Culture Change is a Complex Process
Make sense of it with actionable advice from experts on the front lines.
Make sense of it with actionable advice from experts on the front lines.
gothamCulture Founder and Managing Partner, Chris Cancialosi, will lead a workshop during the Veteran EDGE conference in Dallas, March 22-25, 2023.
His workshop titled “Shaping a Culture of Performance” will cover what organizational culture is and the relationship between culture and firm performance. Attendees will have the opportunity to deploy the Culture Mosaic survey to their employees and receive a customized data report in the session.
Veteran EDGE is a unique event dedicated solely to veteran and military spouse business owners and the ecosystem that supports them. Over the course of four days, stakeholders, IVMF program graduates, and veteran and military spouse business owners from around the country gather to network and learn about the latest opportunities, best practices, and resources available to their growing companies.
As humans, we have a limited capacity for recollection, especially in being able to remember what our feelings were like at a specific time. We often try to remember, and yet somehow such emotions are still like the wisps of a dream – as we reach for them, they seem to disappear.
I was speaking with a client the other day. She related that she truly felt confident in that moment and was happy that she had managed to define and find her “center.” That center, or what some call solid ground, was a recognition of her competence as a leader and a genuine feeling that she knew what she was doing, had a good handle on where she needed to learn and had achieved an equilibrium point in recognizing her well-developed skills and those that might be less developed.
She said, “I feel as if I’ve finally figured it out.”
Then she paused and quietly asked, “But what if I lose my “center”? How do I find my way back?”
We unpacked that idea together for several minutes – I interested in what she wanted – she curious about how to get there. She shared times with me of when uncertainty and doubt had crept into her deepest thoughts and caused her to question her actions as a leader. I listened attentively and asked her what that felt like and how it happened. The responses were rich and, at times, deeply emotional, as she reflected on losing something that was so real and yet so fleeting.
Then I asked, “What would you write to yourself in a letter about how you feel today?”
Her eyes lit up, “I suppose I’d tell myself that “You got it!”
“What else?” I asked.
“Well, I’d write what those feelings of centeredness are – the facets of who I am as a leader that make me successful.”
“Tell me more!” I said with obvious enthusiasm.
“I’d tell myself of my knowledge, my competence, my interpersonal skills, and my very real ability to grow as a leader.”
“And I’d write how I felt in this moment.”
“I’d also say, “When negative emotions and thoughts come to mind, remind yourself that you know how to weather the storm – you indeed know how to lead.”
She went on, “And I think I’d read that letter aloud in moments of crisis and indecision,” she laughed.
I smiled and saw a confidence in that young leader that was equal to her centeredness. She had devised a method to remind herself of her own skills and capabilities – and she was using those awesome abilities to talk to a future self to instill confidence. I had no doubt that she would compose that letter in the coming days.
Coaches get to ask questions. Clients come up with their own answers. I was fortunate to experience a client who knew herself so well that she was able to hold both the confidence and centeredness of today and the uncertainty and doubt of a future day in one crystalizing moment that will serve her for years to come.
“Gestalt” is described* as “a composition of elements that can only be appreciated as a whole rather than as a sum of its parts.”
As a Gestalt-trained coach, I am honored to work with clients to help them explore what “wholeness” means to them and how they can discover and then choose to use those parts of themselves that will effectively expand their range as human beings.
Part of that work is to engage with people about how they perceive their lives and their priorities. Through inquiry, I help my clients discover the “whole” they might not be able to see.
If a client says, “My work life situation is pretty well set, but my home life is struggling,” I might ask:
“Where does work life end and home life begin?”
“Well, you know, when I turn off the Zoom call or drive into the garage after my commute.”
“I’m curious, how can you live two or more lives at the same time?”
“Well, of course, it’s just one life, but I try to keep them separate. I work hard on work-life balance”
Sometimes I pause – for a long moment. It can be uncomfortable for clients. But in that silence, some fascinating perspectives emerge.
What can come out for clients – and sometimes it blurts out in unexpected ways – is an awareness that the separation they have created by even using the words “Work-Life” balance is an attempt to deny the “wholeness” of their lives. As a result, their life can seem fragmented or segmented in a way that does not support their wellbeing.
We only have one life – and the fullness of that life is both beautiful and daunting. By separating it into parts, we might seek protection from facing its realities and its challenges – and its joys and sadness. But by doing so, our perspective is skewed and our lives become compartmentalized. We might think protection makes it all more manageable. But that, in fact, can be limiting.
