Positive Change Without Authority: A Night For Intrapreneurs

organizational change

We’re always looking for interesting ways to connect with people and organizations who are excited about organizational culture and change as much as we are! And last week we got just that opportunity in San Francisco, at the event, “Culture Design: Positive Change Without Authority.” This workshop was led by Christopher White to promote his new book, Changing Your Company From the Inside Out: A Guide For Social Intrapreneurs, and was organized by Culture Lab X, “a global community of founders, designers and practitioners who curate conversations, connect communities and experiment with the future of work.”

From the moment we entered, the buzz in the room was immediately palpable; there was so much passion and desire for attendees to learn how to change their organizations from within using some of the lessons from social movements, or larger scale group actions that mobilize for change.

After sharing his own story of his failed attempt to change the water bottle use at a company as a summer intern, and contrasting that with another case study of a successful intraprenurial organizational change, Christopher led participants through an exercise where in pairs we workshopped a specific intrapreneurial change we wanted to make in our own organizations.

These intrapreneurial changes were framed within the broader context of social movements; a sense of urgency and ability to mobilize people is crucial for making change, whether in society or in an organization.

Some big picture concepts that we gleaned throughout the evening regarding how to think about making an intrapreneurial change included:

  • When: How does the timing play a role in the specific change? Is there an opening? Can you create a sense of urgency?
  • Who: How are you engaging key allies and a variety of influencers within the system to get more support for and momentum around the change?
  • Why: How are you telling the story of why the change is important? What’s in it for the entire organization as well as individualized groups that will make them want to mobilize around the change?
  • How: Given your understanding of your organization’s culture and its potential aversion to change, how are you best tying this change to existing programs and systems? Or how are you framing it as an experimental pilot or focusing on the change being carried out by a self-organized group within the organization?

In our pair at the workshop, we found that thinking through the answers to these questions allowed for a more strategic, dynamic approach in making a plan of action for implementing the change.

At gothamCulture, we take a similar approach to supporting organizational change with our clients; our Assess phase allows us to understand our client’s organization and our Dialogue phase includes conversations around some of these broader issues before we move on to Design and Implementation together with our clients.

Special thanks to Culture Lab X for organizing this great community event and for building energy around the importance of organizational culture and how to make change in organizations. We’re excited to read Christopher’s book and learn more.

What other events should we be attending? What are other books about organizational change should be next on our list?

How to Manage a Rapidly Growing Company: 5 Productivity Tips

rapidly growing company

I have worked in finance for over 15 years and have always made sure that I am servicing ‘the client’ to the best of my ability.In most cases, my clients are my fellow employees and the executive team.

One of the biggest issues that I have encountered over the years is that, as the financial person in the company, I am expected to make sure our employees and bills are paid and the invoices are collected, all while trying to find time somewhere in between there to bring value and visibility to the financials for the executive team. It is hard to give the 30,000 foot view when you are stuck in the weeds of your daily work.

My current role as General Manager of gothamCulture is no different:There are high-level tasks that must be completed in addition to a barrage of daily tasks and requests from our growing team.

I imagine that you, as a leader in your company, can relate.

How do you effectively manage everything on your plate in a rapidly growing company? The answer for me has always been to work smarter, not harder. With that in mind, here are 5 of my favorite productivity tips that I’ve learned over the years:

1. Outsource Your Payroll

There is absolutely no good reason why anyone should be doing their own payroll processing; even Cisco Systems, a tech 100 company, uses an outside vendor.  You cannot hire someone for the cheap price that most payroll providers charge and, more importantly, you are avoiding all the liability of making a mistake on tax reporting and remittances.  Leave this to the payroll experts and focus on value-add.

2. Automate What You Can

As almost any support staff knows, a lot of little tasks can all add up to one big distraction.  For example, I was the Controller for one company still doing paper timecards – the process was cumbersome and took the better part of a day to validate and then enter into the payroll system.  Almost immediately, I moved the company to an electronic timekeeping system, cut the process down to an hour and a half, and got that day back every other week.

The less we touch data, the faster the process and the less room for error.  At gothamCulture, we use a time entry and expense system and align everything else to it.That way, there is one data entry point to monitor and validate. Everything else; payroll, invoicing, payables, and reporting, flow from that system semi-automatically and save a tremendousamount of time.  Even something as simple as creating invoice templates can help – no amount of automation is too small!

Automate everything you can and get that time back for more important tasks.

3. Stick to a System

I am a world-class procrastinator, so being a finance professional presents somewhat of a dilemma for me. In response, I’ve learned to manage my daily tasks through a series of systems. I operate by my calendar, checklists and processes. I look at my calendar to see what is coming up the next day and the rest of the week (orMonday as it may be) and have links in my calendar to specific checklists and/or processes like reconciliations, journal entries, month-end prep, month-end close, AR, AP, etc.

