The Culture First Global 2023 event series has come to a close, but we’re still reflecting on the insights from our amazing thought leaders and industry experts on the current state of work and leadership. During a time when many HR practitioners are being asked to “do more with less,” we asked our all-star speakers to share the critical, high-impact areas where HR professionals can put people first and drive meaningful change within their organizations.
Below, we’re highlighting data, insights, and expert advice from five of our stand-out sessions. You’ll want to keep these takeaways top-of-mind for 2024 strategic planning:
1. Are you the boss you need to be? with Dr. Linda Hill
In her Culture First keynote, Harvard Business School professor and leadership expert Dr. Linda Hill emphasizes the importance of prioritizing employee experience and cultural transformation alongside digital transformation. “Digital transformation is not so much about the technology; it’s about the people,” explains Linda. “Our analysis has found that organizations that focus on employee experience and cultural transformation make more progress with regard to getting people to adopt and use new technology and data.”
Linda’s data shows that the most successful leaders are the ones that focus on culture and capabilities. She says, “Leading innovation and building agile organizations is not about getting people to follow you to the future – it’s about getting people to want to cocreate that future with you. Now, how do you get people to want to co-create? You create the environment in which they are willing and able to do the hard work of being agile and being innovative.”
Shifting from followership to cocreation requires building teams where people collaborate, experiment, and learn together. Leaders must understand how to manage:
Themselves: They need to use themselves as an instrument to get things done, while creating the environment people need to do work effectively.
Their teams: They need to manage relationships with the people they have authority over.
Their networks: They need to manage relationships with groups they have no authority over, like peers, external vendors, or partners.
Fresia Jackson, Lead Research People Scientist at Culture Amp, shared an exclusive sneak peek into our newest research report, the 2023 State of the Manager report. With data from over 250,000 managers, the report highlights an alarming gap between what managers should focus on and what their direct reports want them to focus on.
Many people leaders find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. Do they listen to what their own manager asks them to prioritize? Or do they support their direct reports’ most pressing needs? Fresia says, “We found that managing up can actually be rewarded. In our data, 1 in 13 managers received a glowing performance review while being rated a poor manager by their direct report.”
Interestingly, the people you expect to support others are not getting the support they need. The research shows that the higher up a manager is, the less likely they are to engage in effective manager behaviors, creating a vicious cycle in which each level below them is less likely to support their direct report and less likely to be supported themselves.
To end this cycle, Fresia recommends that HR practitioners follow these steps:
Acknowledge the bind your managers are in
Be explicit about what you expect
Choose the one new behavior that you want to instill, focus on improving senior leadership adoption, and watch the behavior cascade through your organization
Recognize you can’t make a wrong choice, except for not doing anything
3. People Science great debate: Wage theft or on-the-job training?
In the current macroeconomic climate, companies are focused on conserving their highest business cost: labor. Especially when internal opportunities and promotions come along, businesses have the unique opportunity to test employees’ skills before promoting them – but should they?
Our Culture Amp’s senior people scientists debated whether doing the job before you’ve officially been promoted is wage theft or a practical tactic to prove readiness for increased responsibility. Here are a few of their hot takes:
“It’s wage theft.”
It’s exploitation, not career development. Daniel Gualdino, Senior People Scientist at Culture Amp, says giving an individual extra work without extra pay is like dangling a carrot at the end of the stick. “This approach is never motivating and doesn’t reflect a culture of fair opportunities, rather one that sees people as resources,” he says.
It’s demoralizing when a job goes to an external hire. How many times does an employee step up and do the job well, only to see the promotion go to an external hire? Companies need to think about the message this sends internally, as this approach will impact motivation and the employee’s desire to go above and beyond in the future.
People in underrepresented groups or minorities are not in a position to say no. Many minorities aren’t in a place to turn down the promise of more money and will feel obliged to accept new responsibilities without immediate pay, especially if they fear a similar opportunity might not appear again. Pip Lyons, Senior People Scientist, states, “Data shows that men are more likely to be promoted based on potential, whilst women are more likely to be promoted based on performance. In this case, women are more likely to do additional work without additional pay just to prove they’re worthy of a promotion that might never actually happen. And on top of this, women are less likely to ask for a raise. The reality is that not everyone can say no to a ‘quiet promotion,’ making the practice both unfair and exploitative.”
