Gotham Culture | Organizational Culture and Leadership Consultants
At gothamCulture, our consultants provide critical insight to leaders who desire to use organizational culture and leadership as key drivers of performance. Empowering leaders with powerful insight that helps drive organizational performance through the lens of culture and strategy.
What does it take to deliver on the promise of transformation? In the face of high-velocity change, communication is everything. Things are moving so quickly, people don’t know what story they’re in anymore. It’s why they need a compelling narrative that answers who we are, what we do, who we serve, and why it matters. This narrative needs to be embedded across the entire organization. Clear messaging produces org-wide alignment: shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, metric to metric. The best practices below have been mined from over 15 years of experience in helping leaders successfully create sustained transformation.
1.) CONVEY AN INSPIRED FUTURE
Why It Matters: OKRs are powerful, yet they rarely convey the vision. A vision needs to be aspirational, emotional and functional—beyond just financial growth and moving the metrics. Why should we be excited about what we can create together? Your vision needs to demonstrate faith in the future.
Where & When?
Keystone videos & collateral
2.) STAY DISCIPLINED
Why It Matters: Transformation doesn’t happen by just “winging it”. You need catchy, repeatable keywords and slogans. Develop memorable frameworks, mental models, and taglines that can be repeated on a frequent basis. That message has to be personalized by every leader for believability.
Where & When?
Cascade down the line
Internal comms channels
Coaching execs for consistency
3.) ADDRESS THE EMOTIONAL
Why It Matters: Successful business transformations require speaking to the emotional thrash of change—the fears, the hopes, and the uncertainties. In the midst of a storm, leaders hold the center, demonstrate calm, and provide space for their team members to process the changes. While you might live in the new story, many of your people are still attached to the old story. You want to bring them along without making them feel judged, bad, or defensive.
Where & When?
All-hands and town halls
Monthly team meetings
4.) BE TRANSPARENT
Why It Matters: Transformation moves at the speed of communication. It’s vital to provide team members with frequent access to information, especially during times of change and uncertainty. Not everyone can see the executive view, and a regular cadence of communication can both overcome skepticism and address a fear of the unknown. Moreover, a culture of disclosure and openness engenders trust. People need to constantly be reminded of their place and importance in the company story—great leaders are constantly reinforcing context, outlining priorities, and showing they care.
Where & When?
All-hands and town halls
Regular team meetings
5.) NAME THE STAKES
Why It Matters: Why is the transformation worth the effort? Bring us back to the big picture: What are you unlocking, enabling, or improving for your customers, employees, and partners? It’s worth the time to map out the payoff for each audience you should be communicating with. All audiences should have a clear understanding of the value the business creates for its customers or users, as well as a dedication to improving that value, service, and lasting impact.
Where & When?
Sales message and materials
Investor pitch deck
6.) STRENGTHEN BELONGING
Why It Matters: What are you inviting people into? Team members should have a clear sense of how they contribute, with a feeling of being seen, heard and appreciated. All team members should know and feel that they belong inside the company and see themselves inside its story. When change makes the waters choppy, they not only need a calm center, but they also need to know everyone is in it together.
Where & When?
All-hands and town halls
Regular team meetings
7.) DEMOCRATIZE THE STORY
Why It Matters: At its core, culture is simply the stories we share in common. It’s not just the enlightened few who can tell the story. Everyone needs to be empowered to represent the brand and to evangelize the narrative. All team members—from IT to marketing teams—need to be able to speak with confidence about who we are, what we do, who we serve, and why it matters. To do this well, your people need the tools to develop their own relationship to the story, as well as the confidence to deliver it.
Where & When?
Team training & coaching
All-hands & annual events
This article was written by Michael Margolis, CEO, and Founder of Storied.
This year, my son gave me the best gift an entrepreneur could ever ask for. Of course, my second grader, like nearly every other eight-year-old in America, has mastered the ability to influence others to get what he wants. With summer kicking off in full swing, these talents typically revolve around spending an inordinate amount of mental capacity figuring out how to get more screen time. Last week, rather than vying to get a few extra minutes of screen time or finding creative ways to get out of practicing his guitar, my son convinced his friend that they should start a business.
