the intention behind the ritual and the cultural impact of the ritual. While some rituals stick with you while your company grows, others will come and go as your company expresses its values in new situations.
SusanLee-WarbyParker-CultureSummit

“Creating Real-Time Employee Engagement Without Spending a Dime” with Zen Workplace’s Karlyn Borysenko

Karlyn Borysenko, Owner and Principal at Zen Workplace, took to the stage to close out the Culture Summit by sharing practical tips for improving employee engagement without the pressure to bring in time-consuming engagement events or expensive consultants. After detailing the benefits of highly engaged employees – such as increased productivity and retention and decreased turnover – she walked attendees through the basics of how the brain works and simple psychological shifts that leaders and managers can make to help employees have a more engaging day-to-day experience, grow healthy relationships, and feel psychologically safe at work.
KarlynBorysenko-ZenWorkplace-CultureSummit

Day Two also brought us the following actionable keynotes:

  • Jack Altman facilitated a discussion with Reddit’s Katelin Holloway, Monsanto’s Melanie Moore, and Atrium’s Justin Kan on the ways in which they’ve seen investments in company culture deliver a measurable ROI
  • Aaron Kahlow shared how we can encourage mindfulness, or moment to moment awareness without judgement, in the workplace and how it benefits company culture
  • Carrie Staller and Kelly Rogala with The Go Game hosted a networking game that brought attendees together in small groups to share individual experiences and challenges
  • Twilio’s LaFawn Davis and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s Maurice Wilkins hosted a Fireside Chat to explore diversity fatigue and how companies can remove barriers to opportunities and access in the workplace today
  • Josh Lavra from IDEO shared case studies for six culture behaviors that allow teams to thrive creatively

 

If you weren’t able to join us this year, we hope to see you next year! And if you were, we’d love to hear about your favorite Culture Summit moment in the comments below.

Want to keep reading? Check out these powerful attendee recaps:

How to Integrate Your Company Mission Into Your Culture by Cristina Ashbaugh

At Culture Summit, anyone can be a change agent: key takeaways from a culture conference by Sam Trieu

Dagger Goes West: Learnings From Culture Summit 2018 by Rachelle Knowles

5 Ways to Make Remote Employees Feel Included

This is a guest post by Dani Fankhauser, Director of Content at Reflektive, a leader in providing innovative, real-time performance management solutions for HR leaders and their agile organizations.

I remember playing tag on the grassy field behind my grade school, feeling like hours had passed and nobody had picked me to be “it.” Maybe you have a similar story, either from childhood, or interactions with your team during a meeting earlier today.

When it comes to our employees, obviously we want them to feel included at work. But with the rise of the remote workforce, this becomes a bigger challenge.

Companies are hiring remote workers to fulfill a high-priority talent need that’s not available locally, or to accommodate top talent that requires a flexible work schedule. Sometimes just one person on a team is remote, but increasingly, entire companies are choosing to allow employees to work from anywhere.

Gallup found that 37% of U.S. workers say they have telecommuted, and the average worker telecommutes two days per week. In addition, 43% of U.S. employees work remotely at least part of the time. A remote workforce can mean getting the best talent, but does it pay off?

Another study found organizations with engaged employees outperform those with low employee engagement by 202%. They typically have 40% lower turnover, 21% improved

productivity, and 22% higher profitability. Organizations need to ask whether engagement is consistent as they grow and their workforce spreads worldwide, or if remote employees will suffer from exclusion, driving down their engagement and productivity.

The effects of social rejection are heavily studied in the neuroscience field. A game called Cyberball is used to create a situation in which one person feels rejected. A group of subjects begin passing a ball from person to person through a web interface, but after a few rounds, one person is excluded. But, this person doesn’t know it was planned.

What happens? As it turns out, an EEG study found subjects’ brains reacted with anger or sadness in this situation. Tossing a ball in an online game is not so different than tossing ideas around in a meeting — on a video call or in person. The takeaway for businesses focused on teamwork and collaboration is clear.

In addition, studies show the emotional feeling of pain from social exclusion overlaps with physical pain, such as stubbing your toe. The same area of the brain processes these different kinds of pain.