“It’s on-the-job training.”
It acts as a two-way interview, allowing employees to evaluate the fit just as much as businesses. Taking on the responsibilities of a higher-level role can give employees a better idea of what they’re actually signing up for. According to Senior People Scientist Eleni Techmann, some competencies can only be built in a future role, meaning that unofficially taking on a new role can help individuals learn skills that aren’t readily accessible in their current role, like people management.
“Many people don’t know beforehand what being a people leader can entail. That might lead people to never apply for that type of role if they don’t have a chance to gain this kind of experience. Being able to slowly take over more responsibilities without the title change can be a great way for individuals to gain confidence, and it can be a very realistic and fair preview of the role,” says Eleni.
Employees who lack growth in their current roles are flight risks. “Being confined to the same daily, repetitive tasks can drain your motivation,” says Senior People Scientist Devshree Bhatt. “At the end of the day, if we confine ourselves to our current roles, it won’t be the organization robbing us; we will be robbing ourselves of our potential.”
Trying out new responsibilities can benefit minorities. Data shows that minorities are less likely to apply to roles if they don’t feel they have all the qualifications. By giving individuals the opportunity to gain new experience and skills while in their current roles, organizations can help minorities feel more qualified and confident to apply to new roles in the future.
See the heated arguments for yourself and pick a side in our region-specific debates: APAC, EMEA, and the Americas.
4. Building an intentional culture is how you win with Didier Elzinga
Didier Elzinga, Culture Amp CEO and Co-Founder, shared what he heard from CEOs and CHROs about what’s happening within their companies and the world in 2023. One concerning trend is a dangerous “us vs. them” mentality developing within organizations. While businesses feel they need to refocus on outcomes and shift to a culture of high performance, employees feel they are just a number and are afraid to speak up.
The cause of this divide? “We are operating in a world of threat,” said Didier.
When humans feel threatened, they prioritize “me over we.” They develop a profound sense that they don’t have enough – time, validation, and more. To help employees rediscover their sense of self, the question becomes, “What can we do in an organizational context to help ourselves and our employees navigate this environment?” According to Didier, “We need to move from ‘me’ to ‘we.’ We need to come together collectively on this because all of us are at our best when we prioritize ‘we’ over ‘me.’”
He recommends that HR sit down with their leadership team and agree on what is most important to the “we.” Only then can businesses create a culture of standards, a culture of performance, and the validation of what it means to be human. “That’s what it means to be a culture-first company today,” says Didier.
5. How to create a better world of work for ourselves and those around us with Seth Godin
Seth Godin, best-selling author, teacher, and entrepreneur, warns businesses that humans are not a resource. “If we treat them like a machine to be tuned up, to be aimed in the right direction, to churn through the work to be done, then it’s going to end poorly,” he states. Instead, Seth urges businesses to explore the power of cohorts – groups of people who connect deeply.
“Value is created by cohorts of people who solve interesting problems. Businesses need to create the conditions for human beings to show up to do work that they are proud of and that has been missing from a lot of the conversation,” says Seth. “I wrote The Song of Significance to highlight the fact that we don’t get tomorrow over again, so we might as well make it what we can.”
Show your work. “‘Show your work,’ says, ‘I would love to hear why you think this is a good plan.’ The why is important. Just saying ‘Because I said so’ isn’t going to get my heart or my soul involved in where we’re going next,” explains Seth. To be a leader, you need to inspire your people through that “why” in order to win over their effort.
Turnover is okay. “If I have a bus that’s going to Melbourne, but you want to go to Sydney, it would be better for everyone if you got off the bus rather than sitting and complaining the whole time. Having the right people on the bus changes the whole institution,” says Seth. Instead of fearing employee turnover, he recommends focusing on earning employee effort. “As a result, we create these fluid organizations filled with people who are eagerly enrolled in the journey, not grudgingly going along,” he explains.
Watch Seth Godin and Damon Klotz’s full conversation, How to create a better world of work for ourselves and those around uson demand now.
Don’t miss Culture First 2024
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