4. Minimize Distractions

Keeping your inbox clean and no web browsing – you have heard this a million different ways, but the fact is that this is a major distraction for many people. I give myself 15 minutes in the morning to look at nytimes.com and then shut the tab. Same with email: the night before I look at items needing attention and address them in the first 1/2 hour of work.  After that, it is for true emergencies only until after lunch, when I take another 1/2 to answer emails.  I don’t always stay true to this schedule but have found it to help me be more productive by limiting the amount of online distractions throughout the day.

5. Keep Meetings On Point

Meetings can be a huge time suck for a company of any size. To control the amount of time we spend on them, we do a 1/2 hour standup meeting every Monday and a 1/2 hour closeout meeting every Friday for support and planning staff.  These meetings are deliberately kept brief and are supposed to help the team as a whole know the workflow and see where they might be able to support the team.  In addition, we hold a 1/2 hour meeting after the Monday meeting for the larger team for quick Q&A’s, operational announcements and anything else that that the entire staff needs to know.  This keeps the team efficiently aligned; aware of what’s going on besides what they immediately touch, and lets them know that the support is always available.


So why do I do these productivity shortcuts?  Like I said at the start of the conversation, it is all about customer support and the customer is my internal team. These shortcuts help me make the everyday ‘time sucks’ as minimal as possible, which leaves the maximum time available to support the team and analyze the finances for having meaningful discussions with the leadership.

We are a small, growing consultancy with enormous flexibility, but for someone like me that can mean I am still working after putting my kids to bed.  This process helps me organize my workflow and deliver ‘true’ value-add while ensuring that I have enough down time after work and on weekends to enjoy the life that I am working so hard to earn money for in the first place!

Redefining Business As Usual: An Introduction To Orghacking

redefine business orghacking

Why is it that many large-scale change initiatives fall short of expectations?  Some might say it’s because leaders weren’t communicating the effort effectively. Others might say employees were stuck in a “business as usual” attitude. I would argue that the failure of many change efforts can be attributed to three factors:

  1. The organization didn’t target the right individuals
  2. The organization didn’t incentivize the change to match the values of its employees
  3. The organization tried to make the change too substantial rather than incremental

I’d like to offer an alternative approach that leverages insights from emergence, antifragility, and analytics to circumvent standard “top-down” strategies.

In recent years, the term “hacking” has grown in popularity, especially “growth hacking” within the marketing field.  Growth hacking involves using analytics to target specific consumer groups, test which messages are successful in driving viewership, and scale the most effective strategies.

This process can also be applied to implement organizational change, hence I’d like to term this alternative approach “orghacking.”

Orghacking offers a way to implement rapid, testable, repeatable, and scalable interventions that bypass conventional organizational limitations like hierarchy, stovepipes, and communications protocols. Each intervention caters to the values of key demographic groups and leverages the many social networks and relationships that exist among employees.

Changing Our Perspectives

Many large-scale change efforts see the world from a top-down perspective.  Leadership has an idea, they develop a policy to capture the idea, and they rely on managers to implement the policy at the ground level.  In this approach, information moves up through the hierarchical chain while decisions flow down.

The problem with this strategy is that it often fails to appreciate the complexities inherent within an organization.  Employees often interpret and respond to situations differently.  They may also interact and organize very differently across departments.  As a result, organizations function more as a network of clusters, where employees congregate around certain individuals and processes and share ideas and values with those closest to them.


A top-down approach may easily glaze over these factors, leading to unintended consequences such as employees misinterpreting the policy or outright ignoring it. The disconnect between top-down strategies and the way organizations inherently operate makes it difficult to align the workforce to a new strategy and vision.

Enter Orghacking

Orghacking, on the other hand, bypasses the standard top-down approach and instead moves from the focal point outward.


As the diagram above shows, orghacking involves a combination of process mapping and culture-based analytics to pinpoint what issues exist, where they occur, and who is involved. It then uses precise interventions to target hubs within the organization’s social networks, shape the intervention to tap into the influencers’ values to incentivize behaviors, allow the intervention to spread throughout the social network, measure its impact, and modify the approach.

In this way, orghacking flips conventional logic on its head by making interventions small in scope, targeted to the individual, and adaptable to new insights.

How does orghacking work?

Based on the diagram above, orghacking entails the following steps:

Step 1: Executing process mapping to understand challenges

One of the more succinct ways to identify bottlenecks is through process mapping. Process mapping allows us to see the flow of how products/deliverables are produced in an organization.

We can gauge how effective certain parts of the process are by obtaining feedback from focus groups, looking at financial data to assess returns, and examining process metrics to determine where delays occurred.

Through this approach, we can pinpoint specifically what challenges exist, what type of issue it is (people, process, tools related), and where it exists in the process.

Step 2: Leveraging analytics to discover insights about employees

Organizations are overflowing with data that can be used in orghacking.  Everything from personality indicators to satisfaction surveys give us insights into the different types of people who work at an organization, how they think, and what they value.

Depending on the level of granularity in the data, we can even look at correlations among the responses to identify connections among different sets of values/attitudes and demographics. Examples would be if people who rate the organization low on trust also tend to rate the organization low on delegating authority. Or, whether males in purchasing tend to rate the organization low on trust also tend to value clearly defined processes.

