References to organizational culture are everywhere—in the business press, in our conversations about the future of work post-pandemic, in conferences and online, where leaders are discussing how to best engage their people and position their organizations to advance their missions. We at CFAR have always believed that implicit assumptions and behaviors impact our work deeply. Taking explicit efforts to shape culture in ways that increase the effectiveness of people and organizations are critical to success. We believe that “culture” has reached an inflection point in the world and in our work—it has inspired us to start The CFAR CultureLab.
Welcome to Fieldnotes from the CultureLab, a new newsletter from CFAR’s CultureLab, a brand-new initiative for us.
The CultureLab will pull together our work on culture— consulting, thinking, teaching, and writing—in conjunction with our internal experiments on creating a culture for CFAR that is innovative, supportive, and learning-oriented. We are excited to share this resource with you and invite you to send it to colleagues who you think would be interested in these ideas and who believe in and care about organizational culture. We would love for you to send us any reactions, writing or resources you think we should feature in future newsletters. If you have ideas for collaborating on culture work—send those along as well! You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some ideas that recently caught our attention:
David Lancefield’s latest article in the journal Strategy and Business—“Mastering the connection between strategy and culture”—proposes an integrated take on the connections between culture and strategy, rather than seeing them as siloed and stuck, in the spirit of Peter Drucker’s observation that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” (though we know it often does!). Lancefield argues that cultural behaviors that reinforce the organization’s strategic direction and key decisions (e.g., recruitment and talent development, transparency through crises, strategy development, etc.) provide critical opportunities to bring culture and strategy together, something we have learned in our own work. We believe that strengthening culture through behavior is not just “nice to do,” but rather essential to an organization’s ability to execute strategy and improve performance. And we have seen this come to life in our consulting work on culture and in inside our own firm.
The ongoing discussions around “back to office” policies are, at their core, discussion about organizational culture—what it has been, how it is changing, and what it will be in the future. On this front, The Wall Street Journal shared research conducted in 2020, asking “What if the Optimal Workweek Is Two Days in the Office, Not Three?” One study, soon to be published by Harvard Business School, found that employees who were physically in the office one or two days a week were more productive than those who came in more frequently. They were able to work more flexibly without feeling isolated from their peers. Additional survey data from Future Forum, a workplace improvement consortium, showed that overall workplace satisfaction declined 1.6 times for those working five days in the office compared with other cohorts. What is the right balance of face-to-face time for your organization that keeps employees engaged and allows you to sustain a healthy organizational culture? We are experimenting with different ideas in our own firm and would love to hear your thinking on this topic!
We recently came across a fascinating book by Kevin Hancock, CEO of Hancock Lumber, a family business in Casco, Maine. Hancock lost his voice to a medical condition and, in coping with his new reality, describes how he discovered a new mindset on organizational excellence. The Seventh Power: One CEO’s Journey into the Business of Shared Leadership envisions a new age of leadership that disperses power from the center of organizations to the individual employee, based on a belief system of the Lakota Sioux tribe. Would this perspective on raising the influence of individual employees on workplace norms and culture play out in your organization?
At CFAR, we believe in the power of the collective—and that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. What do you think about the power of the individual to shape workplace norms and culture, and how might it play out in your organization?”
News outlets have covered the workforce crisis that many health systems are grappling with. Our colleagues, Carey Gallagher and Jason Pradarelli, recently took a step back and wrote about the broader significance of this trend in healthcare. In the April 2022 edition of the Wharton Healthcare Quarterly, they contend that this trend is bigger than a shortage of workers—that it represents a moment that cannot be ignored for the American healthcare industry. Specifically, they characterize the workforce crisis as public, irreversible, and systemic, and a phenomenon that challenges the identity of healthcare organizations and their people. Their article offers a framework for interpreting this moment in time for healthcare organizations and introduces core principles for leaders to embody when addressing unignorable moments like this one (as described in our book The Moment You Can’t Ignore). One of those principles (which we see playing out in many industries): slow down to speed up. Sometimes, slowing down in the short term can enable you to speed up in the long run.