When we become aware of how we see our lives we can begin to make choices. For example, it can be about incorporating work into life and understanding its importance – and its cost.
We are complex creatures and that is such a beautiful – and challenging – part of our experience. What my clients discover is the integration of their complex “parts” that add up to the one life that has meaning and balance for each of us.
Think about this:
We can decide to play at work and – ask any golfer – we can choose to work at play.
We can laugh over a memory of a loved one while still mourning and crying during a memorial service that is called a “celebration.”
We can choose to allow our thoughts and conversation to join with loved ones even in the midst of the busiest day at work.
I invite you to make choices to allow your life to be the “whole” that is greater than the sum of its parts.
*Textbooks have been written on the subject of Gestalt and this definition cited from “Grammarist” is only meant to convey the sense of a complex and highly useful school of psychology. It is taught extensively at the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC) in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.
gothamCulture is conducting our third annual research study to determine the current state of organizational culture and we need your help.
We are particularly interested in understanding how organizations around the world have been working to preserve and enhance their organizational cultures and the impact that has on performance.
We will analyze the data from this annual survey and extract the best practices from around the world, across industries, and from a wide variety of organizations to crack the code on what works and why. While the individual data you provide will remain confidential, and only trends will be reported publicly, it will inform future insights that we think you will find valuable.
Your participation will advance this research and, together, we can truly impact the world of work. In appreciation of your time, you will be the first to receive a copy of the 2023 State of Culture Report filled with insights and recommendations intended to inform and inspire.
Please click here to access the survey.
Seventeen years ago, gothamCulture was formed with one goal in mind – to provide insights that help leaders improve organizational performance. Through solid work, integrity, and smart partnering, gothamCulture continues to serve a diverse array of organizations and government agencies.
gothamCulture Managing Partner and Founder Chris Cancialosi reflects on this milestone:
“For the last seventeen years, we have had the honor of creating a community of professionals who dedicate themselves to the success of our clients. The diversity of our team creates a dynamic where each member can bring their best selves to our work, can productively push each other to perform, and can design solutions that best fit the complex needs of our clientele.”
As gothamCulture continues to grow and expand our capabilities, we realize the importance of never losing sight of the principles upon which we were founded: Committed to the Core, Unwavering Integrity, Maniacal Pursuit of Excellence, Relatable Expertise, and Authentic Community.
Thank you to our incredible staff, clients, and partners for allowing gothamCulture to celebrate 17 years in business!
“I’m making course adjustments,” a good friend and colleague told me the other day, smiling as he spoke.
Fascinated, I listened as he went on to provide perspective on what “adjusting course” meant for him. The genesis of the conversation had arisen from a chat we were having about strong convictions he once held which had been tested over time by his life experience. “I’m not the same guy as I was then – I need to be open to seeing things from a different perspective,” he said, adding, “If I don’t do that, then I stop learning.”
As I am prone to do, I mulled his comments for a long time after we finished talking. I thought about the many clients with whom I work who are constantly confronted with choices and decisions. They adjust course in small ways every day, and then reflect on how those course adjustments work for them – and then they adjust again. They cope with managing businesses and leading people – making nuanced and creative decisions along with critical financial judgments.
The most successful leaders are those who recognize that their viewpoint is powerfully informed by their own experience and where they are in their personal and professional journey. For instance, a new leader who is untried can make a decision early in a career that they might make differently later in life. The key for that leader is to understand what they learned from the experience. Why did they make the decision in the first place and why was there a course correction later on?
A critical point is that we need to know how and why we are adjusting our course. As complex as it might seem, adjusting a course when you’re piloting an airplane, for example, is easy to understand. If you’re not going to arrive at the destination you planned, you can change speed and heading. Adjusting course in life is infinitely more complex. A leader’s decisions are not based on the same kind of data and understanding of navigational techniques used by aviators. Instead, decisions are often informed by a variety of sepia-toned information analysis and intuition, which depends on both knowledge and experience.
But, as an aviator or a leader, course adjustments cannot be made in a vacuum. And they need to be deeply understood. Leaders can best serve themselves and their companies by asking personal questions:
Being curious about one’s own motivations and exploring the why, how, and what of our personal evolution can inform the adjustments we naturally make as part of growing. Curiosity can also help us know where we can confront our own assumptions and realize that they may no longer serve us. Andy Cohen explores challenging assumptions well in an article in Duke Corporate Education.