The goal is to identify hidden insights about our employees and find connections.  In the end, we can develop profiles for different types of people in our organization, each including a demographic indicator and one or more values/attitudes.

Step 3: Engaging in observation to understand how people organize

Emergence and self-organization are fundamental to how organizations operate.  Understanding how people organize to get work done is a key component of orghacking.

Observations can be conducted in-person by seeing who talks to whom and/or through data driven methods such as counting the number of individuals that enter a given room or office. Observations should be validated with employees (even anecdotally) to verify their accuracy and determine the context of the discussion, like why people are congregating around a specific person.  This helps us understand who are the key influencers in the organization that help move work forward.

Notionally, we assume that people congregate around others with similar values and perspectives, enabling influencers to spread ideas and permeate change.

Step 4: Using all three to create custom-tailored interventions

Orghacking is different from other approaches in that it aims to change the most fundamental units within organizations. Ultimately this comes down to identifying the influencers and those closely connected to them, communicating in their language, and developing incentives based on their profile to drive the desired change in behavior.  This can increase the likelihood that a message and intervention will stick.

Another difference is how interventions are implemented. Orghacking implements numerous bite-sized interventions that invoke small changes in someone’s behavior.

Each intervention is conducted using an A/B test approach, where there are intervention and control groups.  This allows us to estimate the impact and effectiveness of any one approach.  Since the change is small, it can be easier to assimilate, and follow-on interventions can be conducted in rapid succession. Interventions are also given time to work their way through the various social networks and will look different across groups.

For this reason, change occurs much more organically to the unique culture of a particular group or sub-group, allowing it to scale over time.

Finally, due to its small size and scope, the risks associated with any given intervention are fairly miniscule.  The failure of any one intervention does not jeopardize the whole effort.  In fact, failures give us ample opportunities to fine-tune our strategies.

Step 5: Gauging the impact of our interventions

It’s important to have a clear idea of the desired outcomes from an intervention.  Outcomes should be measurable, even with something as simple as a yes/no metric.  Outcomes help us determine whether an intervention was successful.  The lessons learned from this step allow us to determine what went wrong and make adjustments to improve the approach in the future.

Step 6: Adapting strategies based on lessons learned

While some approaches succeed, others will fail.  These opportunities enable us to modify our strategies to optimize the message and incentive.

Best practices within one intervention can be applied to others as well.  Eventually, we can fine-tune our approach to a set of key strategies that work for a given group, or even across groups. Then, we can broaden the outreach of the interventions to other hubs and influencers. Over time, larger segments of the organization will start exhibiting the desired outcomes and effectively internalize the change.

Repeat Steps 4-6 until the desired end-state is achieved

Coming Full Circle

The effectiveness of change ultimately depends on how it is packaged.  Orghacking uses micro targeting to fine-tune the package to better incentivize behaviors.  By doing so, it gives us a highly adaptable and effective way to systematically internalize change within our organizations.  In this way, it can be a preferable alternative to traditional top-down change strategies.

How to Build a Sustainable Startup Culture For Rapid Growth

In today’s fiercely competitive startup landscape, entrepreneurs are faced with new challenges on a daily basis. Beyond the actual viability of the market for their product or service, they must ensure that they focus on building a sustainable organization that continues to thrive as they grow and change.

Guiding a company from startup to success means finding the balance between a sustainable growth strategy, a culture that reflects your values and supports your people, and a leadership team that will help drive the change.

Finding that balance is a challenge, however. It’s not just about having a cool office or great benefits. You have to ensure your employees and your culture are aligned with your vision for growth. Your leadership has to be invested in the values and direction of the company; fostering an ecosystem that drives the behaviors you need for success.

Know WHY You’re In Business

The most important aspect of your startup culture is ensuring it aligns with WHY you’re in business. Is it about providing exceptional customer service?  Is it speed and efficiency?  World change?

Whatever it is, the culture should be reflected in what your customers see and experience. What are people passionate about, and what is the ideal environment that supports that? Some would argue attention to culture is even more important than processes, plans, and requirements.

Keep in mind: looking for culture fit is great when hiring, so long as you want to reinforce the culture you currently have. If, however, you are looking to change the culture, hiring and keeping people who embody those values and behaviors is the way to go.

Start by understanding why you’re in business and what kinds of values define your organization. Starting with an intentional and authentic understanding of this can serve as a hiring lens as your company grows.

It’s then the responsibility of senior leadership and other key personnel to give it the momentum you need to drive change in the right direction. You have to ensure that your people feel supported by the leadership and culture so they stick around.

How Important Are First Impressions?

Today’s rapidly growing startups are often pressured to find the balance between looking cool, hip and successful to attract top talent, while not blowing their budget on office space and benefits.

While a small company cannot keep up with the likes of Google in terms of benefits or campus amenities, first impressions are still critical to attracting and retaining the right people.

Careful attention must be paid to the culture that is visible. But, more importantly, the substance must be there as well. Perks, games, and exposed brick walls mean nothing if they are simply window dressing. They must serve some sort of greater purpose within the organization.

