Is Your Anonymous Employee Survey Doing More Harm Than Good?

We live in an era of oversharing. While most people are comfortable sharing what they ate for lunch, what they watched on TV, and what their relationship status is with 500 of their “closest” friends on Facebook and Twitter, the idea of telling their boss what they really think still feels pretty risky.

The traditional feedback process that’s become the norm in most businesses today relies on anonymous systems so employees can feel safe being open and honest with their employers. But there’s something fundamentally wrong if your employees are fearful to be open when providing feedback.

Meanwhile, leaders worry their employees won’t be forthcoming with their opinions unless they’re anonymous, so they default to the nameless employee survey, which limits their ability to follow up with employees who have particularly helpful ideas.

The idea of anonymity is outdated and ultimately unproductive. In fact, the confidentiality can interfere with the accountability you’re looking to build on your team and lead to other unintended consequences, including:

1. Skewed results. In most organizations, a small minority harbors a tremendous amount of anger toward leadership or their workplace in general. An anonymous survey just gives them a platform to vent. When their names aren’t attached, their feedback can be pointed, jaded, and even inflammatory, which can skew your results.

2. Misinterpreted feedback. The purpose of feedback is to gather information to help you make better business decisions. Unfortunately, with unidentified feedback, there’s no way to understand the context of issues that may only affect one department or even one employee. You may end up misinterpreting the data, which can cause you to make the wrong decisions.

3. A lack of follow-up. If a respondent has a moment of brilliance in an anonymous survey, you have no way to dig deeper into his ideas or recognize this visionary for his contribution. On the other hand, if an employee is unhappy about something, you miss the chance to have a productive conversation to identify solutions.

Non-anonymous feedback allows you to initiate that conversation and build upon the feedback loop throughout the year.

4. Limited responsiveness. Gathering anonymous feedback is time-consuming. You must first ask employees to fill out a survey, take part in a focus group, or share opinions in a confidential interview. By the time someone has gathered and processed the data, the information may no longer be relevant.

5. The inability to hold leaders accountable.Unfortunately, some leaders will react inappropriately to feedback, which is why organizations favor anonymity in the first place. Rather than tailoring this process to ineffective leaders, you need to start holding them accountable.

An open feedback system establishes an environment where leaders must learn how to accept criticism so employees feel comfortable being open and honest.

How to Create a Transparent Feedback Loop

If you want to encourage transparency and increase engagement in your organization, it’s time to ask employees to cowboy up and take ownership of their ideas. With that said, you’re also going to have to take responsibility for creating an environment where people feel safe sharing.

Moving from an anonymous survey to a transparent feedback loop won’t be easy or painless, but there are several things you can do to make the transition successful:

  • Invest in a platform to gather feedback. Thanks to techie wizards, a variety of platforms are now available to tackle the issue of employee engagement. Software likeOfficevibeVennli, and 15Five allows you to gather meaningful feedback from employees on a regular basis that you can use to make critical business decisions.
  • Coach supervisors on how to respond to feedback. For this process to work, leadership must understand how their reactions to feedback can shut down an employee’s willingness to participate. In those instances when a supervisor responds inappropriately to feedback, you must be willing to take swift action. If employees can’t go to leadership with their concerns, resentment may spread within the ranks.
  • Show employees it’s OK. Such a drastic change in feedback style will be met with some apprehension. However, the best approach is to jump in with both feet and reward people who provide useful feedback. Look for ways to demonstrate how you’re using feedback to implement positive changes so employees see that it’s safe — and even commendable — to be honest.

Removing anonymity allows your employees to become active players in the decision-making process, which can boost their dedication and allow your team to benefit from multiple perspectives. When you open an honest dialogue with employees, you can expand on ideas, gather continual feedback, and arrive at productive solutions to improve your company.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Harness The Power Of Self-Organization To Fuel Your Culture

In my previous post, I discussed how self-organization (or emergent order) is the foundation for organizational success.  In this post, I’d like to propose some ideas for working with emergent orders (rather than against them) to enhance the workplace.

First and foremost, the concept of emergence can be difficult to grasp.

Emergence is an impersonal process that involves the interplay between our actions and those of others. Individually, I can only influence a small portion of the whole, but collectively our actions have a profound impact on everyone involved. We often aren’t able to see the connections among our actions, the system as a whole, and how that system impacts other people.

In studying emergence, we often become fixated the parts that are closest to us, but neglect the bigger picture of how the parts are interrelated.  Through emergence, we realize that everything is connected and the world becomes much larger than we previously thought.

Understanding the magnitude of the connections and how they are related is the most challenging (but also most rewarding) aspect of emergence.

Understanding Self-Organization

The policies and procedures put in place by leaders in any organization do not fully define the underlying culture. They help guide the organization but don’t have as much impact on the day-to-day business of getting work done; that is the job of self-organization. Whether you recognize it or not, there are always undercurrents of communication and camaraderie running throughout any business environment. While it may not be visible on the surface, the behaviors of your colleagues are often the biggest drivers of your culture.

