Cecile Alper-Leroux is the Vice President of Human Capital Management (HCM) Innovation at Ultimate Software. An economic anthropologist with more than 20 years of experience in both national and global HCM markets, Cecile has dedicated her life to helping companies create work experiences that enable all people to pursue productive jobs and meaningful careers.
Spotlight Your Culture—with Culture Casting
Since long before Merriam-Webster listed “culture” as its most popular word of 2014, the business world as a whole has focused even more energy on the many dimensions of a word that even trained anthropologists have trouble defining conclusively. One critical aspect of culture centers on disconnection: much like any other cultural group, a struggling company culture is rife with divisions and miscommunications. In contrast, a strong company culture is evidenced with alignment and understanding among people across the organization, and it has nothing to do with the positivity of the culture. One of the more destructive cultural disconnects is a mistaken belief that every member of the group shares more or less the same experience; if 80% of surveyed managers believe that they’re being transparent with their employees while only 50% of employees believe the same (Ultimate Software WhitePaper: Culture Casting), there is not truly one culture at play, but two cultures—managers and employees—and neither one is talking to the other.
Nowhere is this kind of disconnect between perception and reality more pronounced than in the tech industry; an Atlassian study published in June 2018 revealed that “diversity fatigue” and incorrect perceptions about the state of diversity within an organization is significantly higher among American tech companies compared to other industries and is even backsliding from previous years. However, the tech industry’s very focus may just be a way to bridge this gap: a recent Boston Consulting Group survey of over 40 organizations employing digital transformation found that companies that focused on corporate culture throughout the process were five times as successful in making that transition as the others surveyed. Today organizations sometimes recognize this disconnect but aren’t sure how to address it, often falling back on “improving employee engagement” as a panacea. I believe there is merit in exploring and understanding your own organization’s culture using a three-pronged analysis and strategy that can strengthen it as well—I call it “culture casting”.
The first kind of “casting” at work in culture casting—”casting a light”—is designed to uncover the often shrouded processes that power your organization, and make these as transparent as possible for employees, management, and executives alike. This requires honest reflection and authentic communication to uncover disconnects and misalignment between an organization’s stated culture and what employees experience. If companies find a disconnect like the one I mentioned earlier, they can work with their employees to find a solution that brings daily life into alignment with the mission the company truly wants to achieve.
Your Cast of Characters
The second part of culture casting is about understanding your “cast of characters”, the people who shape, go against, and set the tone for your company culture. This identification is as important as knowing your organization’s talent profile. Every culture is made up of a variety of people and personalities, policies and practices, that feed and are fed by the company culture. If left unchecked, and underdeveloped, an organization’s culture can become something far from what was intended by a founder and what employees experience. This is why organizations must be intentional in bringing in new talent to increase the diversity and fresh ideas to invigorate of the cast of characters, not simply ‘hiring for fit” which can stifle innovation and create inertia over time.
Casting a Vision
Once you have a good sense of the state of your organization’s culture and cast of characters, you are ready to create a vision for your organization the future state of your company culture. You will have to measure progress toward vision you’ve cast into the future, which may require a set of tools that continuously monitor employee sentiment and organizational alignment. Communication and transparency are critical in this last phase of culture casting. This is not something that can be done hastily, nor should you expect radical changes. A culture is a self-reinforcing living entity and as such is subject to unexpected forces and disruptions. The key is to be honest in your assessments and evaluation of progress, authentic in your goals, and to use technology where possible to gain insight along your journey.
Culture Casting is just one approach to ensuring cultural clarity and alignment—there are many others. But the goal is a singular one: to shape a positive and productive culture in which every employee feels their unique selves are making a difference in their shared journey.