Start with ‘why’ and align your culture and your people around those values.

3 Tips For Building A Thriving Culture

Here are three specific considerations for your rapidly growing company to build and nurture a sustainable startup culture:

1. Use core values as the hiring lens. Core values should align with, and reflect company culture. If they don’t, it may be time for you and your team to do some rethinking to do on that front first!

Core values are where an organization has opportunity to reflect culture in written form. So much of culture is intangible or understood and not necessarily discussed or documented. Revisit the ideas that inspired you to be in business in the first place, and use them as a compass to guide your hiring decisions.

Put those core values to work.

2. Long to hire and quick to fire. It’s an old business axiom but it has some relevance here. Take the time to explore, inquire, test, and evaluate each candidate to ensure that they align well with your organizational culture. Do they believe in the same values that your company follows? Are they going to proactively improve the existing culture as your company grows and changes?

Having extended dialogue with each of your candidates also ensures you’re giving them the opportunity to evaluate company fit as well. Beyond just wanting or needing a job for a job’s sake, what role can your company play in their career and/or personal development over time? Does your company’s mission align with their goals as a person and a professional?

“Quick to fire” may not be as important here as “quick to ensure people are sticking to core values” and practicing the kinds of behaviors and qualities you want to see reflected in your culture.

3. Disrupt patterns through culture oriented actions and events. Reinforce your company culture through disruptive and experiential organization activities.

Internally, this means nurturing your culture among your team. Host events to discuss organizational objectives and provide opportunities for people to provide their input. Think about development programs to train on specific intended outcomes.

Externally, it means creating customer experiences that involve personnel in culturally specific ways. These are opportunities to show off your company culture to your customers, and give them an idea of how your values and your people align with your branding and customer experience.


It is almost too easy to ignore culture in a growing/thriving startup.  We get caught up in the operations of success, the glory of new outcomes, or the challenges faced.  Ignoring culture now, however, at this crucial juncture, more than likely creates trouble spots as the company grows.  Being mindful of using culture as a hiring lens, as a means for guiding continued development, and as a springboard for a broader diversification of experiential activities will lead to benefits not only in the maturation of culture, but in the growth and success of the business overall.

5 Steps to Preventing Brain Drain in Your Organization

When a key employee decides to leave your organization, a million thoughts fly through your head at once: Why is this employee leaving in the first place? Was there anything you could have done to prevent his departure? And, of course, what will you do without him?

If that employee had unique expertise in a specific area, losing him could be a serious threat to your organization. Don’t let important institutional knowledge slide out the door on that employee’s last day! Instead, develop a culture that values the effective and continuous transfer of knowledge so the loss of one employee doesn’t bring your company to a standstill.

You Need a Culture That Supports Knowledge Transfer

An employee serving notice isn’t the only scenario in which you may need someone else to understand a key process or how to operate a critical system. What if your office manager falls ill, leading you to fall behind on accounts payable? Someone on your team should be able to step up and address the situation to keep your company from getting hit with late fees. If your business suddenly experiences rapid growth, you’ll need processes in place to allow you to transfer knowledge and continue to scale quickly.

The best thing you can do to prepare for these situations is to develop a culture that supports the ongoing transfer of knowledge. Here are some ways to keep employees engaged in the knowledge-sharing process:

1. Develop a culture of support. Long before you ever need one employee to transfer knowledge to another, you should work on developing a company culture that’s supportive of these types of efforts. Show that you value continual learning and people’s ability to step in during a crisis. Both the trainer and the trainee should feel that their efforts are recognized and appreciated.

2. Create a checklist. As I described in a previous article on knowledge transfer, helicopter pilots go through a checklist of specific procedures before they take off. The same thing should happen during any knowledge transfer. Make a list of skills, processes, and anything else that’s important to a specific role, and use this checklist to guide training and to ensure consistency and repeatability.

3. Give learners time to transition. If an employee quits suddenly and forces you into an abrupt knowledge transfer, that’s a less-than-ideal situation to be in. In the best-case scenario, you’d give learners plenty of time to shadow the employee they’re learning from, ask questions, and gain hands-on experience for a smooth and comfortable transition.

4. Provide the right tools. While it’s sometimes good to let the departing employee help find his replacement, it’s more important that he feels comfortable in his role as a teacher. Remember: You’re essentially asking someone who’s been a doer to become a teacher, and the transition isn’t always easy. To position your team for success, train the trainer, and give him the necessary tools to teach what he knows.

5. Test the process. Don’t let the day of departure be the first time you test your process. Create simulations that force people to temporarily jump into new roles. Throughout the year, this happens naturally when people go on vacation. If a certain employee’s function comes to a grinding halt while she’s away, that may indicate that you have a gap in your system.

