We spend 50 percent of our waking lives at work and the rest of our lives sleeping, eating, playing, and caring for others. If half of every day is spent at work, why don’t we try harder to make it the best experience we can afford ourselves?
As a self-proclaimed organizational culture hacker who loves to flow in and out of large organizations coaching, problem solving, and instigating change, I’ve learned a lot about how to make an impact on workplace culture.
Workplace culture consists of a group of norms and behavior, which creates underlying shared values that help keep those norms in place. Let’s look at how to bust up the norms a little to enrich the culture for yourself and everyone you work with.
Identify the cultural pain points
The first step to changing your everyday experience within the context of your work environment is first to become an active observer of the behaviors, norms, patterns, expectations, or interactions that are not adding value to your work experience. These may have been unrecognized or invisible to you until you brought them to a conscious level, but they are the pain points of your workplace culture.
If you are stuck in your routines, in order to really understand where you stand, you have to slow down and scrutinize everything about your work experience that drives you crazy-everything that negatively pokes at your mood, productivity, attitude, and quality of work.
What sucks about culture is that everyone follows the group mindset and group norm and if there is something not working within the norm everyone continues to follow it, and there is a perpetuation of negative behavior. For example, email trumping face-to-face conversations, using decks to communicate through slides, or eating your lunch at your desk instead communing around a meal with others. These are no-value-add behaviors that go unacknowledged and unaddressed until someone calls them out or something bad happens as a result of these behaviors. So here’s the most important question to ask yourself:
What’s the added value?
For example, if you inhabit a culture where there are conference calls and meetings to discuss every little decision, next time you’re getting on one of those calls or stepping into one of those meetings, ask yourself “What is the added value in what we are doing?” Are we meeting because we know we will benefit from constructive diverse or cross-functional perspectives? Or are we doing it because that’s just what we do?
One of the great outcomes in asking “What’s the added value?” is that it can lead to new ideas, new perspectives, and new innovations that can directly impact the quality of everyone’s experience as well as the business.
Now hack your organization’s culture
Once your personal observations are made and your assessment of which particular areas of the culture are negative triggers, it’s time to take action. In order to hack your organization’s culture-to really disrupt the norm-you have to get creative. Being creative is risky business, though, and takes courage and passion. It’s through exercising your creative muscles that you’ll be able to develop alternative approaches to pain points and identify new solutions to old workplace experiences, standards and processes to accomplish your goals.
For example, I have a dear friend, Nilofer Merchant, a true hacker of culture who refuses to take meetings in an office and goes on hike meetings instead. Clients, investors, partners, and vendors all have to go on long walks with her in exchange for her time. This fresh, unlikely approach to meetings often knocks people a little off kilter at first, but invariably opens the door to new relationships and innovative thinking.
Share your vision
My grandmother a woman who never learned to read or write always said, “we are our stories.” Hackers of culture must share their stories, share what they envision for change. Think of it as a campaign. Tell everyone up, across, and down the organization what you are up to as if your intention is to convince them to follow your lead. The more you speak about creative solutions and demonstrate change, the more change will happen.
For example, I have a client who hates weekly reports and started creating short videos instead of writing up his weekly report. He used visuals, sound effects, and personal narrative to share the story of his results, challenges, and opportunities. His boss was shocked at first and a bit resistant, but then found himself looking forward to receiving his weekly video report, and his video recaps have gone viral across the organization.
It’s on you to be the champion for change in your workplace culture. Step away from the groupthink and challenge others to participate with you to improve some aspect of the culture. Remember: some of the most remarkable and meaningful changes come from the bottom. Change from the top is usually how change is imposed upon us, but sustainable change- big and small -starts from the bottom, one person at a time.
To paraphrase the mighty Gandhi, “Be the change, hack the culture.”
Great Reads about Organizational Culture:
Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath
Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright
The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau
Watch Nilofer Merchant’s TED talk, “Got a meeting? Take a walk,” here.