After some cajoling, his friend agreed and they went through the process of deciding what type of business they should embark on. A short while later, the boys settled on a car cleaning business (interiors only mind you). After dedicating their attention to touting the virtues of such a business and the benefit that it would bring to the local community, the boys turned their attention to creating posters and fliers that they attached both to their wagon as well as the community mailboxes in our neighborhood.
Loading up their wagon with their (read my) supplies: a shop vac, dash cleaner, leather cleaner, Windex, paper towels, and rags and were ready for business. They quickly realized that not only did they need something to keep their millions in as they moved from house to house but that they needed a pricing structure. Without missing a beat, they immediately dove in and made it happen.
In order to make sure they had their act together, they asked if my wife and I would be willing to let them practice on our cars, something we promptly agreed to. And then it happened. Something in my son sparked. While I intentionally minded my own business, all the while keeping a rather close eye on them as they worked, I could see a sense of pride swell up in the boys. They were doing something for other people. They were taking great pride in ownership and they were making sure we were satisfied with their work. As they worked, they chatted and their conversations were both surprising and inspiring.
After a short while, our cars were clean and the boys added their first revenues to their kitty, a mason jar with a handwritten sign on it sitting haphazardly in their wagon. With beaming smiles, they began their trek from house to house, knocking on doors and pitching their potential customers. With the confidence only an eight-year-old can have, they let rejection slide off their backs with ease, they took future appointments (which they noted on a small pad), and they moved on to the next house- each stop an opportunity to perfect their pitch.
We’re now a few days into their business and they are still going strong. They have made a surprising amount of money and with summer vacation rapidly approaching, they are already strategizing how to expand their operation into other neighborhoods as well as hiring and training new employees in order to expand.
Why am I telling you this?
It is not uncommon for young children to start a business. Lemonade stand. Mowing lawns. Manicures. (Yes, manicures). It almost seems like a right of passage for many kids in America. I recall multiple businesses that I myself ran as a child with fond memories. All of them, opportunities to develop skills and practice new behaviors that I could take with me the rest of my life.
Delivering customer experience excellence can be a challenge.
Get it right, and customer experience excellence can significantly improve performance for government agencies. It has been proven to increase revenue, enhance efficiency, and improve public image.
You are invited to join other senior leaders for a practical working breakfast on the critical role that customer experience plays in organizational performance. The event will be led by Senior Customer Experience Executives from DCAS contract holder gothamCulture and our partners at TribeCX.
Practical Strategies to Improve Customer Experience Excellence in Your Organization
This workshop is limited to 60 registrants. The confidential customer experience assessment link will be live until 5:00 pm on July 5th. Please share this invitation with any colleagues or contacts who would benefit from this workshop!
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
8:00 am – 11:00 am EDT
Metropolitan Tower, 146 West 57th Street, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10019
If “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, as has been said, then it’s time to tune in to how to create a winning company culture. What does it look like? How do you create it? How can you transform your team and company? gothamCulture’s Chris Cancialosi talks to Wanda Wallace on “Out of the Comfort Zone” podcast this Friday at 8 am ET/11 am PT.
Many a time I have been asked how a business knows they need to revisit their culture and just as many that I have been told by a CEO that they have a great culture whilst they go on to tell me the signs are that they don’t.
So, what exactly should you be looking for? Here’s my list of the top 11 signs that might be telling you it’s time for a culture change.
The numbers tell a fading story
For whatever reason, if your sales are on a downward trajectory its a sure sign there’s a problem. Whether it is the actual product or the way you are working the underlying truth is that the organization is either failing to leverage intelligence and adapt or is simply not agile enough to keep up with market trends.
Your people aren’t happy
Happiness is an integral part of profitability. If your employees are not happy with you then as well as the impact on your HR budget from high turnover of staff and sickness they will also care less and its that loss of attention to detail and will to succeed that could cost you most dearly. Introducing an innovation culture that everyone has a stake in sends out a strong message about the value of employees.
Everyone is at each other’s throats
Well its quite a dramatic way to describe interdepartmental wrangling but you know how it feels to be working in a business with hostilities between teams. There are lots of reasons this happens but whatever the reason a culture of innovation brings with it the importance of collaboration, an essential part of a profitable and agile business.