Growing, learning, and expanding our range as human beings – and understanding how those concepts inform our own worldview and the course we set– are such fascinating parts of life’s journey. Appreciating that adjustment to our course is such an important part of leadership – That is the joy and a challenge for each of us.
My thanks to a dear friend who helped me with my own course adjustment!
New York, NY – gothamCulture released its second annual State of Culture Report on December 30, 2022.
The 2022 State of Culture Report is the culmination of a year of research on a global scale of 170 respondents across local, national, and global organizations. From this research, the team extracted key insights into the aspects of organizational culture and climate that link to a variety of performance outcomes as well as the practices that drive results in the day-to-day.
Some key findings from the study include:
For more insights to read the 2022 State of Culture Report here.
Stay up to date with future State of Culture surveys and reports here.
If you have questions or comments about the study or the report please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
gothamCulture is a management consulting firm that draws on our associate’s comprehensive expertise and experience in the areas of culture, leadership, and people strategy to provide innovative solutions and client-service excellence. Our work is guided by our deeply held shared values, including a commitment to each other and our clients, unwavering integrity, the maniacal pursuit of excellence, relatable expertise, and authentic community. For more information, visit www.gothamCulture.com.
As a professional coach, I often use metaphors to help a client visualize or name what challenges or opportunities they face.
By way of explanation, consider this: When I attend a jazz session (my favorite American art form), I can sometimes find myself honing in on a particular musician, even before they take the musical lead. I might feel invited to listen to a bluesy tenor saxophone, or close my eyes and feel the beat of the drums. After the set, I might mention to others what I heard and how it struck me. I am often pleasantly surprised to learn that the individuals with whom I attended the session might have heard something dramatically different. One person might tell me that the bass player “slayed it,” while another might say that the entire “vibe” came together so well that it was hard to identify one musician’s work.
The same goes for our visual experience. Like with music, I can also recall standing in front of a piece of art, probably standing next to people I know well. As we collectively ponder the meaning of the art and what we “see,” it is remarkable just how many perspectives are experienced. I might note the vibrancy of the colors while one friend notices the use of shading and the other friend the tiny brush strokes that created a painting. And in fact, others might not focus on the visual experience, but on the human energy which emerged for them!
Each individual has their own “reality” which involves all five senses and more. In music or art, an appreciation of multiple realities, like my thought about the saxophone player versus another person’s perception of the bass player, can enhance and enrich the tapestry of our own experience. Especially when we share those realities with others – and when we can then create, even for a moment, a “shared reality” with another individual it is such a magical part of the human experience.
Human teams and the leadership of those with whom we work are filled with an endless number of realities. Appreciating that they exist is key. For instance, if I look at a profit and loss statement for a business, I might well focus on the top-line revenues, while another person might move their eyes straight to the bottom line. One of us can see earnings, while another is concerned about cash flow. Neither is wrong.
What we need to appreciate fully is what the other person sees and understands to create a “shared” reality to benefit both of us – and the larger team. The “brush strokes” matter but so does the “shading” – even on a corporate financial statement. That’s the only way we can “see” the whole picture.
When it comes to interpersonal characteristics and skills, it becomes increasingly difficult. Human bias and perspective let us see only specific capabilities and effectively ignore others.
The same goes for how others see us. We can never know another person’s perceptions and feelings about us until we ask. If we are truly interested in their journey, they may well become interested in ours. And then the joining of two or more can come together to create a shared experience – and a shared journey – and the magic it contains.
Think about the questions “Do you hear what I hear?” and “Do you see what I see?” the next time you meet with your colleagues at the office (or you’re sitting next to a coach who loves jazz). I invite you to be open to learning and sharing – it will enrich the experience and you’ll be better for it!
In this episode of the gothamCulture Podcast, guest host Conrad Moore from MAiUS Learning talks to Marcelo Dias, a Talent Performance & Development Leader about how being burned out actually changes your brain chemistry resulting in exhaustion, cynicism, or just lack of effectiveness. Once employees reach this level of dissatisfaction with their jobs, it just ends up taking up a lot of their mental space. What can we do to get back to flourishing at work?
Production note: This interview was originally recorded in January 2022.
Released: December 20, 2022
Kate Gerasimova, gothamCulture:
I’m happy to present to you a series of episodes involving culture gathered over the past year, asking experts in the industry for their advice and recommendations for leaders of organizations in this always-changing environment. These three episodes touch on how organizations need to be resilient in these vulnerable times. Each guest has a unique background and brings their own expertise and experience to what organizations, leaders, and employees need to do to be successful.