Needless to say, employees can’t do their best work in these conditions.

Whether you’re looking to re-engage your secondary offices or better support work-from-home individuals and teams, check out the tips below.

Get Your Face Time

One-on-ones are key to good management. It’s easy for managers to feel they can do these meetings less regularly when a direct report is not located in the office, but the opposite is true. Finding ways to connect are more important. Meeting schedules should match what is given to other employees on the team, otherwise, the remote employee will feel that stubbed-toe social exclusion you want to avoid.

When should you use video versus a phone call? Nonverbal communication plays an important part in ensuring you are understood. Any constructive feedback or bad news should be delivered via video. And, be sure it is timely — you don’t want your remote employee to be the last to know about a leadership team exit that impacts her work directly.

Deliver Ongoing Feedback and Recognition

Constructive feedback can be so hard to give that many managers will skip it completely, especially when it requires a video call and conference room to deliver. The problem is, this type of feedback is crucial to helping employees develop. Your remote employees don’t want to be stuck in a career rut, and it does not help the company to leave them at the same level.

A counterintuitive key to good constructive feedback is actually giving recognition generously and often. The ideal ratio should be 7:1 recognition to feedback. Positive recognition also goes a long way in affirming good behaviors and can improve performance on its own. Your employees get to improve their skills, and the company gets better work.

For employees who aren’t sitting in the same room, recognition that is logged in a company portal can help employees connect with each other and learn from each other. When employees see who is doing good work and what the company values in success, they are better able to collaborate.

Build Relationships

If you’ve ever had a friend who moved away, you know it takes effort to keep the friendship alive. No matter how well you connected when hanging out was easy and casual, you need to invest time and effort to maintain your connection.

When you first hire a remote team member, make the case to travel for an in-person orientation. Whether you invite the team member to your main office or you visit them in their town is up to your company’s culture. This face-to-face meeting can create a foundation for a strong connection. The trust you can establish by talking over hobbies, fears, and aspirations will put you on the best track to openly talk about sensitive topics later on.

Another way to maintain a relationship is through tangible objects of appreciation. This might be making sure a company notebook, pen, or jacket is sent to a remote employee. On birthdays and work anniversaries, sending flowers or a card can help employees feel appreciated. It’s a reminder that you’re not alone. You’re part of the team.

Work relationships follow the same rules as personal relationships. That extra effort goes a long way in making your employees feel included, no matter what part of the city or globe they do their work.

Leverage Technology

Remote work means fewer casual conversations. One question I find myself asking colleagues in the hall between meetings is, “What’s the status of XYZ project?” The result is a feeling of being on track and each person carrying their own weight. Formal meetings are used for higher-impact work.

When you haven’t spoken with a teammate or supervisor for a week, the least productive use of your time is to run through status updates. Luckily, technology can take care of the status updates for you. A tool like Asana for project management can log due dates and project assignments, and notify everyone once the project is completed. With a tool for OKRs or another goal format, you can track progress by a percentage or dollar amount.

These tools ensure your conversations are exactly that – a conversation.

Instant messaging applications enable remote workers to have casual conversations that don’t warrant an email thread. This can help employees share ideas, as collaboration, usually across departments, is key to innovation.

Video conferencing should be used for any all-company or all-department meeting. Also, ensure the meeting is recorded or offered at a time that works for every time zone where employees are represented. Remote employees can feel like they’re the last to hear about company news, which contributes to disengagement.

One last tip is over-communication. As mentioned, non-verbal cues dominate our in-person communication and are largely lost in remote conversations. Someone might reply “yes” to whether they understood a direction, but when the project is completed, it’s clear they missed something. Documenting conversations via email or a feedback tool ensures both parties are hearing the same thing. Ultimately, it benefits everyone.

Your commitment to an engaged workforce shouldn’t fall short of remote employees. Get the right tools and teach your managers how to connect with their remote team. You’ve already identified the best talent in your remote workforce, and with these tips, you’ll find your remote employees can be among your most productive and happy.

