Episode 18: What Is Culture Management?
How we understand the importance of culture in the workplace is changing rapidly. How organizations manage culture is becoming more and more important as the full value and impact of strong culture is better understood. A lot of organizations struggle with where or how to begin implementing culture management, however. Still others wrongly see culture as a “nice to have,” not a critical element impacting their bottom line.
In this episode of Employee Connectedness, Unitonomy founder Charley Miller discusses the foundational ideas behind culture management, along with the Unitonomy Culture Canvas and how to apply it to your organization with UofL researcher Dr. Brad Shuck, and OnPlane consultant Martin Low.
On a related culture management note, On Plane Consulting is conducting a short poll to take a quick pulse of how employees are feeling during this COVID-19 crisis. Please take a moment to fill out the 50-second, anonymous survey here (and share the link with others):
Link to the On Plane Survey
Thanks in advance!
Episode 18: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRwlFg9eJeU
Employee Connectedness is live-streamed weekdays at 10:15am EST on the Unitonomy YouTube channel. You can join there and ask questions in the chat. You can also find previous episodes posted there and on the Unitonomy blog.
Employee Connectedness: What is Culture Management?
Charley Miller 0:24
I like the song so much I wanted to hear twice today. I’m Charlie Miller with Unitonomy. I’m joined here–I should say flanked today–Dr. Brad Shuck from University of Louisville, Martin Low, of On Plane Consulting. Today we’re going to talk about “what is culture management?” Unitonomy has put together in this really big piece–I think it’s almost 3000 words–on our site to really give some guidance to people who are just starting to think about how do we cultivate our culture, with sort of a full breakdown of what does that even mean and what are the things you need to be thinking about. This not so much a guide of how to do it, as it’s just what are we talking about when we talk about culture management and having some elements there that you can start the conversations within your own group to really think about what the heck this even means when we talk about work culture. And you guys just ride along for a little, and I’ll do a quick breakdown with this and then we’ll kind of come back and kind of do around the horn style and see where the conversation takes us today.
So, Bada bing bada boom. Here we go. And here I am so everyone can view this at Unitonomy.com under this big header called Culture Management. You’ll see the “What Is Culture Management?” piece. It’ll take you to backslash “What Is Culture Management?” Like I said, it just really is a nice breakdown of all the things you can think about as you start scrolling. You’ll get this nice little menu up here, where you see we have sort of an introduction that we talked about:
- Who manages culture inside a company?
- What is organizational culture, specifically?
- How do you cultivate work culture?
- What is a culture operating system?
- How does collaboration influence culture?
- What is a culture manager responsible for?
- What is Culture Management Strategy?
- What’s Culture Management versus Operations Management
I’m not going to go through every detail of this today. But I just want to make sure people have a sense of what we’re talking about here. There’s so much to think about when you talk about building a great culture within an organization that there’s not sort of something you can just say “all right we’re going to do this one thing today.” There’s no magic silver bullet, of course, culture, something you live and breathe as Martin often explains it’s like a brand, it’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room.
I really want to focus today on this piece here we call this Unitonomy Culture Canvas. We just developed this after a lot of thinking and research over many years of kind of trying how to distill the idea of culture into something that can be strategically planned, which means you need something that you everyone can kind of point out and say “all right we need to think about this area, we need to think about that area.” So we came up with this big Venn diagram:
And soon we’re actually going to release a Unitonomy Culture Canvas on our website that’s free as well. People can print out and use as they start to literally just pencil on paper, make notes about the things they need to talk about, and plan, much like a business model canvas or something. This is a culture operational canvas.
But the first pass of this is this giant Venn diagram and to just walk people through for a second. We have these giant buckets of all the questions we ask who, what, why, how, where and when. And within the context of organization, as you break down the sort of core areas inside these,kind of just go clockwise around here starting with who. The idea of WHO is really “who are the right people to join us on this mission, and how do we set ourselves up for success through unity?” So the core element here is obviously recruitment. Who are you bringing in to be on your team that’s going to help you fulfill your mission?
As we jump over to WHAT, we’ve got things…the core element here is idea strategy. What are we doing, what are the types of effort we need to solve our problems, what are our plans? How do we cultivate a shared sense of belonging to our mission and values? So, it gets interesting. With the Venn diagram of course, you see the overlap. So when you see overlap between who and what, which is really between strategy and recruitment, you have this idea of membership, which is “all right, now we’ve got these people here to fulfill our strategy, we’ve got to make sure people understand how they belong to that mission how they belong to these values. Make sure they feel connected to all the employees, which is the name of our show here Employee Connectedness.” So that’s a big piece of it. If you have good recruitment and you have good strategy, but you’re failing to get people to fulfill that sense of belonging, a lot of this will fall over and you won’t actually achieve what you set out to achieve.
