Let’s Get Real Ep 8: Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast
Discussions on the Workplace and Corporate Real Estate Podcast
Some of the highlights of the show include:
- New ways of managing and leading teams
- Trust and empathy in leadership
- What is work really?
- Is company culture dependent on the office?
- Culture eats strategy for breakfast
- Blending behavior with culture and strategy
- Countering culture creation
Hey everyone, welcome to Let’s Get Real with Sandra and Friends, a workplace consortium podcast brought to you by Relogix. I’m excited to be sharing conversational musings about current events and how we envision the ever-changing world of work. I’m Sandra Panara, Director of Workplace Insights at Relogix. With 25 years of hands-on experience, I help value engineer global workplace portfolios and employee experiences by aligning workplace analytics with corporate real estate needs.
Have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future podcasts? Please drop me a line at [email protected].
This week, I’d like to introduce my special guest and friend, Pamela Ross. Pamela is a culture catalyst at Blue Rebel Works, located right here in Toronto. Pam, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself before we get started?
Thank you so much for having me! I’m Pam Ross, and I’m the founder of Blue Rebel Works. I believe that we spend far too much time at work for it to suck, so our purpose is to improve peoples’ lives by making work awesome.
Fantastic. I know that you’re very much involved in leadership and management conversations in organizations, that everything is up in the air and nobody knows what the future really holds, but I wanted to get a sense from you about what you’re hearing and seeing from that perspective. Are there some emerging themes in management and leadership that we haven’t seen before or is it pretty much the same old thinking?
I tend to come at things with mostly an optimistic viewpoint, so I think we’re seeing some new things that are really hopeful for the future. I’m hearing a lot of talk about how much managers have had to adapt to being more empathetic and building stronger connections with people. In the past, in our conversations with managers, they were so focused on the operations and the work, and they didn’t understand why they would waste time getting to know someone personally or spending time talking about personal lives. Over the course of the pandemic, that was one thing that we definitely saw shift. People were seeing how much that helped to build trust and to help people as they were working from home. That’s one thing that I hope continues—this shift to more human management and leadership.
I do think some leaders are having a struggle balancing this empathy with the accountability for the work, which is a whole other challenge. I think it relates back to some of the conversations you and I have had about what work really is. People haven’t gotten clear about work. Going forward, I would love to not just adapt what we’ve done in the past, but really re-invent how we’re thinking about that.
With regards to the return to the office, I don’t know anyone who is saying everyone is going to come back to the office 100% of the time. Most of the companies I’m talking to are looking at hybrid models, which are different based on many different factors. And it’s so fascinating, Sandra—you and I have known each other for several years and have been talking about new ways of working for a long time—and I don’t know about you, but I always saw a lot of resistance to “these things can’t be done from home” or “people have to come to the office for certain things”, so seeing people realize that employees can be productive from anywhere has been great. I hope that we don’t return or go back to the old ways.
So those are a couple of things I’m seeing. As well, there’s a huge movement for diversity, inclusion, and belonging that is so needed. Companies have been talking about it for a long time, but I’m seeing some more movement actually happening, and some deeper commitments. We’ll see if the commitments play out.
You’ve raised a lot of good points about current discussions and some of the challenges we’re facing right now. When you spoke about empathy and “what is work”, you alluded to the fact that we’re hoping that this empathy is going to continue past the pandemic, as people come back to work. But do you think that, at the management and even at the leadership level, there is an understanding of what work really is? We’re hearing a lot of conversations on why people should go back to work—from a cultural perspective, for collaboration and innovation, etc.—but it makes you wonder, is that just ideas from what we’ve been told, or what we think work is? That’s very different from the reality that employees are now voicing, with regards to having the flexibility to work in a way that’s more convenient and comfortable to them as individuals.
My brain is going in so many different directions as you bring up culture and connection. First of all, if your culture is dependent on your office, then I’m worried about that. Your culture is actually the pattern of behaviours of your employees, and if that is dependent on going to an office or being in a space, then I am worried about how you’re thinking about culture. I love getting together face to face with people (although I’m probably in this group of people who are hesitant about that coming out of the pandemic—I actually can’t imagine going back to full rooms of people).
But that’s not what your culture is. Your culture is how people are behaving, how they’re serving your clients and customers, it’s their day-to-day decisions and what they’re basing those on. If that’s dependent on going to work and being able to have water cooler conversations, then your culture is not very strong. So, I don’t think that’s a good excuse.
I do think you have to be more intentional about communicating culture and how you’re making decisions when you’re working remotely.
That being said, I’m actually challenging my own thinking on that. Sometimes we think that culture is more explicit because we’re in one place, when actually it isn’t, unless we’re communicating why we’re making our decisions. Regardless, I think that’s a good thing to think about, whether you’re bringing people back to the office or not.
Prior to joining this podcast, I was in a chat conversation with someone who made the comment which we’ve heard many times before, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. You’re probably familiar with that. Lately I’ve been thinking about if that still holds true.
To your point, if your decision is to rely on the physical space to define the culture, there’s a strategy behind that. The culture doesn’t just magically appear, and the culture’s not just what we say the culture is going to be. There’s the element of integrity and actually following through with what you say you’re going to do.
Right now, all eyes are on organizations about how they’re going to respond to the return to work, and what the future of work is going to look like. It seems like there’s a struggle between needing the physical office because that’s how you develop and define the culture, versus just having a strategy around who you are as an organization first, and from that, develop a culture, which may or may not include workplace. What are your thoughts there?
First of all, I think your culture and your strategy really go hand in hand. If you have a strategic objective, whatever that is, like selling your business in 3 years, growing the business, or a more purposeful objective around making a difference in a certain number of peoples’ lives—your culture is how you meet that objective. So, if you have a strategy and you haven’t thought about the behaviour that’s going to get you to that strategy, you’re missing out on the culture piece and you’re probably not going to reach that objective.
When I think of culture and strategy and how they work together, I’m looking at: where are you going, what’s your vision, and what are the patterns of behaviours of the people across your organization that are going to help you get there? And we can layer back, looking at those behaviours, and what values they’re based on, and really start to instill those in your culture. Because if you don’t do that, then you’re not going to meet your strategy. So that’s how I see them play out.
I just saw that a couple of weeks ago, Google came out and said they’re going to have people coming back to the office 3 days a week, and 2 days a week they can work wherever they want. But some jobs will have to be in the office every day, and everyone’s waiting to find out whether they can relocate. And then, just today, I read an article that said one of the senior executives at Google announced he was going to work from New Zealand.
I heard about that too.
When you’re doing things like that—you haven’t made a decision about anything for your larger employee base and then you have senior executives making a decision that goes counter to the culture they’re saying they want to create—if you haven’t really thought about culture, how we make decisions, what do we base our decisions on, then you’re creating culture that’s not the culture you say you’re going to create. The integrity of the culture isn’t there.
That’s great. Well, thank you for your time today, I really enjoyed this conversation. There’s always more to uncover and learn, so again, I really appreciate your time. Thank you very much.