The relationship among emergence, culture, and policy is like a garden.  If you provide the right type of nourishment and conditions, things naturally flourish.  Sometimes you neglect to provide key nourishment and the plants wilt.  Other times you may add too much and the plants suffer as well. The trick is finding the right balance to allow the garden to grow.

Similarly, policies can enable or inhibit our ability to self-organize. By clearly defining the conditions that enable self-organization to thrive, we can determine the right type of policies and procedures to channel our relationships in ways that strengthen our organizational culture. This will look different for each organization, but it becomes a powerful way for leadership to focus the existing underlying self-organization that is propelling the organization forward.

When trying to channel emergent orders, there are a couple ground rules to remember:

1. People respond to incentives: Rules and incentives guide our behavior.  We use incentives to help make decisions and plan for the future.

2. Institutions matter: Values, structures, and processes that have stood the test of time probably serve some purpose.  Although institutions may need to change, their impact on the workplace cannot be ignored.  We also cannot expect institutions to change overnight.

3. Work is social: At the end of the day, most change efforts aim to improve the way we work together.  It’s important to focus on how work is actually being accomplished: How do departments communicate? Where are the breakdowns? And who are the influencers? We cannot neglect the social aspects of work.

How Self-Organization Can Be Used to Your Advantage

The ground rules above provide a context for understanding workplace dynamics. Many change efforts fail because we neglect to appreciate the role incentives, institutions, and social networks play in our everyday lives.

For example, focusing solely on incentives (greater productivity) at the expense of collaboration can make people feel isolated and hurt the organization overall. In addition, trying to force two groups to work together without understanding their underlying (and often different) values can cause headaches and animosity.

If we have a firm grasp on the ground rules, leveraging self-organization becomes substantially easier.  People naturally organize to get work done, this may look different in different parts of the organization or when focusing on different challenges.

There isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits all strategy, but there are some general guidelines that we can employ to use self-organization to our advantage:

1. Establish clear expectations: Establish clear expectations which people can use to guide their actions and steer their interactions.  Expectations should be applied consistently across the organization.

2. Keep communication open: Since work is social, it is critical to ensure people continue to communicate. When bottlenecks happen, don’t hesitate to roll up your sleeves and help forge new partnerships. 

3. Leverage focal points: Who/where are the hubs were people/information congregate? What is happening in the hubs?  Who are the influencers? These can serve as great opportunities to spread information and implement change efforts.

4. Reward problem solving: People like to be recognized for their accomplishments. Solving complex problems involves many people cooperating across different parts of the organization. It’s important to recognize their contributions both individually and collectively as a team. It’s also critical to encourage these individuals to share best practices with others and cross-pollinate ideas (culture is contagious).

5. Think through unintended consequences: Every action has the potential to create outcomes we couldn’t have anticipated.  Before beginning a change effort, it’s important to be cautious and weigh the costs and benefits of different options. Think back to the ground rules.  There needs to be an “exit strategy” when unintended consequences happen.

6. Be open to new directions: Emergent orders can take on a new shapes as the organization changes. Policies and guidelines should be general enough to accommodate these changes. When unintended consequences happen, we should be flexible and modify our guidance as needed. We should never pigeonhole ourselves to move in a single direction.

Although we often don’t notice it, emergence plays a vital role in our organizations every day.  Emergence is the natural outcome of many people working together to achieve common goals. It is an important (and under-appreciated) contributor to the success of every organization, but leveraging it presents challenges in that we can’t fully understand how all the moving pieces fit together.

Sometimes we aren’t aware of how our policies and processes impact our ability to self-organize; when we act, we could be hurting our organization in the long run. By being cognizant of how incentives, institutions, and social networks shape our culture, we can take proactive steps to ensure policies enable (rather than inhibit) self-organization

Uber’s Cruise Control Culture

I love Uber. I really do. I live in California but spend half of my time in New York, and for those of us who live on the road, the single greatest comfort is consistency. I know when I land, no matter where I land (mostly) I can open the app and call a car, skipping the taxi queue. I feel like a bigshot, too, on a budget.

With the recent bad press the new “sharing” economy pioneer has received, I started to wonder what is going on inside the company. While media coverage can be illuminating, it’s certainly not the whole picture about a company. And Uber’s recent press paints a picture of a company’s leadership more interested in settling scores, knee-capping their competitors and shooting the messenger than planning their future and creating value.

So on my last Uber ride, I asked my driver what his take was on all the recent coverage. I thought he would either shrug it off, displaying classic disengagement we see among so many frontline employees, or else vigorously defend Uber, who is known for making career opportunities among the classically disenfranchised labor force such as single mothers.

His answer was far more surprising.

Instead of addressing the topics du jour, he talked about his personal experience as a member of the Uber team. He said he didn’t like being treated like a “robot;” a cog in the wheel meant to take and fulfill orders. This reaction squares with another, more public view from the inside.

Granted, my driver’s comment was just one additional data point added to the canon of media coverage, but it rounds out the picture a little bit.