As we jump over here to WHY, this is all about purpose. I know Martin, you love talking about purpose a lot. It’s so important to employee engagement and really people feeling like they’re going to be there a long time because they know that they’re making a difference. When you overlap why and ,what between purpose and strategy, that’s where you really talk about alignment, where people understand how their purpose maps back to the organizational strategy.
HOW is where we’re talking about how are we actually going to do this stuff. The big puzzle piece here is authority: how do we distribute authority, how do we give people autonomy, how do people feel like they can actually make a difference? When you overlap how and why, that’s where we have meetings. This is really where people are coming together to establish everything from understanding and having those conversations about the why, it’s also about the what of course, but also using authority then to determine and make decisions, right. Decisions happen when people come together as a team. That is designed down to where this is really the structure of organizations. This is much more operational: where people are positioned, how information flows. When you overlap where and how, between authority and structure that’s really what we call workflow. This is where we start talking about all the tools that companies use and how everything travels across the organization.
When we jump over to WHEN, this is really talking about all of our resources. When: we’re talking about the money and the budgeting to the different systems and resources, the offices, etc. Everything it is our that are the building blocks underneath this organization. When we overlap that structure, of course, we’re really talking about information there. And last but not least, between when and who, which is parent resources or current, of course that’s compensation, which is how do we divide the pie, how do we make sure everyone feels like they’re adequately compensated as it relates to their performance in their role. In the center of all this, you’ve got to be able to measure this stuff, you’ve got to have a sense of how all this stuff is performing, because you can’t improve what you’re doing, across the context of culture, if you don’t know how to measure it and see if it’s trending well or if it’s trending poorly, understanding the actions you’re taking to improve things are actually effective.
You’ve got to be able to measure this stuff, you’ve got to have a sense of how all this stuff is performing, because you can’t improve what you’re doing, across the context of culture, if you don’t know how to measure it and see if it’s trending well or if it’s trending poorly, understanding the actions you’re taking to improve things are actually effective.Charley Miller, Founder of Unitonomy
And I’ll end this to just make the big comment: this is not perfect, right. Obviously there are connections going way across this Venn diagram, we didn’t want to get too crazy. But I think the point of this is not to say this is a perfect operating system every company should do. That’s not what this is. These are not gears inside of the machine. What this is, is something we can all point out, as you come together to start to play in your culture to say “we need to think about this area, we need to think about this area.” It’s a thought starter, as much as anything. Alright, so let me return to the game here. Hey guys, thanks for bearing with me on that, hopefully got some wheels spinning here. Give me a, give me some quick thoughts as you kind of see our Culture Canvas. Brad, I’ll start with you on the left here.
Dr. Brad Shuck 8:17
Yeah. So I think the intentionality of it, and how culture isn’t something that happens by accident. You don’t fall into it. It’s something that is planned. Good cultures take thoughtful work and participation from folks across that across that Canvas. And I love the intentionality of the micro moments within that culture. so like, alright, here’s kind of where the compensation piece lives, here’s where the meetings piece lives, right. And yeah I love the intentionality behind using it. I can imagine sitting down with a team and pulling out that Canvas and saying, All right, let’s talk through how we do business, how we’re going to operate as a team, and be really intentional about that.
Charley Miller 9:08
Great. That’s certainly why we did this is to start conversations. Almost to give people a roadmap of saying “all right, we’re good on the recruitment side, you know, we know how to find the right people for a job. Oh boy, we haven’t thought about workflow at all, we’re kind of haphazardly turning on tools over here…some people are sharing their files this way, other people are sharing it through that way. We’re burning a lot of effort, and people are getting disengaged because there’s so much rigmarole around just file management.”
Dr. Brad Shuck 9:36
Right. That’s right. And, you know, think about how that builds capacity back into somebody’s day. So if we, that’s something I don’t have to think about, and here’s the defined way we’re going to do that, that helps build back energy, time, emotion, all the other kinds of things that I can be using to do some of the other work that’s gonna need to get done.
Charley Miller 9:56
I’ve enjoyed tracking the space for a few years and seeing that employee engagement is no longer sort of the end all shop to understanding the employee experience and you’ve literally had this new term kind of spawn called the employee experience. And I noticed several conferences this year, before the pandemic, of course, these things have been moved online now, but they’re really going to focus much more on the workflow side of the employee experience and really trying to understand how better operations and HR can start to think about how these fragmented tools can work better, and make sure that the end user experience is one that these people are embracing inside the job. Why are they doing that? All these surveys came out in the last year that showed one of the biggest factors that eats away at employee engagement is a bad employee experience when it comes to the tools.