Turning Insights Into Action: What One Culture Advocate Learned From Culture Summit

Alicia Case began her advertising career as a copywriter on the client-facing creative side, working on branding, ad concepts and creative for large health and wellness brands including Procter & Gamble Global Oral Care and Pfizer Women’s Health. Over time, it became more and more clear that she wanted to help spread her team’s thriving team culture to the rest of the organization.

Case began to wonder, “How do we establish an ownable, differentiating culture across our the entire organization that makes people want to stay working here and attract outsiders to come here?”

With that question, Case cultivated a cultural overhaul to the entire agency setting the path directed to an employee-facing role that now made her “client” the agency she worked for. After more than a year of developing this robust culture program and showing positive results from annual surveys and increased employee satisfaction, Case proposed a new role and officially shifted her career path. She moved from the creative side to a role focused on a wider set of employee culture variables including internal communications, social media, events, recruiting, reward and recognition opportunities, and more.

Throughout all this change and growth, Case has used her background in creative advertising to think about building culture the same way you would build a good brand, and attending Culture Summit for the past two years has been an important milestone in Case’s development as a culture and employee experience professional. Each year has featured keynotes, speakers, and presentations that helped her shape her understanding of culture and build an intentional employee experience at Publicis Health.

“Our agencies want to emulate many of the characteristics of Facebook, Amazon, Google, LinkedIn, Spotify, etc.,” says Case. “And for me, it’s important to not just understand what they do outside of their organizations but also on the inside.”

“What are they doing to create cultures and employee experiences that get their people to put out the caliber of work that we admire and recognize as best in class?” Case continues. “How are they building an employee experience that’s directly linked to the company ROI? That’s why it’s imperative to attend conferences like Culture Summit because you get to go under the hood of companies you may not otherwise get to hear from.”

Here are some of the most important Culture Summit takeaways she’s collected over the years:

Turning Insights Into Action: What One Culture Advocate Learned From Culture SummitPhoto Credit: Cathryn Lynne Photo

1. Culture is a combination of micro and macro experiences

From the application and interview process to onboarding, training, and working on day-to-day tasks, the employee experience is made up of a number of different large and small employee experiences. When you look at how your organization builds its culture, consider high-level macro, big things you do that affect the entire organization as well as the small micro-level individualized factors. Which brings us to the first point Case would like to emphasize: culture is not some distant concept developed by the higher-ups like a product to be passed down. It’s every single micro and macro interaction a company has with its employees…

  • It’s our competitive advantage for recruitment and retention
  • It’s why we want to work here and also stay working here
  • It’s what can drive engagement, which increases output and makes our clients happier as a result because more engaged people means a higher quality of work, which means happier clients, which means more money back into the business

Micro experiences look at what individual things are happening at a granular level for each employee, like learning and development, career mobility and development, rewards and recognition, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and thought leadership opportunities. Macro experiences include the things that impact every single employee at large, like the company mission, brand values, processes, benefits, physical space, technology and tools, communications, etc. A successful culture will intentionally establish and adjust both macro and micro experiences to the needs of its people. A culture that can be responsive to its people’s needs will thrive.

Key Takeaway: Give more personalized gifts instead of giving everyone the same gift card or spot bonus. If you know a team member loves music or they’re a foodie, why not give them a pair of concert tickets or a dinner at a Michelin Star rated restaurant? Those small details make the person feel like the organization “gets” them. It’s building on a total rewards philosophy and moving away from the thinking the same things work for everyone.

Turning Insights Into Action: What One Culture Advocate Learned From Culture Summit

Case (center) speaking on the “Power of Business Resource Groups” panel at Saatchi & Saatchi. Image Source: Kipp Jarecke-Cheng

 

2. If you want to emulate the pros, learn from them

According to Case, one of the best parts of the Culture Summit was learning from relevant, best-in-class brands like Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn. Many legacy companies that have been around for decades or over a century are looking to change their business models to meet today’s business demands, many of which are being driven by these tech titans. These company’s outputs are a reflection of what’s happening inside and the culture and talent that’s there, it offers a great learning opportunity for brands that want to achieve that kind of success on their own. Or a minimum, understand how they’ve created a culture that is writing the playbook on today vs chasing to keep up.