Most start-up companies focus on carving out a slice of the market – or in Uber’s case, creating a brand new market – and then filling that space. What often doesn’t get enough attention is the intentional conversation around culture. In the absence of that conversation, a cultural vacuum forms, filled in by excuses for behavior instead of a shared set of values, standards and qualities.

If you’ve ever heard someone explain why they did some shocking thing or another with “But you said the revenue targets had to be met!” or “My bonus isn’t based on whether my team likes me, it’s based on what I get done!” then you’ve seen the cultural vacuum in action.

It’s a culture on cruise control, letting other business priorities determine fundamental questions of identity, rather than choosing who you want to be as a company.

This isn’t a problem limited to start-ups, either. In more established companies, inertia often replaces the “do anything it takes” verve of a start up. If you’ve ever heard “That isn’t my job,” you know what I’m talking about.

Cultural vacuums are dangerous. It can be confusing for the people who work there, and can severely limit the growth potential of a start-up. Flame outs like Digg and Akimbo show that success takes more than just a great idea, good funding and a ready-made market.

I sincerely hope Uber redirects its energy to addressing its culture, towards making the drivers and support staff feel respected, where their contributions to the group are valued. I like their service, their drivers are great, and it makes my life easier. And while I don’t know how my Uber experience could get better, an intentional culture would help steer them through the PR storm they’re finding themselves in.

How Emergent Order Creates Thriving Organizations

The world is a fascinating place.

Ever wonder how we are able to accomplish so much without one person directing all the moving pieces? iPhones, Wikipedia, cars, the shoes you wear, last night’s dinner; all these things were made possible through the efforts of thousands of people each pursuing their own ends, and in doing so they cooperated to make our lives better.

Economists call this emergent order, more commonly known as self-organization.

Although difficult to wrap our heads around, emergent orders are actually very common. Markets, law, and language are all examples of unplanned systems that evolve naturally through our interactions. The beauty of emergent orders is that they are able to thrive because they constantly change and adapt to new circumstances.

Organizations, on the other hand, are commonly thought of as “islands of planning in a sea of emergence.”  That thought is more or less correct; organizations involve layers of managers directing employees to address different challenges. But underlying that structure are rich environments of employees and teams connecting and cooperating to achieve great feats.

Self-organization is the life force that enables “work” to happen.

Because it’s difficult to pinpoint, it often goes unrecognized. Therein lies a significant organizational culture opportunity.

Below are several examples to help illustrate the relevance of and importance self-organization:

Organizational Culture and Values

Why do different departments use drastically different terminologies for the same thing? Why are some organizations more cohesive than others?

The answer is simple, although the mechanics behind it are pretty complex: Coworkers have a lot more influence on each other than we give them credit. Our attitudes and actions are as much a product of ourselves as they are the people around us. As we intermingle, our values cross-pollinate and shape the organization’s overall culture. And in doing so, the culture can take on a life of its own.

When one person has difficulty shaking habits that have emerged over the years, changing the culture becomes challenging. But within this challenge lies a hidden blessing: with enough positive enforcement, new habits can form and shape the culture over time.

Social Networks

Here’s a bold claim: the majority of work gets done outside the traditional chain of command.

In other words, people, driven by their desire to do their jobs successfully, self-organize to achieve their mutual goals. If you look at social networks within organizations, you’ll find that it may look very different from the org chart. The hubs are not necessarily managers, but rather employees with the broadest social connections who are able to bridge the gap between departments.

Given the ability and motivation, employees will diligently seek out solutions to their problems by building partnerships and sharing ideas. This is really a textbook case for emergence.

Rules, Policies, and Regulations

Sure, a lot of rules and regulations are cumbersome. Most people grudgingly accept them, and in a lot of cases they can be somewhat arbitrary.  But, behind each rule there’s a history, an event, or chain of events that brought it into being.

For example, recently gothamCulture has engaged in a long-term effort to create a culture of safety for one of our clients. Most organizations have safety policies, resulting from years of trial and error, and a process of learning from their successes and failures.

This particular organization simply didn’t sit down and lay out an ideal set of safety policies. In many cases they had had to figure things out the hard way; piece by piece.  In all cases, accidents, as unfortunate as they are, force organizations to reevaluate the way they protect employees from harm.  Rules are constantly evolving, and policies change, bit by bit, to ensure certain standards are maintained.

Sometimes policies are well-intentioned missteps, but the process behind it involves the nuanced interplay among people’s values, attitudes, and actions over time.

Why It Matters

So why does self-organization matter? How is emergence relevant to you or your organization?

Work is inherently social. It is a rich ecosystem that is constantly moving toward some end.  We cannot effectively understand organizations, let alone start to change them, without appreciating the role emergence and self-organization played in how getting the organization to its present state. By doing so, we reveal the many different avenues to implement change effectively.