It takes forever to get things done
Often the way a business evolves means that new processes and people are added to old processes and existing teams. The end result is that projects often end up taking twice as long and not necessarily in the most time and cost-effective way. When the way a business is working is so slow that over-running projects are being overtaken by events its time for a change.
Your reputation isn’t quite what it was
In these days of social media, a single complaint can make a whole world of difference to the reputation of your company. Getting it right as well as ensuring complaints are dealt with in the right way is a key part of your overall branding. If you’ve lost touch with your customers, there is a product failure or customer service just isn’t a priority a bad reputation is a sure sign its time to review.
You are getting left behind
For many CEOs one of the biggest worries is the speed of change in the market. New technologies and advances in AI mean that just to keep up businesses and products need to reinvent themselves just to keep up. Creating a culture of innovation that includes everyone from employees to customers and suppliers means you’ll reach a holistic solution.
Your product looks just like your closest competitors
When the only thing that differentiates you from the competition is price then you are on the road to nowhere. Your profitability will drop as you work harder and harder to sell more. It’s at this point you need to rethink what your point of difference is and your business culture will be at the heart of this.
Your customers want different things
Changes in the way customers interact with your business or product can have a fundamental effect on your success. Ensuring your culture changes in line with your customers’ expectations may well require innovative solutions. What we are seeing demonstrated on the high street today, through the demise of businesses like Toy ‘R’ Us is that changes in customer expectations mean that businesses that don’t keep up are failing to go the distance.
There’s a shiny new kid on the block
A disruptor in the market taking share away from you in a market where you have traditionally held good market share and customer loyalty is a common catalyst for a culture change. Customer loyalty will only go so far when they are being tempted by nimble, flexible businesses offering choice and speed. Unless you can deliver innovation in the marketplace of today your customers will start to disappear.
Your regulator tells you so
This is probably the clearest sign you will receive that you need to start embracing a culture of innovation. The financial sector has received the most obvious and high-profile signals that it is time for a change but it can happen in any industry. Sometimes it is worth bearing in mind that even some of the regulations might need an innovative approach to make them work for your business.
That funny feeling
As CEO you are an integral part of your business, you very likely have many years of experience working in great, and not so great places so you know deep down when something isn’t right. Combined with any one of the signs above its time to revisit your culture.
Quite simply, there are so many signs that you need to address your culture but ensuring that you are looking for them is the first step. Assessing and measuring your culture is the next step. Read our book Building A Culture Of Innovation for more about spotting the signs its time for a change.
“Yes, my boss fully supports the idea of my receiving executive coaching,” a prospective client answers. “And the company will pay for it – they see it as an investment!”
Those are great words to hear from a client as she or he begins the exciting journey of executive coaching. Such a message provides a sense of the support the client is receiving from the company and from the individual to whom they report – their boss.
As we set the stage for coaching engagements, the boss, who usually serves as the “sponsor” for the coaching, is a critical part of the process. Oftentimes, though, I sense that while the boss is a strong supporter of the idea, the role of sponsorship might be so new to him that he is not able to fulfill this critical role in a manner that will best facilitate the coaching for the client.
So what is the role of a sponsor in executive coaching? Essentially it is about building a platform for learning.
As a coach, I can help build awareness in the sponsor before moving to action, by discovering the boss’s knowledge about coaching and his understanding of the power of the process and how he can help it succeed. I find that an hour with the boss at the beginning of the engagement is time well spent in setting the foundation for coaching. Many bosses have experienced coaching and intuitively see its value. Some are very knowledgeable, yet lack personal experience, while others want to see improvement in a subordinate, but have little knowledge about how coaching can help.
Businesses routinely invest and look for a return on investment. The ROI for coaching isn’t always about direct return on dollars, but there is a return on the investment in the capabilities of the human being with whom we work, especially if the client and the sponsor are aligned on the outcomes they desire. Where would I like to see growth in this person? What capabilities would I like him to enhance? As the client becomes more effective, how can he help the rest of the team and the company at large? Where can he be more effective?
Usually, as we discuss contracting for the engagement, I have a chance to speak with a sponsor. Or else I am able to speak with the sponsor during our initial three-way meeting between the sponsor, client and me. That is an opportunity to assess the sponsor’s understanding of the process and how he or she can help. I work to help the sponsor fully understand why he supports the coaching of the subordinate and has a clear idea of what he believes to be the developmental needs of the individual. Natural questions emerge. What motivated the decision to pursue coaching? Is it to enhance a specific skill? Is it to address a gap in someone’s capabilities? Spending time on the answers to these questions and others is critical.