All right. Hello, this is Conrad Moore from MAiUS Learning. I am happy to be back today on Gotham’s podcast as a guest host. And I’ve brought with me Marcelo Dias, who is a learning professional with over 15 years experience leading learning and development teams and supporting digital tech transformations. He spent most of his career at Intuit and Visa and since then, has been an independent learning consultant for about three years. Marcelo, first of all, thank you for joining.
Thank you. Yeah, really happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Yeah, and one of the things I’m excited, you don’t have to name any names, but I think it’s interesting to talk to you, because I actually don’t know the names per se, but I know that you talked to some folks, as a coach, who have some interesting perspectives when we’re thinking about this whole great resignation right now. So what are you hearing from some of your clients about what’s going on?
Yeah, this is a very popular topic. Some people are calling it the great reshuffle. I hear great reimagination, great renegotiation, even in the media, a lot of conversations around it. What I’m personally hearing is that a lot of people are either burned out or numbed out. And being burned out actually changes your brain chemistry and you see this exhaustion, cynicism, or just lack of effectiveness. And what I’ve learned from some of my clients is that once they reach this level of dissatisfaction with their jobs, it just ends up taking a lot of their mental space. And actually, I have here some notes as one of my clients, the way she described it is I might be done early for the day, but it’s difficult for me to be present with my kids, because I am still caught up in the politics of what’s going on at work.
And this, I’m hearing a lot. People are just having a really hard time disconnecting from that. On the other hand, I’ve also talked to a couple people who are kind of numbed out. They’re basically disengaged from their jobs. I’m thinking of a learning professional, he’s mentally done with his job, but continues to hang in there because the pay is good, honestly, and he couldn’t afford to go a month without that income. So yeah, he’s miserable, but he’s still managing to do the bare minimum to get fired. That’s kind of what I’m seeing right now.
Yeah, and I think that makes a lot of sense, because I think that was always people’s experience, but then you layer on top of that a pandemic and it kind of just amplifies some of those feelings, and brings them into focus perhaps, which is maybe what we’re seeing here. So what can people do if they’re feeling burned out or disengaged? Is there anything that you’ve advised people to do?
Yeah, and what I’ve seen is there are people who are getting out of these situations. They’re even flourishing right now. And I think a big first step for them is just taking a hard look at their priorities, right? And he mentioned the pandemic, it’s hard to get away from that, and that’s, I think, forced a lot of us to face our own mortality. And there’s this phrase in Stoic philosophy, you may have heard Memento Mori, right, which roughly translates from the Latin as remember that you have to die, right? And I think consciously or unconsciously, this is driving a lot of people to reprioritize what’s important in their lives. And for work, you can see that as no longer wanting to be tied to a company office. And so I talked with someone who moved closer to his kids after a year into the pandemic, because that not knowing, somebody was getting sick, somebody not getting sick, they really wanted to be together, and he was able to do that by just going to remote.
And fortunately for him, he liked his job, he got to keep his same job, and that was how he find that ideal work-life balance. Able to stay in the same job, but having the opportunity to be closer with families. But for others, they may be they were just tired of the 60-plus hour work week. And so I know former colleague of mine, when she decided she needed to look for another job, and she knew what kind of questions to ask in the interviews, because she was really looking for a well-resourced team. She wanted a laid back team. She didn’t want this craziness anymore, of working nights, working weekends. And so thankfully, that’s exactly what she found. But it’s interesting that that was the mindset that she had going in, where she was asking the questions. Is this, we’re all going to be the kind of thing that I’m looking for?
So maybe what we’re really seeing, in my mind, is this great reprioritization, right? For a lot of people, they’re not saying I’m done with work, they’re just reshaping it in a way that fits in with the rest of their priorities. And I can tell you from my own personal experience, actually, I’m kind of in the midst of this still, but I started my consulting business and for a while, I was kind of saying yes to anything I could possibly get. And fortunately enough for a while, there actually was getting more hours than I wanted to, which started getting me to this other side, where I decided okay, I just need to be more selective about the engagements that I’d taken on.
So yeah, this reduced my income, but on the plus side, I gained a lot more time back, and even that mental space that I was talking about before, right? Because sometimes it’s not just the hours, it’s also how much of that mental space is taking up your day. And so I was able to deepen my relationship with my kids, my partner, even my parents, having more time with family, which is really, really important for me. And it kind of brought me back to some of that foundational stuff. And finally, it’s given me an opportunity to reflect of what kind of impact at this Memento Mori. I took it seriously. What kind of impact do I want to have before I die?