Below are some great resources on emergent orders:

I, Pencil – Leonard Read

Valve Corporation and Spontaneous Orders – Yanis Varoufakis

Emergence – Jane Adams

The Use of Knowledge in Society – Friedrich Hayek

Where Good Ideas Come From – Steven Johnson

Leadership and the New Science – Margaret Wheatley

Shatter Today’s Organizational Myths by Crowdsourcing Culture

Think back to the last company change initiative you spearheaded. If your company is like most, you sent a survey to employees via email. Some employees might have grumbled about it and eventually filled it out; the senior leadership team then sat down and attempted to make sense of the feedback.

Unfortunately, this approach can only take leaders so far. Organizational surveys aren’t always effective because they’re limited to what leaders think is important to ask. They fail to engage the organization’s stakeholders in an active dialogue, and they only address culture at one point in the process, leaving leaders to make decisions throughout the year based on stale information.

Most importantly, this top-down approach to culture creates a cycle in which leaders do all the work — setting unrealistic expectations that doom an organization from the start.

I’m a culture guy, so the lion’s share of organizational assessments I’ve seen and led deal specifically with culture. These lessons can be generalized across most organization-wide data collection efforts, however.

Though most companies approach culture assessment and change as described above, creating a strong culture is the ultimate opportunity to take advantage of the wisdom of the crowd. When employees, leaders, and other stakeholders have a say in a company’s culture, the insights that arise are often the most innovative and effective solutions. After all, your employees are closest to the everyday issues in the workplace.

By tapping into and including the input of people at every level of your organization, you start at the beating heart of your company. And by engaging them on a regular basis (rather than once a year), you can leverage that collective intelligence to drive the business forward.

This is the way we at gothamCulture have long approached our work, but the recent trend in social media circles of calling everything “crowdsourcing” made me reconsider why. After all, inviting the crowd into the process can be messy, and tackling any cultural problem is much more than an item on a checklist — but that’s the point.

Looking back on our nine years of work in this space, there are several long-standing beliefs and assumptions worth challenging regarding how organizations do, and should, develop highly functioning cultures.

These myths include (but are not limited to):

1. The experts have all the answers. The days of a small group of “experts” sitting in a war room and coming up with the ultimate solution for the masses are gone. People expect more from their work experience. They want to exercise some level of control in their environment.

When senior leadership teams make decisions in isolation, they do so based on a limited amount of information. It’s one particular version of reality fed to them by others who may have their own agendas. Leaders may think they have an in-depth understanding of issues’ nuances when, in fact, they may be too far removed from what’s really going on to make the most effective decisions.

2.  The people within the organization don’t know what’s best. This is the misguided assumption that drives leaders to rely on “experts” rather than employees in the trenches. Over time, leaders may conclude that people in the organization’s ranks are unable to comprehend the complexities of their everyday tasks, but that’s seldom the truth.

In our work, we’ve found that those closest to the issues oftentimes have the most profound perspectives on them. In many cases, they’ve already figured out solutions and workarounds for some of the organization’s biggest problems. The only reason they haven’t voiced their opinions is because nobody thought to ask — or asked the wrong questions.

3.  Annual surveys and focus groups give us the right information at the right time. How could we ever assume that an organization’s lifeblood — its people — only have something valuable to contribute once a year? The traditional annual survey limits the amount and type of information you can get from stakeholders and reinforces a skewed perception of reality.

Leaders take that information, sort it, and make sweeping changes that affect the entire organization based on a few data points. The collected stories and feelings of various team members, in conjunction with quantitative assessments, result in better conclusions than those arrived at through paper surveys or digital tallies alone.

Successful businesses of the future will leverage technology to drive constant input and feedback from all stakeholders. These continuous feedback loops will increase inclusivity of people and ideas, freeing leaders from relying on annual surveys to drive their decisions. This collective approach will also reveal opportunities and red flags earlier so they can be addressed in a timely manner.

We’re starting to question organizational norms that have existed for decades, and it’s just the beginning. As more Millennials enter the workforce, companies are realizing that today’s stakeholders expect continual involvement, and they’re being forced to adapt quickly to the changing tide.

To successfully evolve and deliver on your stakeholders’ high expectations, you can’t hold on to antiquated practices and continue making decisions based on outdated beliefs and assumptions. Organizations that adapt to leverage new values and the input of their stakeholders will come out on top. They’ll mine the crowd to form a truly accurate sense of their environment, they’ll be better equipped to make more accurate and timely decisions, and they’ll be much more adept at engaging their stakeholders through a collective and crowdsourced organizational culture.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Onboarding New Employees: How To Build A Sustainable Process

In rapidly growing companies, hiring and retaining the right employees is one of the hardest things for effective leaders to get right.

On one hand, your company needs the right process in place to hire and keep the right people. There has to be an appealing lure to attract them, and the benefits have to be worthwhile enough to keep them.

On the other hand, the company branding and benefits you offer can only tell them so much of the story. The everyday behaviors that shape your organizational culture will have an ongoing effect on each one of your employees.

It’s important to realize that your people are your company’s most valuable asset, and finding the right “fit” between company and that most valuable asset is paramount to success.