Employee engagement is no longer sort of the end all shop to understanding the employee experience and you’ve literally had this new term kind of spawn called the employee experience…one of the biggest factors that eats away at employee engagement is a bad employee experience when it comes to the tools.Charley Miller, Founder of Unitonomy
So you are you’re seeing a lot more companies now invest in what are, let’s say user-friendly tools that people actually want to use. The biggest company in the world, Accenture, in terms of just number of employees, half a million employees, they adopted about two years ago “bring your own app to work,” which is “we’re no longer going to mandate you have to use these tools. We’re going to have a cloud infrastructure, where the data can flow through our secure channels, but the apps you’re using to create that data, it’s up to you now to bring what you want to bring to work” in most situations, not all situations but in a lot of situations because they realize they want to get Millennials working for them. Which is huge for Accenture…I think it’s 60% of their workforce. They’ve got to make sure they’re using the apps and the systems that those people want to use, which are much more…I’ll just say they’re not the old school stack that we grew up with. Yeah. All right, Martin, I’m gonna throw it over to you now. Martin, you run On Plane, along with Leah Eggers. Tell me about when you work with these companies and they’re starting conversations around planning culture, where do you often start, when you are working with companies, to get them to think about what they can proactively manage?
Martin Low 12:01
Yeah, well, so it’s interesting, a lot of times they don’t have a framework at all, right. So to be able to start with something that says, here’s what good looks like, then let’s talk about where you are today, to kind of tick all the boxes or not tick the boxes and then they start to understand where am I gapped and where are we going to spend my time, like you could go and pull up any kind of model or framework you want. Just to start with something, I think for them is 60 or 70% of the battle, because they have nothing. They’re just like, “well, I want people to be happy and so I did this thing” and it might be free snacks and it might be leaving early on Fridays and it might be a team happy hour get together. It could be in a number of those things, but there’s no actual connection back to “how am I going to build this thing with intention and how do I know the pieces that are missing and understand the system as a whole, to know where I get tripped up.”
So the first thing that we talk to them about is, is, let’s get you a system and a framework. We have one that’s much more people oriented. I think this is nice because there’s a mix of operations inside of there, in terms of how am I working day to day, which I think is really, really important. And I think it’s also really interesting, one of the things I’ve been thinking about for the last couple weeks has been, you know, if people are kind of like machines, there’s no pm process for machines, right. So when you run a factory you have preventative maintenance and a schedule of that that you are going to follow religiously, and it costs a lot of money. It costs downtime, it costs people to maintain it, there’s a lot of effort and attention put into this. Almost nobody has a pm schedule for their team. And I think this could be like a great kind of way to start thinking about how do we build in some sort of, you know, call it preventative maintenance and some sort of plan around it.
That is a very long way to answer a very short question. We’re going to start working through a framework of where we end up starting. Typically they have not actually put a purpose out there that people care about, you know, typically the purpose is the same thing as the mission, and most missions have some rhyme to “we want to be the best in x industry,” which, frankly, it’s nice but like so what. So you know, when we start we start with purpose and normally that purpose has not been 1.) set up in a way that people are truly gonna care about, besides maybe the owner and the stakeholders, and 2.) it hasn’t been pushed on legalization, it has been so to me that’s like, that’s normally the starting place.
Charley Miller 14:50
I’ll tell you a cool trend that I’ve noticed, at least in the startup world which is kind of where I’ve ever worked for the last decade plus, is starting to take some of the roles that are traditionally inside companies like Head of Accounting, Head of HR and realizing, wow, let’s outsource those roles to free up some money. Because those things kind of really need them sometimes and then they kind of are just repetitive after a while. Then free up some money, and let’s actually bring people in here that are doing more of what–I love how you describe–it’s like a product role but it’s instead of the product that we’re selling to customers, it’s the product of us. It’s literally the product of how we are building our brand as a culture, and have someone who’s really, to your point, Brad, intentionally designing the experience of what this company is every day. How we work together, how we collaborate, etc. I wonder, if in the next decade, we’ll see more of that sort of flipped model across more and more of these repetitive roles, whether you’re leveraging the AI, versus leveraging just like we’re a company one stop shop to just do everything related to your accounting, right? And just seeing more and more that proliferate, and you’ll see more of these sort of intentional roles developed to really help on this side of performance, I guess, cultural performance.