“One of the most memorable panels was one about diversity and inclusion, but how Airbnb put the emphasis on belonging versus inclusion was the real differentiator,” says Case. “When you’re a visitor staying in a host’s home on Airbnb, you want to feel like you belong there. It’s totally different from a hotel. Staying in someone’s home you truly need to create a sense of belonging. That the people hosting want you there, they make you feel at home, they make you feel comfortable with the city you’re visiting, you feel like a local vs just a tourist.”

“That’s what Airbnb wants to create and to bring this same notion of belonging into how they view inclusion feels so on brand,” continues Case. “They want people to feel like they are truly at home at Airbnb and are connected and really part of the neighborhood. I loved how that nuance came to life not just in what they are doing externally, but internally as well.”

Key Takeaway: So many companies get lost in thinking about what they want to be versus analyzing what they fundamentally already are. Case noted that the Facebook speakers have made excellent points that when you choose a value, you have to think about what you also give up since a value comes at a cost. If you value one thing, there’s something that you don’t value because it’s not possible to value everything: You can’t say you’re funny but also be serious. You can’t say you’re type-A but also be OK with failure. They aren’t mutually exclusive.  

Turning Insights Into Action: What One Culture Advocate Learned From Culture Summit

Case (far right) attending the Out & Equal Workplace Summit in Philadelphia with the LGBTQ business resource group she co-chairs. Photo Credit: Kipp Jarecke-Cheng

 

3. Culture needs to be original – not duplicated and not lip service

Another important speaker takeaway for Case was that you can’t say you believe in diversity and inclusion and not have your staff speak truth on its own or not have programs and initiatives that actually help move the needle. The speakers really modeled what they preached and didn’t just make it words. Speakers don’t just tell you they believe in something, they show you how the brand puts those values into practice.

One way Case’s company is following through on this takeaway is to adopt a philosophy to only use real photos from real events – not stock photos or pure type that anyone could use – for the work that their communications department creates. They know it’s important to show their people volunteering their time painting local high schools, dancing in drag pageants, speaking on panels, or leading a workshop to reinforce who we are and what we stand for.

Amir Diwane performing as Addy Rall in the Publicis Égalité Employee Charity Drag Pageant that Case organizes each year for PRIDE. Photo Credit: Kipp Jarecke-Cheng

Here are a few examples of year-round or ongoing culture initiatives at Publicis:

  • To improve presentation skills, one of the agencies selected employees for an offsite “Art of Improv” training. Employees were invited to an offsite event space with stimulating art and colors for a sensory experience in which they worked with an improv company to learn how to think on their feet and be able to change directions quickly if something happens in a presentation.

Agency members participate in an interaction workshop to learn improv techniques that they can apply to their presentation skills. Photo Credit: Alicia Case

  • When a team came back from SXSW, they put on a pop-up experience for those in the office who couldn’t attend. To mimic almost frenetic energy of SXSW, attendees needed to make decisions about which sessions to attend happening simultaneously. Additionally, large-scale keynotes were being held in large cafe space while other speakers were presenting in the other conference rooms. At the close of the learning session, there was had a big party with food trucks and a live band to create the same experience as if everyone had been able to head down to Austin, TX.

Agency attendees sit in the cafe and listen to the live band during the SXSW-inspired pop up. Photo Credit: Alicia Case

  • For Women’s History Month, employees were asked to nominate a woman in the organization who they thought rocked through Publicis Health’s #WMNLDRSRCK campaign. Nominated women from across the organization were featured on social channels, creating a positive social media footprint with just a bit of coordination and branding work.

Case featured in the WMNLDRSRCK campaign. Photo Credit: Kipp Jarecke-Cheng

Key Takeaway: If you’re doing it right, your company culture will not look like any other company’s culture. Your values, events, and initiatives will be unique and customized to the people who work there. Anything less runs the risk of feeling like lip service to employees who are hungry for a unique company culture that represents who they really are and what they really do.  

How could Culture Summit inspire you to influence your company culture and be an agent for change? Find out by attending this year!