Ultimately, preventing brain drain and keeping your company’s collective knowledge intact rests on your culture and the value you place on people engaging in these types of behaviors. By supporting your team’s efforts to share their insights, you’ll keep all the knowledge where it belongs and ensure that your new employees are able to pick up the torch and run with it.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Manage Risk By Building Antifragile Organizational Cultures

Although it’s been out for a couple years, I recently reread Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s books The Black Swan and Antifragile.  When they came in out the midst of the recession, they quickly caught the attention of readers looking for answers as to why we didn’t see the financial crisis coming and how can we protect ourselves in the future.

When I picked them up again recently, I realized that Taleb wasn’t focused specifically on finance. Rather, the applicability of his risk mitigation paradigm across disciplines and markets.  In this light, he offers some excellent insights that are especially useful for shaping and enhancing organizational cultures.

What is Fragility?

Taleb defines fragility as systems that are negatively impacted by shocks, disruption, and disorder.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, he invents the term antifragility (mainly because there is not word in the lexicon that captures this concept) to describe systems that grow and flourish when exposed to shocks, disruption, and disorder.  Sitting in between these extremes is robustness, where a system remains neutral and neither gain nor decline from random events.

The concepts of fragility, robustness, and antifragility ultimately come down to risk.

Fragility comes about when we assume too much risk in a particular area. This hinders our ability to adapt when risks become actualized.  As an example, Taleb points to the financial sector during the financial crisis where firms had invested significant portions of their portfolio in high risk areas. Since they had not changed their practices from previous crises, they were susceptible to the same issue areas.

All it took was one big shock and these organizations crumbled. Hence; “fragile.”

Conversely, antifragility occurs when we diversify our risks and use failures (which are small because risk is dispersed) as opportunities to learn and improve the system. Taleb uses the airline industry as an example of antifragility.

When accidents occur, the airlines conduct a thorough after-action review to determine the root cause of the failure.  They then take that information and use it to update their systems and practices in their existing and future fleets.  Although tragic, the accident serves to make every subsequent flight safer and improve the airline industry as a whole.

At the outset, the distinction may seem fairly simple: fragility occurs when we have concentrated risks, antifragility occurs when risks are dispersed. But Taleb points out another critical aspect of the equation:

We have no way of knowing (1) the real level of risk we have (Taleb is skeptical of models, especially since we rarely consider the assumptions and limits they are based on), and (2) when risks will come to fruition (Taleb believes in the inevitability of large, unpredictable “black swan” events).

We are largely working in the dark and must act as if we will be exposed to risk at any moment. Therefore, the ultimate goal of antifragility is to determine how to live, act, and thrive in a world we do not fully understand.

Building An Antifragile Culture

So far, we have outlined the central ideas within the fragility/antifragility framework.  Here’s a quick recap of what we’ve covered:

  • Risks are inevitable and we have no idea when they will happen
  • Fragility = bad for growth, results from concentrated risks and lack of feedback loops, crumbles under risk
  • Antifragility = good for growth, results from dispersed risks and active use of feedback loops, flourishes from risk

How can this concept foster resilient organizational cultures?

It is not a huge leap to think that organizations and their cultures can also be fragile or antifragile. Fragile cultures are those that are unable to adapt to changing environments and unforeseen risks.

Fragile cultures are characterized by:

  • Highly centralized organizational structure
  • Dominance of one or two departments in the decision making process (all departments become exposed to the risks inherent to the dominant groups)
  • Attitudes of risk avoidance and insulation from change
  • Unsupportive of “tinkering” with new ideas on a small scale
  • Lack of (or disinterest in) feedback loops to integrate lessons learned

Antifragile cultures are those that are well versed in change and use dispersed risks as opportunities to learn more about how their organization functions under pressure and implement improvements.

Antifragile cultures are characterized by:

  • Moderately decentralized (“lean” or “flat”) organizational structure
  • All departments have say in decision making process (departments are represented in key decisions and given autonomy internally)
  • Embraces risk as opportunities for learning, disperses risks across the organization so no one risk can have a significant impact
  • High support of “tinkering” as way to test and improve the system
  • Significant interest (and use of) formal and informal feedback loops to integrate lessons learned

To illustrate the differences in these types of cultures, we can point to two real world examples.

Most large firms lean more toward the fragile side of the spectrum. Many are characterized by rigid processes, interdepartmental conflict, risk avoidance, disinterest in new ideas, poor communication, and the consolidation of risk into one or two significant projects.

Startups, on the other hand, lean more toward the antifragile side of the spectrum.  Many are characterized by agile processes, manageable conflict, risk acceptance embracing new ideas, frequent communication within and across departments, and decentralized risks across a number of projects.

This is not to say that startups are more praiseworthy than large firms. At some point, most firms will mature and transition into formalized organizations. The challenge is making this transition without jeopardizing the firm’s ability to thrive under change.

