What is corporate culture? Ask a random group of people and you’ll likely get vague and varying answers. “It’s the atmosphere in the office,” someone might say. “It’s just how work gets done around here. It’s HR policies and procedures.”
Ask organizational expert Karen Jaw-Madson, though, and the answer gets more specific.
“[Culture] is a social construct, and it’s created, reinforced and experienced by people,” she declares, in our Expert Interview podcast. “It influences behaviors and communicates the boundaries of what is acceptable and not acceptable.”
In short, “It’s a lived experience, but it’s always there. It’s everywhere and it’s shared.”
That “shared” part is important, because it confers responsibility for corporate culture on everyone in the organization.
“There is no one individual that can wield the power of culture. And yet it’s accessible enough that an individual can make a difference,” Jaw-Madson says.
She believes that culture matters more now than ever, for several reasons.
First, “The definitions of work are changing, and that compels companies to manage work and their talent differently,” she says. For example, when team members are spread across the globe, your corporate culture should reflect that.
Then there’s the war for talent. When you’re fighting for the top performers, “Culture and its accompanying employee experience can be a great differentiator.” Get that right and you’ll have a happy and engaged workforce, which ultimately improves the bottom line.
“So a company, through their actions or inactions, decides whether culture will be an asset or a liability,” Jaw-Madson states. “That’s a choice every organization makes.”
Design of Work Experience (DOWE)
In response to these substantial culture issues, Jaw-Madson developed a process that can be used to audit and refresh a company’s culture. She calls it Design of Work Experience – shortened to DOWE (do-we) – and explains it in her new book, “Culture Your Culture, Innovating Experiences @ Work.”
“DOWE was born out of a frustration with how we raise culture as this huge factor in the success or failure of companies… and yet there was no step-by-step ‘how-to’ for intentionally creating culture on the front end,” she elaborates. “DOWE is intended to pull together what’s required to meet the unmet need.”
Influenced by “design learning, appreciative inquiry, and values-based leadership,” DOWE is divided into five phases: Understand, Create & Learn, Decide, Plan and Implement. The book walks you through these phases in great detail. It sets out “learning loops” for each phase, complete with their own specific activities.
How Does It Work?
As an example, Jaw-Madson outlines the first phase of DOWE, Understand, and its three accompanying learning loops: People and Context, Insights, and Criteria.
“Activities in People and Context include things like aligning purpose and scope, identifying early assumptions and key questions, planning, and implementing user research,” she explains.
“Then the next learning loop, which is Insights, begins by using different mindsets to develop insights from raw data that are collected during the user research in that first loop. And then Criteria takes what was learned from user research and insights to establish the most critical requirements in two sets: one from the organizational point of view and the other from the employee point of view.”
A Commitment to Change
Considering that’s just phase one, I’m struck by how much time and headspace this process demands. Jaw-Madson agrees that anyone who embarks on the DOWE process should expect to roll up their sleeves and work hard.
“You have to be open to changing mindsets multiple times if necessary, and to commit yourself to learning through this process and trusting it, even as you encounter challenges,” she reflects. “And never forget the importance and the meaningfulness of this work. At the end of the day, you’re not just ‘doing culture’ or accomplishing an initiative; you’re making a positive difference in people’s lives.”
In this audio clip from our Expert Interview podcast, Jaw-Madson expands on the importance of commitment, from everyone involved in the DOWE process.
Listen to the full 30-minute interview in the Mind Tools Club.
What would you do to improve your workplace culture? Share your ideas and experiences in the Comments box, below.