That’s a very deep thought. And can I also ask you maybe if you’re trademarking the great reprioritization?
No. I’m sure somebody out there has used it, but it’s just what’s really resonated just based on my experience, yeah.
All right. Well I heard it here first.
And so I think you said it. I like that kind of thought process though. And I do think you’re right, people are doing a lot of deep reflecting and thinking about the prioritization of their lives and their families and work, and so I think that that resonates with me in terms of what I’ve seen out there in the world and conversations with other people. So let’s flip that around and look at the other side of that equation. If we’re thinking about organizations who we know, obviously, are working hard to either retain the top talent that they have or attract new top talent now that people have left, and so if that’s what we’re seeing in the labor market is people who are really looking deeply at what maybe their purpose in life is, what do you think organizations can do to align to this new set of priorities?
Yeah. And I mentioned this earlier, I mean, there’s no question, flexibility goes a long way, right? The ability to live where you want to live, it’s a really important benefit. And I know there’s a lot of organizations debating this, what does this really look like, but time and time again, I hear this is really important. The other one is just a flexible schedule, right? It’s very important, especially for parents, caregivers, the ability to kind of shape their work around other responsibilities.
But I think if companies really want to stand out, they need to do some more of this, of what you just mentioned, right? How do you create the space for employees to gain that kind of clarity, what’s important for them personally, and then to kind of help them achieve that balance in their lives. And I see very few companies take an active role in supporting their employees’ wellbeing. I mean, maybe they provide EAP, right, the employee assistance program where you might get eight free counseling sessions. But right now in the pandemic, it’s nearly impossible to access, right? So you may have other benefits like apps and services, but I’m not seeing a genuine commitment to help their employees live their best lives. So I think that’s a really big opportunity for companies to stand out.
Yeah. As you were saying that, I was just reflecting in my head that that actually feels right. All of these additional extra benefits, EAPs, maybe a monthly gym membership or something like that, it all feels almost more in service of can we trick them into wanting to work here for our bottom line, versus how can we actually provide space for them to find deeper meaning in the work that they do, and see an alignment with a larger corporate mission, or even if it’s not a corporation. So that all sounds interesting. I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit more about what we can find from you out in the world, if people want to learn more about what you do and what you’re working on.
So lately, I mean, I’ve been asking this question many times. I’ve been asking myself, what does this look like, really? And one way, I think, is to give people the tools they need to find the healthier, more balanced kind of foundation that they can work from. So, you mentioned the coaching practice, right? So I think this has been one way to do it. I’ve been able to provide that kind of support on a one-on-one basis. But really, I think there’s an opportunity to scale that more to kind of a larger audience, more of a classroom base, and that’s something a lot of organization can do on their own. I mean, in my case, I’m basically applying my skills as a learning professional just to create a curriculum. I’m starting with three classes around this 8foldlife framework, but there’s many other frameworks out there. But in this case, it’s body, emotions, and mind, right?
So sort of the foundational areas from a self-care standpoint, and I’m calling it the 8foldlife School, and each class is peer supported, it’s a hybrid, flexible model, but it’s also very much focused on developing helpful habits, while letting go of some of those unhelpful habits. So as an example, for the body focus class, there’s three primary areas that we’re looking at. One is sleep. That’s such a critical piece in ensuring people’s wellbeing. Nutrition, which can look very different from one person to the next. And then movement is also another thing that can look very different.
But the idea there is that we discuss the benefits and we commit. We, as each, individual person commits to making a change in their lives in each one of those areas. And then my eventual goal is to actually scale this to all eight dimensions, which includes relationships, career, finances, self-fulfillment, and then beyond self. And this to say, any organization, if you have people passionate about any one of these areas, I would encourage you to run with it and be able to create a program like this that, again, helps people to take that step back and feel like they’re more connected to the work that they’re doing, and that they’re better able to coexist in all the other priorities in their lives.
Great. Well then I have one last request for you. We’ve got an upcoming guest and I’m wondering if you can ask that person a question, so we can continue the conversation.
Absolutely. Yeah. And they’re difficult, challenging times for organizations. I guess my question is, what can leaders do in this current environment?
Great question. Well, thank you Marcelo Dias.Thank you so much for your time today.
Thank you, Conrad. It was a pleasure. All right. Till next time.