The sponsor can be an effective partner in the coaching process in a number of ways:
First, she needs to understand that the process of coaching is a confidential relationship between the coach and the client. Anything that is discussed in coaching sessions is strictly off-limits to anyone but the client and the coach. The only thing a coach can talk about to a sponsor is whether the client is actually pursuing the coaching and regularly attending sessions. This ground rule is commonly understood by human resource professionals and is part of the International Coaching Federation (ICF) code of ethics. It is critical to the relationship of trust that must be developed between the coach and client.
I always remind clients and their sponsors, though, that while the coaching relationship is confidential, their relationship is not. This means that the sponsor can provide encouragement and support for the engagement, by not just paying for the engagement, but also asking questions of the subordinate and showing real interest in the process. Curiosity and inquiry can be the guide for the sponsor, as she or he can ask open-ended questions: What are your impressions of the process? I’m very interested in what you might be learning. How can I help you with your developmental journey? While the boss-subordinate relationship may not naturally flow into fluid answers, it is always beneficial for any boss to be interested in a subordinate. So often we are so busy in our professional lives that we can’t find the time to display interest – but it is always worth it.
The most effective bosses/ sponsors with whom I have worked are the ones who are open about their own development. Oftentimes they have experienced coaching and are willing to share part of their journeys and how they have changed and grown. Other times, they benefit from the learnings of a subordinate and readily listen to and celebrate in the growth of another. And then there are the magical moments when the trust between subordinate and boss is such that the boss can shift her or his behavior and strengthen the relationship and the effectiveness of their team and organization as a direct result of the subordinate’s feedback and input. In such a case, it is best to view the client and boss as a system – not two individuals – their communication and interactions can be dramatically affected by reaching a level of understanding that transcends strictly professional transactions and becomes one of a strong interpersonal relationship.
The sponsor can be so beneficial in the coaching process. He or she can transform the process to one of continuous development by strengthening the relationship at the outset of the coaching and continuing it long after the engagement ends. By joining together as professionals who both see themselves as always learning and developing, the individuals have a platform that supports the future – a real platform for learning.
Dave Bushy is an ICF-Certified Executive Coach who worked in the business world for 35 years. He currently works with Boston Executive Coaches and is a Senior Associate with gothamCulture.
There I was, sitting in the office of a senior executive who was struggling to come to terms with the reality that their organizational change effort, though having somewhat significant success initially, was not sustaining. People were quickly slipping back to old behaviors and engagement measures were sliding back to where they were when the change process started.
As I learned more about the “culture” change efforts that this organization had engaged in over the last year and a half, it became clear to me where it went sideways. This leader is not alone in succumbing to this common misconception about what culture is and isn’t and I felt that it was time to take a moment to clarify a few things for the rest of my readers who may be feeling similar frustrations.
The concept of organizational culture has become widely accepted as a critical component of performance in recent years. With this, I find that a great many of my discussions with leaders, often, teeter between several topics that fall within the realm of culture but are not one and the same. This reality can create some understandable confusion and frustration for people.
One common situation that I find myself running into are conversations with business leaders who are attempting to evolve the cultures of their organization but who, in reality, are focusing on organizational climate. Many business leaders tend to utilize the terms organizational culture and organizational climate interchangeably, and while they share many similarities, there are several key differences that delineate them from one other.
While both impact behavior in the workplace, helping leaders to understand the key similarities and differences between culture and climate will facilitate both engaging in dialogue and setting expectations with regard to what organizational outcomes they can hope to achieve. Additionally, both play integral roles in organizational functioning.
Let’s start with climate as it is generally viewed as the more narrow of the two concepts. Climate is comprised of a set of internal characteristics that influence behavior and that distinguishes one group from another. Climate is the more visible aspects, or manifestations, of the culture of an organization.
Climate is a measure of the perceptions of individuals in a group and it can change somewhat quickly. The transition of a key leader, a major internal or external event that impacts the organization at-large, or a change of business strategy can all have a significant impact on the climate of an organization.