Dr. Brad Shuck 16:23
Yeah, I think the role of, we’ll call it Human Resource Development is, is beginning to emerge as an increasingly important skill set. You know, I think we’ve said this before on the live stream. Human Resource Management, the policies and the procedures are things we’ve done for decades. And to really get at culture and building culture, that is, we are proud to be and excited to be here, I really think intentionally developing that human piece of it is going to be really really critical for the future of work. And I think as we emerge from post-COVID, there are some things that we did, pre COVID that will no longer be acceptable ways of doing business anymore.
Charley Miller 17:19
I have a list of the titles we sell to because things have evolved a lot in HR side, right. HR becoming much more of a strategic center to think about things like operational strategy and culture and so forth. Well, the roles and the titles are evolving rapidly. I have a list of over 100 different titles that are technically just the Head of Culture, but there’s 100 different titles that we’ve been able to come up with across our searches, realizing that they’re all kind of the same when you look at the bullet points of what the responsibilities are of the role, but across industry, no one has really decided yet on what that person is called. And I think that’s really just a good sign of the times like this is new, the idea that you actually plan in your culture right? You know, my parents, where they worked, that role didn’t exist. No one was doing that, that was just a haphazard thing. You tried to hire the right people, and you tried to put out your mission and show good sort of models of how you go about your day to day. But there was nobody looking at a Culture Canvas and saying “hey, I really need to think about how people understand their purpose here.” Right, that was not happening in the 1960s or 70s. Slowly things have evolved and here we are and it’s exciting.
Dr. Brad Shuck 18:40
You know, one other thing I’ll add here is, I think, Charley, you have simplified this and made this sound and look very easy…
Charley Miller 18:48
Yeah right. not to mislead anyone…it’s not easy. And by the way, I probably also oversimplified it here, my team has over-simplified some things, but that’s the thing you have to start complex conversations you have to keep things simple, right.
Dr. Brad Shuck 19:08
Absolutely. I wonder if I was to apply this model, just as like a trial run in my house. Like, I’m fully like able to influence everything that happens here. And then, just like identify why you do want somebody thinking about this who is versed in the literature, understands what’s going on, understand the mechanism, why you would want some why you would want help with this, would be take this model and intentionally develop a culture at your house, and then write us in and let us know how it goes in the comments.
Charley Miller 19:38
That’s hilarious and. But, right, I think a big takeaway that I want to make sure to clear anyone listening to us or reading us is that culture isn’t someone, something that one person owns or determines or implements right. I try to make it very clear in this post like for this to be effective everyone has to feel ownership in this. But back to your family point here, like conversation is half the battle, just to get people thinking about this and talking about it, is what starts the process of improving things. Martin, I see you nodding your head so I’m gonna throw it over to you. You’re someone that goes in a company as a consultant and tries to implement those conversations. Are there any pieces of advice or tricks you have to getting people to lean into that conversation because I know something I get from some old school people is sort of “ah this is Kum Ba Yah. I got more important things to do than talk about culture.”
Martin Low 20:39
Yeah. So there’s a couple things. One is to your point: this is super easy on paper and really hard in real life. And I look at it like getting in shape right. Getting in shape is pretty easy. It’s a function of eat right, workout every day and time. That’s it. Like it’s not, it’s really actually not that hard. Except in real day to day life, it’s like super hard, right. And very few people are good at it. Because committing the time, committing energy, and then, organizing around it so that you can still function is tough. I think that companies have that same challenge times like 1000, because now all of a sudden, not only does the company have to make the decision even to launch the small team, to invest in it, and to do it, but then they have to like push that decision out. And, you know, they’re all on this kind of stopwatch timer like “what did I get as a result today. Did I get a result today, what happened today, today, today, today.”
This is super easy on paper and really hard in real life. And I look at it like getting in shape, right. Getting in shape is pretty easy. It’s a function of eat right, workout every day, and time. That’s it. Like it’s not, it’s really actually not that hard. Except in real day to day life, it’s like super hard, right. And very few people are good at it.Martin Low, On Plane Consulting
That’s the same thing you would do if you tried to put this into place with your family. Like “I had a conversation with my kid, that didn’t go well, I’m gonna check this model out because it’s junk.” Right, it’s these things are functions of hard work over time. And the way that you get somebody to actually make a commitment to it is you start talking to them about the value in the business, right because at the end of the day, everyone is still wired that, well this business has to have value and that’s really as a leadership team what I’m here to create especially in startup land. Right you picked up some investors, and you were on the clock, and they want to exit for some big multiple, as do probably the leadership team, which is a big piece of why they’re doing what they do.