There are bigger things to consider than benefits and bonuses when bringing on new people. Your workforce, particularly the millennial generation, wants to know what your company stands for.  They want to be part of something bigger than themselves.

The way you communicate your benefits and purpose to them from the beginning may be the most important part in setting them up for success.

So, how do you give your new employees an accurate picture of your company’s brand, its values, and their place in the overall picture of the organization?

Here are 3 points to consider when building a sustainable onboarding process for your growing company:

1. Does It Scale?

When you’re small, as in a startup, it’s much easier to find the right people and orient them quickly with the rest of your team.

It’s likely that small companies thoroughly vet their candidates for cultural fit when they hire. But, as an organization grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the same processes. A strategy that works for a group of 20 people may not scale to a company of 200 people.

Make sure your onboarding processes are built to last. Rapidly growing companies who plan ahead of these changes will see more success, particularly as they delegate these onboarding processes to other hiring managers as they grow.

2. What Information Do You Include?

Onboarding and orienting employees is challenging.  Organizations face a balancing act between conveying large quantities of information and keeping new employees engaged and interested.

Considering most employees will only really understand the organization’s culture once they are officially on the job, picking and choosing what information to share during the onboarding process adds to the challenge.

Most people today like to digest snackable information, not an entire meal at once. Consider keeping the information segments of your process short, so employees can take away the bite-size nuggets and figure out where they might want to ask questions to get further insights.

One recent example is Samsung’s orientation rap video that went viral to mixed reviews. While Samsung’s effort to communicate a lot of information in an engaging, short format should be applauded, the execution left something to be desired.

Their video is a perfect example of why it’s so important to keep the context in mind. Your employees are there to be professionals; to further their careers. If your presentation is too slapstick or silly, you risk losing people to it as something that is nonsensical, or not a fit for the organization and its people.

On the other hand, a completely dry delivery of rules, stats, and facts about your company can put your new hires to sleep, causing them to disengage before they start their first shift.

Your challenge is keeping them interested and engaged in a way that both reflects your culture and doesn’t turn people off.

3. What Is The Employee Experience?

Are you sitting your new employees in front of a computer to go through self-directed orientation? Are you personally illustrating your values and guidelines on a whiteboard? Do you partner them with a senior member of your team to learn the ropes?

These first steps of the onboarding process are not just a way to convey information. They also give your brand new employee a taste of what your culture is like on a daily basis.

They can walk away feeling motivated, supported, and comfortable in their new environment, or they can leave feeling overloaded and confused.

Empowering Your People

There’s no doubt that your organizational culture is based largely on the everyday behaviors of your people. Finding the right people who fit into your overall strategy and vision is a challenge in itself. Once you find them, however, your challenge becomes empowering them to carry out your vision to every customer they meet.

It takes more effort than simply putting warm bodies on the sales floor or in the call center. You have to equip them with the right tools to do their job well, carry your vision for success, and feel a purpose behind what they are doing for your company on a daily basis.

“If you take care of your people, your people will take care of your customers and your business will take care of itself.” –JW Marriott

Stuart Farrand

Analyst at Christopher Newport University
Stuart Farrand is an experienced analyst with an extensive background in diagnostic methods. His work focuses on the intersection of risk, emergence, and organizational culture. He specializes in using data insights that enhance how organizations identify, approach, and learn from complex issues and hard to detect risks. Stuart is a former member of the gothamCulture team and currently works in higher education.
Stuart Farrand

Mapping Team Effectiveness Through Data Visualization

Companies are taking creative measures to counter ‘meeting fatigue.’ From cutting meetings to a magic length (at Google, this is 50 minutes) to stand-up meetings (yes, standing vs. sitting), leaders are trying everything to improve efficiency and effectiveness of meetings.

Yet, how often do we still leave meetings dissatisfied with the outcome?  It was too long…didn’t result in a decision…was monopolized by one or two players…left attendees with more questions than answers.

Leaders know that good meetings are a product of good leadership. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula for effective meetings, objective attention to the flow of your meetings is important for team development.

Mapping Opportunities With Data

We recently approached a client leadership team meeting as observers. Combining data-orientation with an eye to group dynamics, we plotted discussion milestones, determined topic frequency, and tracked specific players involved in the discussions that led to decision-making.  We then mapped the trajectory of the 2-hour discussion, broken into 10 minute increments.

The result is a data visual (see below), which we reviewed with the participants to better understand the conversation flow and decision making process. In the software, this content is linked. This enabled the participants to understand which conversations drove key milestones and which participants were involved in those decisions.

To see the fully interactive visualization, click here


This model of provides a simple, but effective way to review what occurred during the meeting, pinpoint where the conversation may have moved in an unproductive direction, and identify opportunities to improve meetings. In the chart above, for example, the first 30 minutes were spent jumping from topic to topic. Only after 45 minutes did they start to discuss the connections between the topic areas.