How Your Organization Can Thrive

Here are some recommendations to foster antifragile practices within your growing organization:

  1. Keep Decision Making Local: People closest to a problem are often the most equipped to solve it.  In addition, this encourages experimentation with new ideas and strategies.
  2. Encourage Frequent and Open Communications: One of the major causes of distress within organizations is the inability to communicate information across departments.  Open communication sets a precedent that new ideas are welcome and establishes a feedback loop to incorporate lessons learned and best practices.
  3. Encourage Risk Taking on a Small Scale:  Many organizations focus on “avoiding” risks, but this may unnecessarily weaken the organization in the long run.  Avoiding risk prevents us from learning from our failures, risks accumulate and overtime may become systemic.  Dispersed risks enable organizations to try new ideas without putting the entire organization in jeopardy.
  4. Celebrate Failure: Every failure is a learning opportunity for everyone.  Failures enable us to identify the root causes of the issue, correct the issue, and improve the overall system.  As long as failures are small and dispersed, they serve to benefit the organization as a whole.
  5. Hedge Against the Future: It’s difficult to accurately predict what the market will look like 5-10 years down the road.  Organizations should be cautious of ventures which could be a liability if the market takes a sudden turn.

Risks aren’t confined to the financial world, and are inherent in all aspects of our organizations, including culture.  The way we approach risk heavily impacts whether we succeed or fail in the ever-evolving marketplace.

Fragility and antifragility are two ways of understanding and addressing organizational risks. By using antifragile practices to leverage small risks as opportunities,we can improve the way we manage our organizations and enhance our ability to thrive during periods of rapid change.

How does your organization manage risk through culture development?

6 Key Steps to Influencing Effective Knowledge Transfer in Your Business

Before lifting a Black Hawk helicopter off the ground, the pilot goes through a lengthy written checklist: oil pressure, fuel pump and generator switches, safety harnesses, altimeters — on and on it goes. When I flew Black Hawks in Iraq, I didn’t dream of trying to memorize this list. That would’ve been dangerous. The best way to store and retrieve that information was a notebook.

Similarly, doctors don’t recite every patient’s medical history from memory. That’s what a medical chart is for, and it could mean the difference between life and death. In fact, the Mayo Clinic employs a sophisticated knowledge management system that captures what everyone knows and archives it

Even the transportation industry is getting in on knowledge transfer. Loriann Hoffman, vice president of talent and organization development for the New York City Transit Authority, shared with me that her organization is implementing several knowledge transfer initiatives. Safely moving more than 8 million(yes, million) people by bus or subway every weekday is no small feat, after all.

While your organization may not be responsible for people’s lives, getting the right information to the right people at the right time is still a critical component to your business’s long-term success.

What if the only person who understands a critical part of your company leaves? What if the marketing and engineering teams aren’t talking to each other except casually in the cafeteria?

Are you going to rely on that? Of course not! That’s where effective knowledge management comes into play.

Develop an Effective Knowledge Transfer System

Knowing who knows what, who needs to know what, and how to transfer that knowledge is critical — especially when so much of a company’s worth consists of information. Investing in developing an effective way to transfer knowledge may, in the least, save you some headaches and, at the most, save your business.

Here are some suggestions for implementing a system for knowledge management and transfer in your company:

1. Make it formal. While water-cooler banter is better than nothing, you need consistent, clear processes and tools. As an aviator, I’m partial to lists.

My team creates documents that clearly outline how a process works. We also use checklists and sample templates to ensure that following the process is easy. This increases the confidence of the team members who know that they’re not expected to just “figure it out” when the time comes. Even something as simple as taking notes during meetings and sharing them will keep your employees in the loop.

2. Create duplication. I’m not suggesting that you need two people for every job, but you do need to plan for the worst. Cross-training can mitigate the risk of a key person leaving with a head full of knowledge. Ensure that there are at least two people who can step in during an emergency.

For example, imagine a football team. If the quarterback is injured, another player has to step into that position. But what if no one has practiced that role? Your team probably wouldn’t win the game.

3. Train, train, train. By providing your team members with formal training opportunities, you ensure that you have duplication of skills in the system. However, if you don’t have the resources for formal training, you can try this simulation: Remove a key person from the system temporarily so the team can see what happens. If things fall apart quickly, people will be eager to figure out how to prevent that failure from happening in the future.

For organizations that have effectively transferred knowledge to others, these situations present opportunities for employees to put their knowledge into practice and build their confidence.

4. Use systems. Technology can capture key information for later generations to use. They shouldn’t have to relearn what others discovered. By standing on the shoulders of those who have come before, newcomers can take the ball and run with it rather than spinning their wheels rehashing the same ground that’s already been covered.

5. Create opportunities. Set up informal gatherings where team members can exchange information and develop networks organically. Develop communities of practice so employees can work together to find and share information. This is a great way to capture and share knowledge with a broad audience.

6. Be smart when using consultants. While a consultant can be a valuable asset, keep in mind that they’ll leave after the work is through. Make sure you plan to have their knowledge transferred to internal personnel so you can carry on once they’ve departed.

For any of these practices to make a real difference in your business, you have to communicate the importance of knowledge transfer, explain how it will be done, and, most importantly, practice it yourself.

If you can do that, knowledge transfer will be a key resource and differentiator for your organization. By continuously spot-checking to make sure the right knowledge is being captured and shared, your organization can leap ahead of competitors and seamlessly transition during the departure of key personnel.

