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Archive for August, 2017

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I recently had the pleasure of having dinner with entrepreneur and author Danny Gutknecht and was inspired and enthralled by his theories about organizational culture and employee engagement. His research and experiences are described in his recent book- Meaning at Work, And it’s Hidden Language”. Here are a few key takeaways from the book and also where I think it fits into the broader landscape of making culture change happen.

Two barriers to engaging employee hearts and minds:

Standardization:

We may be underestimating the malaise that we create when we standardize how we manage people. The normal way we achieve economies of scale in an organization is by standardization. We standardize electronic medical record data entry, employment application processes, policies and procedures, meeting times, and organizational titles to just name a few. While this all works to create a smooth operation, the one place Gutknecht says this falls short, is when it comes to people. Employees are showing up at work with their own expectations and past experiences. If you have any doubt about this just take a look at your organization’s varied responses on Glass Door.

When we standardize how we treat people, this homogenization takes the wind out of employees’ sails. We unintentionally fail to harness the power that comes from employees wanting to feel that they matter and deeply desiring inspiration so that they can do their best work.

Top down vs. bottom Up:

Second, Gutknecht point out that culture change, like strategy creation, is usually a top down exercise. Without knowing what actually creates meaning for employees, we tend to invent a marketing brochure vs. actionable plans to engage people, instill a common purpose, and inspire the energy to satisfy customers.

A new paradigm – The Human Fugue

So, to move past these barriers and decipher how meaning is created, Gutknecht uses a model created by his friend and colleague Stanford grad and entrepreneur Bijoy Goswami. This model called “The Human Fugue”, describes four “houses” or domains through which humans operate to make meaning of their existence.   Like Maslow’s hierarchy, when these houses are laid one on top of another, there is a sense of moving from a place where there is very little autonomy (ie. being given facts and theories we are expected to adopt – The House of Phenomena) and the constraints placed on all of us by laws, policies and standard protocols (The House of Rights), to the arena where we create meaning by building and exchanging assets (The House of Resources). The ultimate pinnacle though is –“The House of Meaning”. At this level of self-actualization – culture is not inherited from senior leaders at the top, nor adopted, it is curated.

In my view, “curating meaning” is a pretty revolutionary concept and requires a bit of trust on the part of leaders. Here’s why taking the risk to allow your employees to curate (collect, assemble, translate, understand, incorporate) meaning is so important:

Curating meaning at work….

  • Allows employees to decide what resonates with them and then allows them to discard the rest.
  • Frees people up to embrace beliefs and aspirations that fit their values.
  • Fosters empathy for others who might view their work through a different lens.
  • Places accountability on the shoulders of the employee. By Webster’s definition, a curator is “one who has the care and superintendence of something”.
  • Transforms employees by the very fact that you take them on a journey to decipher the meaning of their work. In Bijoy’s words – JOurneY is spelled using these three capital letters because knowing you matter and finding this kind of fulfillment at work brings joy.

The secret sauce – Essence Mining

Lots of organizations use engagement surveys as a way to understand their employee mindset and how easy it is to operate in the environment.   And surveys, while a good start at giving employees a voice, don’t often result in much revelation. (Ever wonder why the same comments end up on your survey year after year?) By their nature, surveys are anonymous and the answers are often based on context that leaders will never know. This is why Gutknecht created a process called “Essence Mining”.

Essence mining is unique in the following ways:

  • Interviews are recorded on video and then analyzed for not only what the employees has said, but how they have said it. Through studying the rhythm, tempo, and loudness of the conversation, Gutknecht says much can be learned about the employee’s emotional state.
  • Questions begin with very early memories of influences from childhood to adulthood. Even though the interview in no way resembles therapy, these early memories and influences have helped to form the person showing up at work, so are viewed as important.
  • Upon completion these videos are analyzed, stories cataloged, and themes, mantras and patterns identified. This data forms what Gutknecht calls the Organizational Dynamic Lingua Franca – ODLF. This ODLF is the actual culture that exists vs. the one you think you have because you published a description of it on your website.

Where Essence Mining (EM) Fits in the bigger picture of culture change:

In a 2012 article by Jon Katzenbach, Ilona Steffen and Caroline Kronley titled Culture Change that Sticks”, the authors describe five key strategies used by companies that successfully evolve their culture: 1) Understanding culture and matching it to strategy, 2) focusing on a few critical shifts in behavior, 3) honoring the strengths in the existing culture 4) Integrating formal interventions with informal and 5) measuring and monitoring the culture evolution.

If the goal is to get culture change to take root, Essence Mining could be deployed to not only gain understanding but also provide a safe space for employees to share their stories. The interview process in itself is an intervention that helps with group cohesion and since the “hidden meaning of language” is dynamic, and changes as you hire new employees and others leave, it can be deployed periodically to monitor the culture evolution.

Another differentiator seems to be that EM is outcome oriented, unlike other studies that end up in a binder on the top of a leader’s shelf.   Gutknecht shares that organizations have used Essence Mining to do everything from designing ways to recruit for hard to fill positions to developing cohesion among new work groups during mergers and acquisitions. And for transparency, the results are shared with both employees and leaders. It’s about producing an outcome that transforms the relationship between people and their work. In Gutknecht’s words…

By making a space for the people in your organization to be who they are and offer what they have to contribute, you become a dream weaver. You weave everyone’s passions, and the dream of what they are capable of, into a vision of getting something done for the company, the customers, and the world.”

Pretty cool if you ask me.

How do you create meaning in your work and in your life?

 

 

 

 

 

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