Our meeting datafication pilot highlighted some important takeaways for the client’s leadership team. Here are 5 highlights:

1. Open with a check-in – Get it out on the table. Where is everyone mentally? In the course of their day? Are they ‘bought in’ to the topic at hand? Sharing an agenda pre-meeting with opportunity for attendees to provide feedback helps ensure everyone is satisfied with the game plan before they enter the room.

2. “Parking Lot” ideas They are good ideas, but they aren’t helpful for this conversation. Make note of any ideas to be rainchecked. They certainly shouldn’t be lost, but they also don’t need to derail this meeting’s conversation if they aren’t relevant to the agenda or decisions that need to be made.

3. Stay out of the weeds This is easier said than done. But when we reviewed our pilot meeting map with our clients, they were struck by the amount of time spent hashing out details.  A take-away after reviewing their discussion data was that they got stuck in the weeds when trying to come to consensus.  They settled on accepting 80% consensus and moving on rather than drowning in minutiae.

4. Hear from everyone If a certain participant’s point of view isn’t imperative to the discussion, they shouldn’t have been on the meeting invite. If you haven’t tapped all of the voices in the room, there could be critical data that isn’t being considered in decision making.  Be deliberate about inclusion.

5. Ensure actions have owners If participants walk away without specific actions and clear accountability, seemingly productive meetings will have little impact.  Regardless of whether there are tangible actions that need to take place or simply giving deeper individual thought to certain ideas, team members should leave meetings assured of their next steps.

Visualizing the discussion process prompts teams to reflect on their meeting effectiveness AND group dynamics, which will improve team effectiveness overall.

Stuart Farrand

Analyst at Christopher Newport University
Stuart Farrand is an experienced analyst with an extensive background in diagnostic methods. His work focuses on the intersection of risk, emergence, and organizational culture. He specializes in using data insights that enhance how organizations identify, approach, and learn from complex issues and hard to detect risks. Stuart is a former member of the gothamCulture team and currently works in higher education.
Stuart Farrand

Leadership While Daydreaming

leadership daydreaming

Guest Article Written by Andrea Learned

Even though we hear a lot about how much leadership is changing, one thing still holds: leaders don’t take enough unscheduled time (or, we aren’t hearing about it).  In a recent McKinsey Quarterly interview with Tom Peters, he cites the book Leadership the Hard Way, by Dov Frohman, and notes:

“The two things I remember from that book are, one, that 50 percent of your time should be unscheduled. And second—and I love that this is coming from an Israeli intelligence guy—that the secret to success is daydreaming.”

The digitalization of productivity that we can get so excited about has a downside. It speeds up processes and planning, but it also crowds out the unstructured thinking time humans need to re-charge or think big and new.

Yet, many organizations build their culture around these questions: Why not fit another call in to your already-packed 10 hour day?  Why not say yes to a meeting request even though it is scheduled over your only possible break for lunch? How can you not say “yes, yes, yes” to all inquiries, when everyone in your organization can see your schedule has white space in it?

Organizational Culture Follows Your Lead

This is where personal agency comes in, and where leaders have the opportunity to start to model this for their teams. If there is no perceived allowance for junior staff to manage their own schedules to achieve their best levels of performance, they cannot be expected to stop the madness.

If employees don’t see that the occasional mind-freeing use of unstructured time is important to leadership, they may well not take the necessary breaks they need to absorb, get ideas, reflect on mistakes and just process their days. The pressure cooker will cook itself.

Organizational culture is set by company-wide values that are demonstrated and committed to by leadership. You are the boss. All the written guidelines in the employee handbook mean nothing if leaders don’t authentically acknowledge and live the power in unscheduled time.

A few ways leaders can indirectly model this behavior for their teams:

  1. Purposefully reference books or articles you’ve read – especially those not obviously connected with your core business – that inspired you or gave you new perspective.
  2. Do not respond to every email within seconds, it sets up ridiculous expectations. And, take some obvious time and attention in replying to at least a few internal emails a day, especially with junior staff.
  3. Be somewhat vocal or visible when you are leaving the office to workout, take a walk or meet your spouse for lunch in the park.
  4. Leave town and be unreachable. When you do it (and get management team members to do it too), others in the company will notice and be more inclined to do the same.

Structural Support for Organizational Change

The way a leader manages his or her own time can be a strong indicator for employees about an organization’s values. But, in addition to the above somewhat less traditional markers, the Hay Group has conducted research on the more structural changes to help that cause.  And, the guidelines they suggest go beyond flexible work schedules and telecommuting.

A selection of Hay Group findings for leaders include:

  • Provide clear direction regarding organizational priorities to help employees focus on the highest-value tasks.
  • Implement policies and practices consistently to ensure that workloads are fairly and equitably distributed.
  • Emphasize high levels of teamwork within and across organizational units to provide employees with access to support from co-workers in coping with work demands.

Daydreaming To A More Productive Team

The move to a completely digital world does not automatically lead to increased productivity and improved life. Without the “white space” of time that has nothing to do with schedules and deadlines, you can’t be leading at your best.

