January 5, 2021

A Pithy Culture Article Worth Reading

When it comes to articles about corporate culture, I like to think I am “discerning,” but “critical” is probably more accurate. I find most articles about corporate culture somewhere between pabulum and rectal-cranial inversions.

But I can’t speak highly enough about this article 3 Tenets of a Strong Remote Culture by Nicholas Lovegrove in the December 2020 Harvard Business Review.

First, he draws our attention to an important fact.  While creating strong cultures in remote environments “…feels like uncharted territory — it really isn’t."  The leading consulting firms have been building strong virtual cultures forever.

So how do they do it?  Lovegrove highlights three key practices. The first is forcing some “in office” days and making the focus 1) organizational learning--best practices, breakthroughs, client wins, etc.--and 2) once or twice per year, a few days dedicated to reinforcing culture and values though case studies and role plays. This is a reminder that you really start solidifying your culture when you ask leaders to teach it and provide demonstrable examples of your values and culture in action.

Second, I like his point that a corporate culture isn't fixed...it has to evolve...and it’s the organization’s leaders that need to evolve it. What was acceptable 10 years ago around diversity, inclusion, community and environmental actions, innovation, customer service, etc…may simply not be enough today. How do you get from the absence of certain behaviors or priorities 5 or 10 years ago to them becoming the norm without holding leaders accountable for managing that culture change process? Short answer: you don’t.

But I am really over the moon about his third point: consulting firms leading the charge around recognizing that the aggregation of the behavior of all those virtual teams not only is the culture but also the organization's business results, and then taking concrete steps to support those teams. Two actions he highlights are noteworthy: 1) A bi-weekly Team Barometer to assess how the teams are doing, with the team getting the results so they can act on them, and Senior staff also getting the results so they can intervene before the wheels come off the cart, and 2) making team development and team effectiveness a part of the evaluation/promotion criteria for engagement managers and partners.

In my view, these three tenets need to be core elements of the playbook for managing culture in all companies, virtual or not.

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