Volume 7, December 2023

In this issue of Fieldnotes, we look back at a
few cultural milestones from the past year.

In this issue of Fieldnotes, we look back at a few cultural milestones from the past year—a year both rich and challenging from the perspective of organizational culture and change. Turbulence has pushed us to reconsider how we at CFAR see and work on cultural issues and focus on DEI, psychological safety, and the future of work.

Of course, a critical area of focus is ongoing efforts to increase a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion in organizations we work with, despite real political and cultural headwinds. Resistance to progress is particularly acute following the Supreme Court decision ruling against the constitutionality of race-conscious college admissions policies. This has had a chilling effect on our colleagues in higher education, healthcare, and the not-for-profit sectors, with impending implications for the corporate world. Yet we are encouraged to see many institutions working hard to advance their DEI efforts, all part of what our colleague Chantalle Couba described earlier this year as “the real part of the work—culture design and culture change—the place of being honest about your true culture and deciding whether you’re going to change.” One exemplary organization doing this hard work is the American Association for Medical Colleges (AAMC), the leading association in this domain, which has stepped up its focus on supporting DEI across its member institutions, with many colleges and universities working hard to keep momentum on efforts to diversify their campuses despite all the political opposition. For example, Harvard Business Publishing’s coverage of Bentley University’s thoughtful plans about how to sustain progress on their DEI efforts.

We know that psychological safety contributes to creating inclusive, engaged organizations. We at CultureLab find these ideas powerful in our work with clients and inside our firm and find great value in the ongoing dialogue on psychological safety. Its relationship to culture has been a rich and important thread. Our colleague Amy Edmondson, an award-winning Harvard Business School professor, a leading researcher on psychological safety, and a prolific author, just published Right Kind of Wrong: The Science of Failing Well. This new book looks at organizations’ cultural responses to and dynamics around failure in work initiatives and the importance of cultivating a culture that can be honest about and learn from these experiences. Through rich case stories and examples, she provides great evidence for behaviors that reframe failure into opportunity—and the steps needed to fail “intelligently.” This aligns with what our colleague Chris Hugill described in an earlier blog post this year, as the power of a growth mindset and the value of planning for cultural growth rather than assuming culture remains static in organizations.

The ongoing issue of post-pandemic working arrangements has evolved over the year in our view, moving from questions about how many days we will or won’t be in the office to larger questions about the future of work and how our workspaces enable the culture we want or need in the future. We are glad to have welcomed organizational anthropologist Melissa Fisher to CFAR as a Senior Advisor, who has been studying the intersecting issues of workplace culture, leadership, and the built environment. Melissa draws on her experience as an anthropologist to help companies consider how design can create more “human-centric, inclusive, resilient, healthy, and sustainable work environments and cultures,” as described in her recently co-authored article on “An Anthropological Approach to Today’s Workplace Design.” Melissa is a great cultural thinker and colleague and will help us advance our work on culture and in our Culture Lab.

There is so much to take in, digest, and learn from, and important work to do to create the cultures we need in order for our organizations to be successful, meet our missions, and support our people during these challenging times. We continue to be encouraged by how seriously organizations take culture at this time, and we look forward to the coming year of cultural growth and health for you all. We hope CFAR’s CultureLab can be a resource in your work!