Because your team takes its cues from your work-life style as a leader, a thriving organizational culture will depend on both your actions and the policies and procedures that support a bit of unscheduled time.  By reading, delaying, walking and vacationing yourself, you demonstrate the values your team members can learn from.

A little daydreaming can go a long way.



Written by Andrea Learned

Andrea Learned is a sustainable business thought leadership strategist and writer with a gender lens. The co-author of Don’t Think Pink: What Really Makes Women Buy and How To Reach Your Share of This Crucial Market, Andrea regularly shares her unique perspective and curates business leadership topics via her Twitter feed and blog, Learned On.

What Does #BoycottBlackThursday Mean For Company Culture?

The holidays are fast approaching! People across the country are planning Thanksgiving dinner and planning their holiday vacations. It seems like the retail world moved from Halloween to Christmas overnight!

But, there’s one time-honored tradition that’s been experiencing some backlash over the past couple years: Black Friday’s extension into the Thanksgiving holiday.

This year, with DSW’s public announcement that their stores will stay closed on Thanksgiving Day and open no earlier than 7am on Black Friday, it seems like the battle lines are being drawn between retailers choosing either their shoppers or their employees over the holidays. Other retailers, like Walmart, are going to be open the entire day on Thanksgiving.

We asked our team for their thoughts on the deeper culture implications of the Black Thursday phenomenon.

What does biggest shopping day of the year do to employee morale and the culture within these stores? What is the balance between the perceived needs of the consumer, and taking care of your employees? And, if stores like DSW are getting praise for making this decision, should more retailers should follow their lead, even if it means losing out on some of the biggest shopping hours of the year?


Ashley Klecak – Associate

ashleyPeriods of fierce retail competition like Black Friday leave employers navigating a tricky balance between meeting customer expectations and employee needs. Is DSW making the right play?

They are.

Engaged employees have an emotional commitment to an organization and its goals.  Because they are emotionally invested, they provide above-and-beyond service, which leads to happier, return customers who refer friends to the business.

Research shows this correlation through an employee-customer-profit chain. The key takeaway from studies with many with retailers on this topic is that employee engagement and profitability are correlated with customer loyalty as the mediating variable.

Employee Engagement ——-> Service ——-> Customer Satisfaction & Loyalty ——-> Profit

In essence, taking care of employees will result in greater profitability, which could offset losses around these holiday sales for DSW.

Choosing to be closed on Thanksgiving Day is likely a part of a greater series of actions, large and small, that DSW leadership is taking to show consideration for their employees. This is a powerful way to build employee engagement, bolster the customer experience, and grow as a business.

Stuart Farrand – Associate

stuart-farrandWhile it’s likely not something employees enjoy, I bet retail employees see working on holidays (however companies choose to define those days) as part of the job.

That being said, the willingness for some companies to stray from this norm says a lot about their particular culture.  In this case, companies like DSW and Costco acknowledge that there are limits to what they can ask of employees during the holidays and that spending time with their families on Thanksgiving takes priority.

There’s nothing inherently good or bad about it, it is just how they are striking the balance.  For instance, there are a number of other companies, notably Chick-fil-A, that do not open their stores on Sundays.  While most retailers maintain normal hours that day, these firms chose to let their employees stay home or go to religious services with their families.  Their customers have come to understand this and have changed their shopping habits accordingly.

It ultimately comes down to the kind of culture they want to embrace and the type of incentives they want to provide to their employees. What may be changing is what is relevant to more employees. With regard to extending holidays – like starting Black Friday on Thursday – we may see more businesses shift in the direction of DSW and Costco.

Of course, you can’t ignore the role consumers play in this process.  Black Friday is as much a cultural phenomena as the day that precedes it.  As long as there is a critical mass of people interested in shopping on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday, many stores will continue to find ways to be open.

Mark Emerson – General Manager

mark-emersonI grew up in Silicon Valley and every Easter when I was a lad, we would head down to visit my relatives in Monterey, CA.  My mom would go shopping on Friday/Saturday for everything we needed because there would be, without exception, NO grocery store open on Easter.  The same thing for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Many companies profess to put employees first, but they then open on holidays out of fear of competition and/or to tout their devotion to the customer.  I believe that this is where company culture truly shows its colors.

If retailers were closed on major holidays, in my opinion, it would likely result in greater employee satisfaction and customers would adapt. No one goes to Costco on a holiday because they are all closed (and the last time I checked, Costco has both happy employees and no loss of business).

With the rise of e-commerce, retailers could certainly come up with innovative solutions that serve both employees and customers. For example, having a blowout online sale and then inviting customers to pick up their purchases the next day would get people to “visit” twice and up the chance they’d find even more to buy.

Anton Rius – Digital Marketing Manager

anton-riusFor many years, I donned a black clip-on tie and white socks as a member of Best Buy’s Geek Squad.

While I didn’t have to actually work on Thanksgiving, I was expected to report in for a 12 hour shift at 4am the next day. It was expected as an employee of the company. It was something we all had to do, whether our extended family was waiting or us at home or not.