Climate refers to the shared feeling of the environment and is a manifestation of how people perceive their ongoing relationship with their organization at a current point in time. It is also limited to the observable and conscious aspects of the experience that members have in their work environment.
The concept of organizational culture, however, goes much deeper to include what people believe, value, and the fundamental beliefs and assumptions that group members hold to be true about how work should be done. Culture is collectively shared amongst group members and relates to patterns of behavior that are deeply embedded in the fabric of the organization. These patterns develop as members of an organization, through trial and error, figure out what leads to success and what leads to failure.
Organizational culture is how people feel about the organization in which they are members, which is akin to climate and why people sometimes confuse the two. Culture goes further to include the underlying beliefs, values, and assumptions that members of the group hold to be true.
Deal and Kennedy suggest that organizational culture is, “the way we do things around here.” It is a system of shared orientations and accepted beliefs that hold a group together and give it a distinctive identity that set it apart from other organizations. Culture develops over time as members of an organization experience share learning about what works and what doesn’t. Over time, the members of the organization begin to understand how to succeed in that operating environment and begin to take for granted that those ways of operating are the “right” way to do things. This is all well and good so long as the operating context stays stable and what has always worked continues to work moving forward.
Unlike climate, culture is much less dependent on individual events that occur in the day-to-day. Rather, culture tends to drive peoples’ interpretation, thinking, and perspectives of the events that occur over longer periods of time.
In his book, Organizational Culture and Leadership, Edgar Schein suggests that “Climate can be locally created by what leaders do, what circumstances apply, and what environments afford. A culture can evolve only out of mutual experience and shared learning.” Based on this assertion, a mid-level manager can have direct impact on the climate of his or her team by creating a work environment that performs at high levels despite what is going on around them in the organizational system, in effect, shielding the team from the ills of the system but, over time, the organizational culture, if not evolved to support those changed ways of working, will, most likely, exert powerful force on the team and they will eventually slide back into the collective ways of doing things.
If things are still a bit hazy for you, consider Guion’s analogy that the concept of climate is similar to the concept of wind chill- something that most people can relate to. Wind chill is simply peoples’ subjective perception of the combined effect of two objective concepts: wind speed and temperature.
Why is This Important?
So, you may be asking yourself, who cares? In the context of daily organizational function, the nuance between culture and climate may not seem like a big deal. Where the distinction becomes important for organizational leaders is when they are making decisions on where to focus their resources and what impact they can expect to see.
It is critical to tend to both culture and climate in an organizational system but with climate being the more visible and more readily changeable, it tends to be the area where most people focus. This is not wrong per se. Gaining ground where you can is certainly something. The risk of stopping at addressing climate-related topics is that those gains can be easily lost if the underlying cultural values, beliefs, and assumptions do not also evolve to support sustained behavior change through shared learning. The next time you find yourself getting frustrated at the lack of sustainability of your change efforts, ask yourself if you are focusing in the right place.
Among the many attributes a leader must possess, the most important is the ability to effortlessly transition from one leadership approach to another, in effect gliding between styles that best serve the developmental needs of those individuals they serve. Truly masterful leaders know how and when to bring those approaches to bear.
A leader can be a mentor some of the time, a coach on other occasions, and a teacher when it is useful. Think of the three attributes – Mentor, Coach and Teacher – as some of the most powerful tools in your leadership toolbox.
Each can serve the needs of others. And notice that I intentionally don’t use the word “subordinate,” because we often are serving the needs of colleagues or team members and even bosses that have a desire to grow. It’s an important distinction, especially considering that sometimes those we serve end up being in positions that might later have a higher “rank” in the chain of command. In effect, we take turns leading others, but if the habits are there to help others on their developmental journeys, does it really matter what position she or he holds? In that regard, I often use the famous Chaucer quote, “And gladly would he learn and gladly teach,” to remind myself and clients of that philosophy.
So what are the differences between the three styles of mentor, coach, and teacher? It might be better to start with the similarities between them:
A relationship – All three require a relationship or connection between a leader and the individual she or he serves.
Trust – Each require strong communication skills and a foundation of trust. Masterful leaders know their job is to build a safe container for an individual to build awareness of their strengths and their less-developed attributes.
Avoiding judgment – Avoiding judgment is another important similarity. Do not assume intention on the part of the other individual – merely begin with a hypothesis about his or her capabilities.