On top of that, your employees will be more engaged in their work and have a more in-depth understanding of the systems around them. When your employees feel confident in their ability to step in and help, the different parts of your organization will move together effortlessly. With effective knowledge transfer, your organization will be healthier and happier overall.

This article originally appeared on Forbes 

The Culture Implications Of Starbucks New Dress Code

starbucks culture

Starbucks has gained a lot of attention in the wake of their recent dress code policy changes, allowing their employees to wear black denim, colored ties, and allowing visible tattoos.

This may seem like a small change, but in the context of recent controversy over this very issue, it made us wonder what the deeper implications were for these policy changes.

We asked our team at gothamCulture how they viewed this recent change, and what bigger implications for the coffee giant’s organizational culture may be underlying it. Here are some of our thoughts:

Stuart Farrand – Associate

stuart-farrandI’d say its 60% PR and 40% pragmatism and believe the two go hand in hand.  A growing percentage of the population has tattoos, especially within the services industry.  At the moment, having a tattoo doesn’t carry the stigma it used to. In fact, it’s become more of a cultural norm.

From a PR standpoint, it did seem that Starbucks was out of touch with society.  From a pragmatic standpoint, I think they realized that tattoos are really not something they can control. It’s much easier to acquiesce than to make the dress code more restrictive (i.e. wearing long sleeves to cover up tattoos, regulating the color of the long sleeve shirt, etc.), which would also be more difficult to enforce.

In terms of what other organizations might learn from this, I see two big takeaways:

1. Weigh the costs and benefits of the rules you impose on your employees.  Dress code is a good example, but it the same is true for broader rules across your organization.  At what point do the rules (and enforcing the rules) actually impede someone’s ability to do their job?

2. Organizations must be flexible with emerging social norms, and try to accommodate them as much as possible.

Samantha Goldman – Associate

samantha-goldmanThis is a great example of an organization updating a policy to act more in accordance with its values and mission, and thereby preserve its own integrity as an organization. The anti-tattoo policy or a very strict dress code did seem to be in contradiction with Starbucks first value of “Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome”. It also undermines their mission, “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

While any organization must have some guidelines for physical appearance/dress code, employees can’t be blatantly prohibited from showing up physically in a way that reflects their own human spirits, especially when “warmth and belonging” are guiding values in the brand’s interaction with customers. Such policies are a critical component of an organization’s culture. If the organization is trying to create a culture that reflects their mission and values, it’s critical that policies are aligned as much as possible.

Mark Emerson – General Manager

mark-emersonStarbucks is bowing to the inevitable shift to a new generation.  This is a push/pull situation, in that their customers are younger, and the younger generation doesn’t view body art as any big deal. And, in most cases it is an expression of individuality – which pulls the company forward.

Then you have the push aspect. The company wants to show they are keeping with the times. What better way to do that than to have their baristas reflect a large portion of their customer base?  This feeds very much into the culture and system of values Starbucks wants to reflect: one of making the employees the bottom-line and everything else will flow from that.

Secondly, and I think Starbucks is always looking at the practicality of things. They were probably starting to run into a recruitment issue. They are, in some ways, the “McDonald’s of coffee” and provide starter jobs for many teens/twenty-somethings. Banning tattoos was bound to trip them up with their enormous staffing needs.

This also reminds me of the story in the NY Times about the Starbucks worker who was having so much trouble getting steady work hours and trying to care for her young son.  Literally, within one day of the story coming out, the company changed its global policy and vowed to make hours more steady for it workers.

What other corporation of this size would make such a change so rapidly, simply because it is the right thing to do?  They could simply have said they’d ‘study’ the problem, but they massively adjusted their entire work process because of their culture of putting employees first.

Dustin Schneider –  Senior Associate

Dustin SchneiderThere has definitely been a “latte” attention recently about Starbucks’ decision to allow employees to have their tattoos visible.

The purpose of an organization’s core values is to help guide behavior.  They provide clear guardrails on what’s expected, what’s allowed, and what should be encouraged.  To have a value of belonging and inclusion, while at the same time asking employees to hide their real selves, seems counterintuitive.

I commend them for continually bouncing their policies up against their stated values in order to ensure that decisions they make are in alignment with them.

Cary Paul – Senior Associate

cary-paulStarbucks is in a unique position in its industry, and the business world in general.  People love it or hate it.  Some people that love the coffee actually hate the business side, and the idea that they put mom and pop shops out of business.  But most business people respect that Starbucks almost single-handedly built the whole idea of a new culture around coffee and people being together… again, around coffee.

As a result, their every move is watched and scrutinized, and they can’t make a move in their business without at least some thought to the PR implications. That part of it was most likely at least in the discussion. But, I think this was about something bigger: freedom of choice, and inclusion, as defined in the core values.

 As Schultz discusses in his book, the core values are the critical lens through which the company operates.  Period.  When they didn’t, things went sour.

These have massive implications on workplace culture, especially as a model for a company adhering to the tenets of its core values.  And, if the company stands behind its commitments to those values, it becomes more likely that the employees will.