In this episode of the gothamCulture Podcast, Kate Gerasimova, Senior Associate at gothamCulture talks with Brooke Rufo-Hill, Head of People and Culture at Rippleworks about what it means to be a learning organization. How can we focus on improving everything instead of proving anything? Brooke offers examples and strategies about how to move away from focusing solely on productivity and more on learning and how it improves performance as an organization.
Released: December 13, 2022
I’m happy to present to you a series of episodes about culture gathered over the past year, asking experts in the industry for their advice and recommendations for leaders of organizations in this always changing environment. The three episodes touch on how organizations need to be resilient in this vulnerable times. Each guest has a unique background and brings their own expertise and experience to what organizations, leaders, and employees need to do to be successful.
Hi, my name is Kate Gerasimova and I’m a host for today’s podcast. Here I am joined by our guest, Brooke Rufo Hill, head of People and Culture at RippleWorks. RippleWorks Foundation brings the practical support social ventures need to scale faster and improve more lives. Brooke, thank you so much for being here.
Kate, thanks so much for having me. I’m really looking forward to the conversation and I’m excited to talk about a topic that is near and dear to my heart and something that has been incredibly inspiring and motivating to me in my first six months with RippleWorks. So thanks so much for having me.
That’s wonderful. Well, today, the big surprise, we’ll be speaking about how leaders can show up with a learner’s lens versus performance lens. Generally speaking, the learning organization is a concept first described by Peter Senge as an organization where people continuously learn and enhance their capabilities to create. So Brooke, in your experience, what does a learning organization look like?
Well, I think something that our CEO, Doug Galen recently shared really articulates this well. He talked about, at a recent company meeting, that in a learning organization we focus on improving everything instead of proving anything. So I’ll say that again, improving everything instead of proving anything. And at first it just kind of rings as a nice little slogan, but when you really start to think about what the kind of core message is in that phrase, there’s actually a lot of unlearning that is required and encapsulated in that slogan that helps to lead us towards wholeheartedly becoming a learning organization.
So when I think about learning organizations, maybe it’s a bit obvious, but learning, and maybe the new pieces and unlearning, is absolutely at the center of all that we do. One example of this might be, at my current organization, we are in the process of really moving away from a more traditional performance management context and moving towards a learning and growth framework where you no longer need to try to prove anything to yourself or your manager or anyone else, but instead, when you enter into these twice a year conversations with your people manager, it is really about focusing on improving everything, and getting into an open and honest conversation with your manager as a partner around progress and ongoing or future opportunities related to learning and growing and acquiring additional skills.
Another example of this in our organization is that when new hires join, and all of us have been new hires at different points in our career, we often feel, when we join an organization, like we need to prove something. And so one of the things that we’re actively encouraging all of our new hires to partake in from an unlearning standpoint is to really embrace a learner’s mindset rather than a performance mindset from day one. So actually this morning I was with a group of new hires and doing an onboarding training as part of their kind of first month with us at RippleWorks. And one of the things we talked about is listen, we have an understanding within our organization that you absolutely have what it takes to do the job you were hired for. That is why we selected you through the hiring process and brought you into this role.
So please set aside this need to prove that you have every right to be here doing the work, sharing in the work with us, and instead just embrace from day one this mindset and focus that is all about improving and not proving.
Couple other quick things I’ll offer around a learning organization with maybe a bit more concrete examples from our organization is that in a learning organization, everyone is regarded as both a teacher and a student. And this really does not matter or depend on your tenure in the organization, the number of years you have in your career, the job level that you are at. There’s really this shared belief that no one ever fully arrives and we all have something to learn and teach one another.
And the final thing I’ll mention, we are also kind of actively going through this unlearning within our organization, is that while of course experimentation is encouraged, and this idea of not overthinking things and really testing and learning, so doing experiments all over the place, one of the kind of concrete outputs of that is that we as an organization are moving towards more wholeheartedly embracing this idea of iterating in public. So no longer kind of doing all of this design at the whiteboard by ourselves or within the team, but rather starting to iterate out in the open.
And a really simple way to do that is as we are coming up with ideas, crafting projects, crafting proposals, rather than kind of the disclaimer that we all feel a bit more comfortable is when we put a WIP in the title of the doc, that means work in progress. A commitment that we’ve recently made is that we will be removing work in progress from all the docs, because if we are trying to create and really shape an organization where iteration is embraced and this idea that really we never fully arrive and the work is never over, then there really isn’t a need for a label such as WIP. So Kate, those are just a few examples around learning and unlearning and this idea of a few hopefully practical examples of what you might see in a learning organization.
