July 11, 2011

Culture Evolution: Getting More and More People on the Train

Evolution of the Bicycle with years, names and...Image via WikipediOur Culture Evolution is progressing well. Just over a week ago, we met a major milestone when we presented our material to our strategic team during our Annual Operating Planning session. I am really enjoying the opportunities the evolution is giving me to be in meetings with people from all groups in the company.

We had a hard date to meet late in June at our Annual Operating Planning Session (AOP). I wanted to make sure we carved out time to discuss and engage people from the strategic team into the process. We decided to volunteer a SWAT ambassadors team to facilitate coordination and move things along at the pace required by the AOP session coming up. Between having 12 people around a table to hone in on the content, versus myself, we thought a SWAT team was a good middle ground. Our ambassadors team is 12 people and the SWAT ambassadors team is 5.

The SWAT ambassadors team set out to sum up and discuss the broad team we want our culture to become; what we aspire to be. We had great discussions on a variety of topics to lead us to the place we believe we are aiming for.

There were many conversations worth discussing here in this blog and I will get to them in future posts. I'm thinking Collaboration, Work/Life Balance, Open Mindedness, Speed and Iteration vs Learning, and a few more.

Our objectives at the AOP session were threefold:
  • Give a refresher on the background of the process and its objectives;
  • Present the progress made so far on the culture evolution;
  • Engage the strategic team in the process.

A Refresher on the Background of the Process and Its Objectives

In all discussions we've had, reframing the discussion and the reasons for doing it at the beginning of a session gets people to focus.  There were a few points we wanted the group to keep in mind during the conversation at the AOP session:
  • Engage versus Buy-in:  This is not a selling job; we're here to learn and exchange and get more data points.
  • Guide versus Solve:  We're map makers and as such our goal, which is very difficult, is not to have the solution ready for you but for us to guide you to where that solution is.
  • Business Results AND Culture:  They are not exclusive to each other; you get one with the other and vice versa; this is an infinity loop.
Presenting the Progress

Business is about progress and scratching an item from the to-do is always very satisfactory. When you speak about evolving the culture of a company the line items on the to-do list are fuzzier and tend to be larger chunks. Our challenge at the AOP was that we were speaking to a group that is all about results and scratching line items from a list in order to grasp the great progress we have made so far.
  • We have a team of 12 ambassadors who are representing their respective groups voluntarily and contributing great and high quality input because they are fully engaged in the process.
  • When it was time to select a SWAT ambassador team, all of them wanted to be part of it because they enjoy the experience and the opportunity to give input.
  • Through the discussions and the activities done so far, we have identified 5 categories we want to define more and eventually start tracking our experience against, to see how well we live those values:
  1. Appreciation/Achievement/Celebration
  2. Trust
  3. Learning/Growth/Speed -> Generative Learning
  4. Passion
  5. Being Intentional
  • We believe there is room for a couple more themes/categories, no more.
  • Each category has a few bullet points of descriptive text to explain what this means in the context of Macadamian.
  • We still have a lot of work to do and we believe it's important at this stage to get input from Macadamian's strategic team.
The process is moving along and people are giving us great input to work with. We are having good thinking and healthy discussions about what it all means. I'm pumped to see our people wanting to do something about how we work and who we aspire to be. It's a great feeling. In my mind, the more people are engaged, the more the right things will get done.

Engage the Strategic Team in the Process

We had a whole afternoon to socialize what we had gathered so far. We had 3 ambassadors at the session to guide sub-teams of the strategic team through the thinking process we went through. Then we had time set aside for the 3 sub-groups to tell us what the values and categories identified thus far meant to them, in what ways they resonated, and what they triggered internally. We got to gather more information and input to add to our living values document.
Rules of Engagement (Star Trek novel)Image via Wikipedia

The last part of the day was a brainstorm on how we could start shortly to put the values into practice and what concrete actions we could internalize since the next day was going to be spent on hashing out the next year's operating plan. Some great ideas came in with respect to how the culture could be lived. One idea was to have a big, shiny star with the text 'Ask Me Why I'm Awesome' awarded to an individual who has lived and exemplified one or more of our values. Another idea that stood out was how we can tie project status to the values and use this as a metric of health, like finance, project state etc. As you can see the creative juices were flowing and it's really fun to see and experience!

We had a great and valuable exchange at the AOP regarding the culture. We have some actions to take back to our full ambassador team and we have to bring this back to the whole organization as well. We will now start on refining and understanding the meaning of the words in our context. The response to the discussion from the strategic team was beyond expectations; thanks to everyone. You all jumped right in!



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