The Starbucks reversal of their tattoo guidelines may have been partly a PR move. What seems more likely, however, is that the company cares enough about their core values to constantly change and adapt in order to reflect what is important to their people.

Starbucks is doing well to authentically make changes to policies in order to better reflect their core values and build a culture through their people. They may not get everything right the first time, but they are aware of the journey – and are paying attention to when change needs to happen.

What did you think when you heard about this latest news? And, is Starbucks a model for evolution of employee policies that other corporations should consider?

Implementing Change, Part 2: Recognizing our Human Nature

In Implementing Change, Part 1: With More Predictability Than the Weather, I discussed how reflecting on your own reactions to feeling out of control in relation to the weather is helpful in gaining empathy towards employees who often feel like the changes in their organization are as unpredictable as the weather.

As humans, we respond to our environments, whether it’s meteorological climate or to our organizational climate. There is research and a model that reminds us that we as humans respond to our environments in the same ways that we might only think of other animals responding–even in organizational settings. For example, we are grounded in our innate tendency to monitor our environment for threats and rewards and to then take action to avoid threats and move towards rewards. This circuitry and these impulses in our brains impact our relationships with others and more broadly how we interact with our environment and ultimately make decisions.

The SCARF model (developed by David Rock) highlights the importance of looking at these basic human instincts when trying to understand social interactions.

It is crucial to look at our sense of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness.

  • Status: Our relative importance to others
  • Certainty: Our being able to predict the future
  • Autonomy: Our sense of control over events
  • Relatedness: Our sense of safety with others
  • Fairness: Our perception of fair exchanges between people

These feelings are at play in our life, and definitely at work when we think about how people experience their relationships with others in organizations. For example, my sense of autonomy (my sense of being able to control events) is exactly where I feel challenged when I cannot stop the oncoming winter and changing seasons in the outside world. I bet you could think of tons of examples within your own organization when your sense of autonomy was challenged; this is an often felt sentiment in organizations going through change. Similarly, my sense of certainty (being able to predict the future) is challenged from the weather when I don’t know if my flight will be canceled due to snowstorms, or if my much anticipated picnic in the park will have to be rescheduled; this sense of “not knowing” is also all too common in organizations when impactful changes are announced at random.

In organizations, it is crucial for leaders not to forget our humanity and to always try to address such needs as our needs for certainty and autonomy. This is even more critical when an organization is going through change. It’s important to be constantly asking:

  • How can we implement changes that allow people to have the most control in the process and a greater say in the change?
  • How can we be clearer about upcoming events and changes so that people know what to expect as much as we are able to predict?
  • How do we communicate this out in a way that respects people’s needs for certainty and autonomy?

The more we can support people’s needs rather than leaving them ‘out in the cold’ feeling a lack of autonomy and certainty, the less likely they will shut down due to a threat response. The more we can give people a sense of autonomy and certainty in their work, the more likely they will be able to have positive relationships with others and be productive in their organization.

Implementing Change, Part 1: With More Predictability than the Weather

If you’re like me in that you wish every day was summer, but you happen to live in a place that too soon will be covered with snow, you might be feeling some anticipatory blues. Yes, there are still many months (hopefully) until we need to pull out our hats and gloves (see my previous post about putting them away!) But, just the occasional chill in the air and the noticeably shorter days reminds me where we are headed–and that’s a long, cold winter.

In my work in organizational change and my desire to understand how people react to change and handle transitions, I often find it helpful to reflect on my personal reactions towards changes in the weather. Understanding my own feelings of anticipation and loss as the seasons cycle allows me greater empathy towards individuals in organizations where they experience changes that are also seemingly not under their control.

Organizations are their own world and the people within them often are at the whim of the leadership or the marketplace–feeling as vulnerable as we do when the seasons change. And, while we as humans have mastered indoor heating and air conditioning to protect us from the elements, all we need is a week of rain to remind us of how much we need sunshine or a debilitating blizzard to reinforce our lack of control. Even just feeling the temperature drop, watching the leaves fall, and noticing the days getting shorter reminds us that there are greater forces at work, and that we must adapt i.e. wear a jacket, or find ourselves cold.

Whether people in organizations are facing the natural ebbs and flows of organization life i.e. the yearly busy tax season or the arrival of the latest wave of new hires or are experiencing much larger disruptions such as a merger, new leadership or new systems and processes, the resulting feelings are similar and stem from a sense of lack of control.

Recognizing that people within organizations often feel at the whim of the organizations and have a lack of control, is an important data point to consider when designing any sort of organizational change. The more you can minimize this lack of control the better. Engaging people in the process, frequently communicating, and making the process as predictable as far out in advance as possible, supports people in feeling more of a sense of control and predictability.

Our nature as humans is a huge part of how we react to changes and transition in our environments. Stay tuned for Part 2: Implementing Change That Recognizes Our Human Nature where I describe a bit more specifically a model that addresses some of the key feelings we feel as humans within organizations. I also list some questions you should ask yourself during the change process in order to make sure you are considering the human needs of your employees.