Now, realize that 80 plus percent of that company’s valuation is going to be on intangibles every company. Maybe not every company maybe there’s like two or 3% out there that don’t fall into that bucket, but aside from that, it’s pretty much a company’s value. You go verify this against the S&P it’s going to be 80 plus percent intangible. And those intangibles are going to come from your team. That’s where they’re going to come from. They’re gonna come from R&D, they’re gonna come from customer relationships they’re gonna come from market perception of your brand. Those things are all driven by your team. That is not something that one person can do and if you want to build that out, if you want to build your value, that’s the lever that you pull, and it’s all culture based. So you know the way that you get people to say, “Yeah, I want to do this” is you get out of this soft fuzzy like “yes, nice story but I just don’t have time to be nice today.” You get into “Well, why are you really here?” “well we’re here to increase the value of the company.” “Are we? Well now you can do that. Let’s talk numbers.” And those are the numbers.
80+% of that company’s valuation is going to be on intangibles, every company…and those intangibles are going to come from your team. That’s where they’re going to come from. They’re gonna come from R&D, they’re gonna come from customer relationships they’re gonna come from the market perception of your brand. Those things are all driven by your team. That is not something that one person can do and if you want to build that out, if you want to build your value, that’s the lever that you pull, and it’s all culture-based.Martin Low, On Plane Consulting
Charley Miller 23:38
Excellent point we’re gonna put them in bold in the transcript of this one. Look, it wouldn’t be an “Employee Connectedness” show without two things: we always need a sports metaphor, so thank you Martin for the exercise one; two, usually Martin forgets to unmute, and today you remembered so can you clap. I know, I saw you go for the button! You remembered to unmute. Amazing.
Martin Low 24:00
I’m going to make a habit of it.
Charley Miller 24:03
Well, that’s that’s a perfect segue. Like the reason that sports metaphor, the exercise metaphor works here, it’s about building habits, right, and that’s the hard part of getting in shape. You have to develop this new habit and it’s not easy, it literally drains energy from you by doing that thing. Well, when I talk to customers around Unitonomy, I really try to emphasize these tools don’t solve your problems, what these tools really do is help your organization, develop communication muscles. We can get you halfway, we’re going to help you have the right conversations and right communication around this stuff, but it’s on you all down to develop really develop the habits and get in shape. So yeah, any parting thoughts today, related to the first steps any company would take in terms of thinking about developing the habit now of cultivating again?
Martin Low 24:56
Yeah, I, the biggest thing for me, that holds companies back, well there’s a couple things that holds them back right. And there’s a lot of reasons why you can’t do it, just like working out, right, it’s like I don’t have time. Okay, you don’t have time for that. Well it’s the majority of how you’re going to create value, so if you don’t have time for that now I don’t know when you’re going to have time. There’s never going to be at a time when all your customers stop needing stuff, and everybody’s just kind of looking around for something to do. Right. And you’ve got to make time for it today.
And then the second thing people say is “Oh I don’t have any money to spend on that.” It’s maybe not quite free, but it’s certainly close to it for you as the leader or use the leadership team to all get in a room and say, “why are we doing this?” What are the positive outcomes besides making somebody a bunch of money, because no one cares about that except for the handful of people who are going to make a bunch of money, right. The rest of the team really truly doesn’t care about that. So why are we here and how do we make it better. There’s never gonna be a good time to do it, so you just got to make the space to. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to sort that out, like that’s not an expensive thing to do from, from a cost standpoint, it’s just you just got to make some time and you just got to go do it. And doing that will provide your team with a ton of clarity. Um, and you know and if you’re not sure how to do it, get some resources to help you out. It’d be one of the best things you do for the company
Dr. Brad Shuck 26:13
Yeah, you know, from a research perspective, I just want to add on to what Martin is saying here. I couldn’t agree more. This is so much about setting aside the time to do it. The reason people would get involved in this, is because they see meaning, and leaders have the unique ability to drive some of that. And I could not agree more with when it comes down to purpose and meaning that drives engagement. When people say, I really want high levels of engagement, I need everybody participating, and I want a great employee experience, then you need to be communicating regularly around collaboration, meaning, purpose. Those things drive engagement. Overwhelmingly, the research is clear about that. Everything, these other things are going to fall into place but meaning and purpose and driving that. That’s a lever everybody can pull.
Charley Miller 27:10
Great stuff, great stuff, guys. All right, well thank you all for jumping into the Culture Canvas here with me, and we’ll put the link to the survey that On Plane is running with help from this guy, Dr. Brad Shuck, just taking a pulse on how everyone’s feeling about their work right now in the context of COVID-19. So please take it, it’s less than a minute survey and it’s anonymous and if you give your email to the survey, you’ll get all the aggregated data back so you can also see how everyone’s feeling. So it’s a real nice thing they’re doing for the community. All right, thank you all, and we’ll be back on Friday with another show. Thank you. Bye bye.