Volume 4, February 2023

Welcome to the fourth issue of Fieldnotes, CFAR’s CultureLab newsletter on organizational culture.

This fourth issue of Fieldnotes, CFAR CultureLab’s newsletter on culture in organizations, (full PDF version linked here) has us looking back to look ahead. We believe that cultivating the culture your organization wants and needs involves both reflecting back on your history and what has worked in the past and looking ahead to what is changing in the world. Drawing from both perspectives can help you consider how your organization should adapt. So, before we move too far into 2023 and the cultural surprises it might bring, we asked a few CFAR colleagues to reflect and share highlights of cultural resources from last year, ideas, and provocations that helped us think about culture and how it shapes our work.

Julia Mehl appreciated this piece in Forbes, “Most Popular Articles Show Employers More Focused on Workplace Culture,” that found its most widely read articles of 2022 discussed workplace culture, DEI, and belonging—clearly topics on many leaders’ minds. The author, Sheila Callaham shared, “there are five critical factors contributing to workplace culture: Belonging, Contribution, Flexibility, Equity, and Growth Mindset.”

Todd Smith found this Forbes commentary, “Did Covid Kill Company Culture? If so, Can the Downturn Save it?helpful in reflecting on the many cultural challenges created by Covid. The author Mark Settle asks, believes “the answer is yes and no” – that “pre-Covid cultures have been vastly altered, in some cases beyond recognition,” but that “cultures continually evolve, and new values, beliefs, and attitudes are being established.” It provided a motivating “silver lining” take on how the economic downturn we may be beginning to experience can create a new opportunity for leaders to shape the culture they want for the future.

“Cultures continue to evolve over time in response to changes in company leadership, business strategies, financial success or failure, business expansion or contradiction, and a host of other factors.” — Mark Settle

We know that culture can be cultivated by both feedback and attention to what people do best, and that a focus on individuals’ strengths increases performance. Debbie Bing enjoyed reading this article from Harvard Business Review, “Notes of Appreciation Can Boost Individual and Team Morale,” which considers the approach of writing notes that acknowledge employees and the impact they have. As a leader, it is important to know the strengths of your colleagues—it can all start with a simple but intentional note of appreciation!

 Our colleague Jason Praderelli was taken by two pieces about unionization—one in the gaming industry (Unions and Video Games)—and one in healthcare (Medical Residents Unionize Over Pay, Working Conditions). He found this interesting as it highlights workers driven by passion, who feel that their employers use that passion against them by allowing work conditions to deteriorate and pay to remain below market rates, and are now mobilizing formally as unions to improve their working conditions. Imagine the cultural effects of a workplace where workers feel neglected and undervalued. 

Lauren Howard enjoyed Harvard Business Review’s piece, “Revitalizing Culture in the World of Hybrid Work,” which focused on approaching hybrid work as an opportunity to build culture differently, rather than viewing it as a disruption to the workplace cultural experience—particularly, emphasizing the value of connectedness through emotional proximity and shifting from “corporate culture” to fostering microcultures.

Sara Miller-Paul recently read “Move Beyond Hiring for Culture Fit,” from Gallup. The headline is a bit of a misnomer, but she appreciated the crux of the article—a shift in the framework for thinking about new hires. Instead of asking “would they fit the culture?” the question becomes “would they add to the culture?” The author also brings a helpful RDEI lens to the issue, which is often overlooked in this context.

This New York Times piece, “The Digital Workplace Is Designed to Bring You Down” about the work of Cal Newport was a great reminder for Barry Dornfeld of the importance of deep focus in our work and the need to resist the frazzle brought on by what Newport calls “the hyperactive hive mind” that continually pulls us away from richer thinking and work. Our managers read Newport’s book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (Grand Central, 2016) and resonated with his call for tactics for finding focus in this distracted world. 

Hidden Brain, with host Shankar Vedantam, is Jennifer Tomasik’s favorite podcast. It explores the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior and questions that lie at the heart of our complex and changing world. She finds each episode fascinating and draws connections to her work with leaders in healthcare organizations. This particular episode, How to Keep Conflict From Spiraling, asks the question: What if we stop trying to eliminate conflict and instead ask how can we do conflict better? In a healthcare environment fraught with burnout and uncertainty, conflict frequently rears its head. This episode provides ways to harness the productive energy of conflict.

And we want to end this issue by honoring Edgar Schein and conveying our appreciation of his life’s work. As a scholar and practitioner who pioneered thinking in organizational culture, Schein has deeply influenced CFAR’s work on culture. Schein wrote several important books and articles on culture and culture change, psychological safety, and humility. He died in January at the age of 94, leaving a lasting legacy in the field.

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