Before we opened our doors, we’d have a line of turkey-stuffed customers camping around the block at our stores. As the magic hour approached, I could see them begin to stir, become restless, and begin excitedly talking about the $200 laptop they were expecting to grab that morning.

Eventually, the doors would open. Our team of employees, hopped up on energy drinks, would herd the eager customers to the appropriate department for their needs and help them find what they were looking for.

Most of the sales on Black Friday would occur within the first several hours. After that, it was another busy day for the store. We would be some family’s second or third stop depending on the priority of the door busters on their list.

Not one of the employees enjoyed being there. We all wanted to be at home, eating leftover turkey sandwiches and spending time with the family. I can’t imagine having to work on Thanksgiving, too.

The reality is, no one would think twice about going to Walmart or if they weren’t ‘proudly’ announcing that they are open for Thanksgiving Day. They aren’t catering the desires of their customers; they’re fabricating opportunities to make money for themselves without any regard for the people on the front lines.

Whether the company knows it or not, this profoundly affects the employees’ desire to continue working there. If organizations are unable to show their employees that they matter through action, and not just on paper, their people are far less likely to be motivated by the work they’re being asked to do on a daily basis.


There has to be a balance between serving employee morale and serving customers, but it also boils down to consumer relevance. With e-commerce and mobile shopping gaining so much traction in recent years, retail shoppers will adapt just fine to stores staying closed on holidays like Thanksgiving.

Would you go shopping after turkey on the 27th? What do you think of these retail giants staying open on Thanksgiving?


How To Take The ‘Cult’ Out Of Your Company Culture

cult company culture

When you think of a cult, do shuttle buses come to mind? Probably not, but Silicon Valley tech companies have used this method of transportation to keep their workers isolated from the rest of the world. And as they bind their employees closer together, workers are significantly less likely to leave.

While the term “cult” often conjures up mental images of drab clothes, remote farms, and blue Kool-Aid, cults can also refer to the culture within certain companies. A cult, after all, is simply a group connected by appreciation for the same thing, person, or ideal.

There’s no doubt that articulating a clear and compelling vision for the future of your organization can drive member excitement, but things get murky when control enters the equation. If your company culture governs the thinking and behavior of its members, then you might be entering cult territory.

Your Company Might Be a Cult If…

There are multiple signs that indicate that your company is exhibiting cult-like behavior — for example, encouraging your employees to blindly follow a charismatic leader. By taking the leader’s opinions as fact, your company may grow so rigid that innovation becomes impossible.

Additionally, organizations that minimize two-way dialogue stifle growth and encourage employees to accept the status quo and silence their opinions. However, creating an environment where people don’t push back and aren’t engaged in healthy debate can lead to serious problems.

Lastly, in cult-like organizations, values are taken to such an extreme that anyone who questions the way things are done is quickly ostracized or ejected.

Create a Collaborative Environment

All of these practices can seriously endanger the health of your organization. If you’re noticing any of them creeping up, put these four fixes in place to safeguard your company from becoming more of a cult than a culture:

1. Take Responsibility

Once you’ve diagnosed the situation, take responsibility rather than avoid the issues at hand. Author Ronald Heifetz suggests reducing avoidance mechanisms such as denying, scapegoating, or pretending that the problem is technical. Companies that attack individuals rather than issues risk further cult-like behavior.Owning the behavior is difficult. You should allow people to take responsibility for problems, but they should do so at a rate they can handle.

2. Introduce New Talent

Strive to introduce new, talented employees who live on the fringes of a culture fit. If you onboard people who challenge the culture, your company will be able to grow and mature.You may need to rely on new members of the organization to raise the issue of cult-like behavior because they’re experiencing your company for the first time. Encourage acceptance of these new employees — particularly when your goal is to change the company’s trajectory.

3. Create Dialogue Mechanisms

Develop mechanisms for leaders and employees to engage in honest, two-way dialogue in a safe environment. Talking with new hires, consultants, and advisors will force your organization to think about problems from multiple angles.You must protect people who raise hard questions. At first, raising these potential problems will generate distress, but the questions will challenge your employees to rethink the issues at stake.

4. Reward Responsible Risk-Taking

Establish a new team, business, or investment with clear authority to take risks and create beyond the organization’s previous boundaries. Businesses can only grow through introducing new ideas and taking appropriate risks.Share the charter of the new team with your company to ensure that individuals threatened by the venture know that the team is working on behalf of the whole.

Some companies would disagree with the notion that creating a cult-like culture is a bad thing — they believe that culture drives people’s thinking and behaviors to increase performance and productivity. It’s a fine line to walk, but leaders shouldn’t be compelled to manipulate their employees or do things that benefit the company at the expense of employee livelihood.

Instead, create a system in which people are informed, engaged, and aligned around a compelling path forward. If you promote an open environment that values new talent, you may even save a few dollars on bus fare.

This article originally appeared on Forbes