August 21, 2021
4 minutes

How to stop workplace culture from being dismissed as 'intangible'? Start managing it like a product

I used to buy this lie about workplace culture.

The lie was: culture is intangible, fluffy, and therefore not worth significant investment.

Now I believe this perspective is lazy and we need to slip its embrace. Instead, we need to:

 

Manage Culture as a Product

 

If we do this we create value and competitive advantage in the form of:

 

⚒️ improved execution, 

❤️ better talent acquisition/retention, 

⚓ more alignment, 

🪐 higher engagement 

👌 brand authenticity. 

🪴 and more!

🚀 All of which contribute to growth.

 

A little backstory...

I used to be swept up in this cosy blanket of laziness about workplace culture. I was persuaded it wasn’t worth trying to design or manage with any intent because it was intangible, it just wasn’t possible to go after. 

Here’s the perspective I used to buy: 

‘Yes, yes John…culture is important, everyone knows it eats strategy for breakfast, blah blah blah. But, look, it just isn’t possible to do anything about it. It’s not tangible. It’s soft. It's fluffy. Besides, the founder(s)/CEO dictate culture – it’s on them and them alone. Do you disagree? OK, well someone in the People team then, they can deal with it, sounds like a good OKR for their next quarter…

Look, John, we are going to go and talk about important things like profit, cost and churn… talk all you want about culture, just make sure you do it at the kids' table.” 



Ok, maybe that last bit about the kids' table was mostly in my head, but you get the picture :)

Seven years later, I’m no longer buying this. Culture has too big an impact on people, performance, execution...the works. It's lazy to wrap it up in a blanket of 'too hard to go after.'

So, to those leaders, I now say: 

“I call BS!” 

OK, I’m usually polite. It’s more like: 

“Excuse me… Please can I invite you to share another perspective for a moment?"

 

Here's a different perspective on Culture...let’s Manage it as a Product:

 

Culture is important. 

It does eat strategy for breakfast.

It does impact the bottom line.

It’s not just the founder’s ‘problem’.  

It isn’t intangible...we just need to define it. 

We should be defining it together as a whole business.

That definition might not be right for other businesses, but the game isn’t to try and find something for everyone.

The game is to define and evolve something valuable for us. 

Nowadays the toolkit for distributed and asynchronous co-creation is fantastic. Extravert/introvert equal voice? Yup. Engagement? You bet. Possible at scale? Not just possible, better. 

Once we’ve defined it…it becomes tangible.

It isn’t ethereal anymore…a golden-oldie definition of culture like: ‘It’s how we get stuff done around here’ can be unpacked into bite-size features.

There is power in shaping these features together...which ones impact our ability to execute the most? Decision making, rules, meetings, structure, behaviours amplified, behaviours outlawed, hiring process, healthy conflict, org learning mechanisms, tools or something else?

We can get feedback on these features

We can measure these.

We can tune these.

We can experiment with these.

We can ship new iterations of these.

We can map culture today and we can envision where we want it to be tomorrow.

It’s not just 'the way we do things around here, today.'

Now it’s 'how we will do our best work together, tomorrow.'

We can roadmap this.

This can be marketed. 

It can be subscribed to. 

It can be celebrated. 

It can be a magnet in more ways than one.

Culture is important.

 

Bottom line… 

 

I think culture can and should be managed as a product. 

In thinking about it like this we create a bright beacon to attract people who share our mission, gravity to retain people who would otherwise leave disenchanted, and an environment for people to do their best work together. These directly translate to growth. 

John Faulkner-WillcocksWild Ducks

Credits

Banner photo by Georgiana Avram on Unsplash