That’s wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing those practical steps and you’re definitely changing a lot of behaviors there. Well, in preparation for this conversation, I also did some research and I came across the Harvard Business Review where David Garvin was saying that the rate an organization is learning is the only sustainable factor for organizations these days. So my question to you is really what needs to be in place to continue learning as an organization?
Yeah, great question. I think of these as the ingredients in a recipe for an organization that is striving to create a culture of continuous learning and really establish themselves as a learning organization. So a few things, and I’m sure the listeners will have other ideas, but a few core things that I have found to be critical are one, first and foremost, psychological safety. And there are a lot of different definitions out there of what we mean by this. And I think the most kind of simplistic but poignant way to describe this that’s really stuck for me is employees need, and all team members, again, regardless of how long they’ve been in the organization, their level, et cetera, really need to believe and feel in their bones that they can make mistakes without retribution. That I can put myself out there, try something new, not do it perfectly the first time, maybe even make a big mistake, and that I will be given grace around that, and that I’ll be supported in the learning that can come out of that mistake. So psychological safety’s a big one.
Okay, so a second ingredient, I would say, that is absolutely critical to building a learning organization or creating a culture of continuous learning, is a culture of continuous feedback. Feedback is absolutely our greatest tool to help facilitate not only our own growth by asking for feedback, but also certainly as leaders and people managers, it is the greatest tool we have to help our people and other colleagues learn and grow.
A third critical ingredient is, we’ve talked a little bit about this, but it’s really beginning to understand and frankly honor the role that unlearning plays in learning new ways of doing and being, in the workplace or frankly anywhere in our lives. And another kind of more practical way to think about this is in order to be convinced to try something new or to do something in a different way, I have to really understand that why what I have learned previously, or the narrative I hold in my head based on previous learnings, is no longer serving me or the organization. So that’s really kind of one of those first critical steps in understanding how unlearning plays such a significant role in the learning that we are striving to achieve, both for ourselves and for our teams.
And finally, I’d say one additional ingredient critical to learning within an organization is really creating a culture that celebrates mistakes and the lessons learned from those mistakes, and ensuring that that mindset and that practice are integrated into the fabric of the company. And when I say the fabric of the company, I’m talking about not the things that happen once or twice a year, but those daily or weekly rituals, practices that we have, within our organizations. So anything from team meetings to company wide meetings to presentations or fireside chats done by leaders. When we think about what gets rewarded, how are we compensating people, what are we celebrating, maybe through formal awards programs, how do we bake learning into our projects by creating post action reviews or moments to pause and debrief and to collectively learn with one another?
So those would be the four things I’d say, Kate. Psychological safety, culture of continuous feedback, understanding the role unlearning plays in learning, and finally, celebrating mistakes and the lessons learned.
This is great. And while the organizations have these all four components and is continuing being a learning organization, I’m curious how do you measure the success so you know that you’re continuing being that organization, whether it’s on an organizational level or at the individual level?
Yeah, it’s a great question and this is kind of the hump, I think, some folks need to get over when they think about doing something outside of the box. The example I gave earlier was kind of moving away from a more traditional performance based culture and systems of performance management, where we’ve learned one way to measure success. And so how, I would say, in a learning culture, or where we are really putting learning at the center of all we do, I’d probably change the word success to progress, because what we’re actually measuring is not the ultimate accomplishment, but where someone is within a continuum of growth in their current job level. So for instance, within our organization, we have within each job level, there are three growth milestones and we articulate those as exploring, delivering, and mastering. And at first glance you might think like, ah, that’s just another way of articulating performance ratings, but it’s not.
And we’re really clear about this with employees and talk about how what this is measuring is not the output, and what they are being invited in these learning and growth cycles, and learning and growth conversations with their managers to focus on, it’s not coming in with a proving mindset where I have to show you and tell you about all of my accomplishments, all of the outcomes, everything that was kind of the end result, but rather it’s quite the opposite of what many of us have learned professionally growing up in a variety of organizations where, where we focus is more on the inputs and the process itself. And so great, it’s understood you’ve accomplished these things, but how did you get there? What has been that learning progress over the past six months? What are the skills that you either have built that have progressed or maybe new skills that you’ve begun to acquire?
And then ultimately for us, in lieu of a performance management system with ratings, we leverage these growth milestones as a way to both celebrate kind of the incremental growth along the way, as well as then we tie our compensation framework to these growth milestones. So in essence, the more you learn within our organization, the more you earn. And what makes this fundamentally work for us is that we have an inherent belief that if we focus on the learning and growth of employees in ways that are relevant to the work that they are doing, to the mission of the organization, that the performance will take care of itself. That if people are engaged, if they are growing and learning and acquiring new skills, that then that will translate into the impact that we are hoping to deliver, in our case to social ventures that are out doing incredible work in the world and improving lives.
Well that’s wonderful, Brooke. Honestly, RippleWorks sounds like a really innovative organization with the practices that you’re doing, so thank you for sharing all of them. Brooke, one of our podcast guests has asked, what can leaders do in their environment? Meaning, what can leaders do tomorrow to move towards more of a learning organization?
I love this question because when we think about what can you do differently tomorrow, it feels highly practical and very actionable, which is something I feel like we’re always striving for. So yeah, maybe just a few things, a few suggestions. One encouragement or nudge I would give is really starting with yourself, start to reframe feedback. I think we all know that feedback, in many cases kind of comes with a lot of baggage for folks. And often we hear feedback described as either good or bad or positive or negative. And so the reframe that I would offer you to kind of try on for size and kind of squirrel around in your head a bit is this idea that it’s all positive and good. All feedback regardless of if it’s reinforcing feedback where you’re telling someone that was amazing XYZ and I want to see more of that.
Or if it’s more developmental where you’re pointing out where maybe someone’s behavior had some unintended negative consequence on someone or impact, and here’s what they might do differently. So I think there’s this reframe and an opportunity around feedback that really all feedback is positive because it is the greatest tool we have, and the gift we can give to each other is to help them grow. Of course, as long as it’s done with kindness and with care. So that’s one I think reframing feedback.
A second one is something we talked about earlier in terms of an ingredient, or what you might see in a learning organization, is this invitation to see every person in your workplace, regardless of their age, tenure position level, as having something to both teach as well as something to learn. And so I think it is seeing the youngest employee or the newest employee in your workplace as having something to teach and learn just as much as your most senior leaders, your CEO.
And it almost works in reverse when we think about senior leadership. And frankly, for many of us may provide a bit of relief in this idea that if we never fully arrive, no matter how much knowledge, experience we amass, there is always something for us to learn. And so kind of just seeing that in others and honoring that and all the folks you work with.
A third opportunity I would say that you could start tomorrow is really as leaders, and in your leadership role, getting into the practice of being the first one to acknowledge when you don’t know what to do, or you actually don’t know something, or you see an opportunity for you to learn something. Probably goes without saying, and I think in our minds, we all know that this is a helpful thing to do that it really invites, then, others, especially when this is coming from someone in a position of leadership above you in the organization, invites others to do the same. But I think it’s one of those that sounds nice in theory and can be much more difficult in practice. So just that nudge to be brave and to really start to model that it’s okay that you don’t know everything, and acknowledging and being honest about that.
And finally kind of ending where we started at the beginning of this podcast, this idea of improving everything instead of proving anything, I would just encourage you, on an individual level, start to try that on for size. The next time you’re feeling nervous, you’re going to possibly give a big presentation, or you’re meeting with a group of folks that you haven’t engaged with before. Think about really entering that situation, that meeting, that conversation, through a learner’s mindset where you’re there to improve everything and invite others to do the same, instead of showing up with more of a performance mindset where you come in ready to prove anything and everything.
Yeah. This has been great really Brooke, and to give you the part of the feedback to say is this has been amazing. Thank you so much for being here and I’m hoping our learners will get to learn as much as I did today. And it’s really great to hear about vulnerability and how brave you are and how brave people at RippleWorks are. And it’s a lot about what I’m hearing is being vulnerable and being able to change their mindset because we’re so engraved in the behaviors day to day and what we’re used to do and this little change is a lot. And so it’s really great to hear some of the practical tips and things that people go through as really their own evolution to be there and to learn for themselves and for the company. So thank you for your time today. And last question, how can our listeners get a hold of you?
Yeah, I think probably the best way to connect is on LinkedIn. My name is, again, Brooke Rufo Hill. And feel free to send me an invitation to connect, and message me with any questions or anything you’d like to go into further. I would love to learn from you all as well, and happy to connect, and look forward to continuing the conversation.
Thank you so much, Brooke. I really appreciate speaking with you today.
Thanks so much, Kate. It’s been fun and really grateful for the opportunity.