Learning– Finally, an approach filled with optimism and appreciative inquiry establishes a foundation in any relationship that leads to the most important similarity of all three attributes: Learning.
Now for the differences:
Coaching – Coaches are curious and ask questions that help others see things about themselves that they might not have otherwise noticed. Coaches do not “own” the outcomes of others, but do encourage, through inquiry, accountability for actions of others. A coach might say, “I’m curious about your delivery of the presentation yesterday. I noticed some things that might be useful. Would you like to hear them?”
Mentoring – Mentors join in a professional journey. They can direct and participate (with the individual’s permission) in the growth of others, using their knowledge of the organization or corporation of which they are a part. Mentors, in effect, are part of the outcome. A mentor might quickly transition to, “From a corporate standpoint, your presentation didn’t hit its mark. In order to succeed, you need to be more direct.”
Teaching – Teachers have knowledge and skills that can help growth. So often the utility of that skill emerges as the direct result of either coaching or mentoring. Within that context, teaching is a powerful tool, allowing the leader to effectively transition to a learning environment for others. A leader acting as a teacher might offer, “I have some ideas and resources that might help the presentation get better. Are you interested”
Each of the approaches has applicability. The masterful leader can choose, with intention, which might best serve the individual’s needs. That intention can even be verbalized if the leader has set the stage for her or his different roles. “Let me be a coach right now and ask some questions. Would that be helpful?” Or, “As a mentor, let me just point out that there is a better way to navigate through that corporate game.” And, “As a teacher, I can show you some ideas that might provide you some better skills.”
Oftentimes we use all three approaches in the same conversation, sometimes without knowing which one will best serve the person to whom the exchange is directed.
Perhaps the most powerful tool to decide your approach is this: Simply ask permission. “Would it help if I put on my _________ (pick one: coach, mentor, teacher) hat? By posing that question, you establish your own intention, and, using the foundation of trust, you best serve another person.
In my coaching practice, I often get to know individuals who assume the title of manager who have not had the benefit of learning the basics of leadership. Nor have they seen solid leadership modeled or explained. The result is an individual relying on instinct, or perhaps following observed behavior that is extremely directive in its approach. It is not uncommon for such individuals to bark out orders and expect compliance. When subordinates push back, resistance builds for the leader, with escalation of tension building on a team. Learning is dampened, as well as communication and trust. Performance reviews become self-fulfilling prophecies and succession planning a non-starter.
The masterful leader, though, recognizes that those with whom they work depend on them to create an environment of learning, of inquiry and trust. All are inherent in coaching, mentoring and teaching. The key for the masterful leader, though, is to effortlessly glide through the various roles, assessing the situation, the time and the need to utilize and emphasize the various attributes. By using all three roles of masterful leadership, the woman or man in a leadership position can better serve his team members, in the process improving the organization and his or her own capabilities.
Credits: In 2018, I had the pleasure of being a part of a symposium about “Masterful Leaders,” at the Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI), originally envisioned by their VP of Operations, Ceci Shirley. My co-presenters included Greg Riggs, a professional coach from Novateur Partners and Mary Niemczyk, a professor at Arizona State University. Our focus that day was the importance of leaders incorporating the best aspects of Mentoring, Coaching and Teaching as key attributes towards success working with their teams. While there are of course many others, we concentrated on these three, as fluency in such capabilities are so important for a leader.
The SHRM 2019 Spring People + Strategy Journal has been published and in the Perspectives Department, Anna Tavis presents “The Adaptability Challenge.” Martin Reeves, Director of BCG’s think tank, BCG Henderson Institute, is the lead author on this topic writing about “What Makes an Adaptive Company?” Chris Cancialosi, Founder and Partner at gothamCulture, provided one of the counterpoints to the focal article with “Expanding the Lens to Organizational Culture.” To read the article and all of the counterpoints click here.
Rarely a day goes by that I don’t find myself in a conversation with a client, potential client, or team member about the challenges they face with actively engaging their employees. The topic of employee engagement is certainly not new but the tactics associated with engaging employees continues to evolve. This evolution is spurred on by a variety of factors, including technological innovation, and people’s ability to repurpose existing methods in the employee engagement arena.
Take, for example, the prominent use of video conferencing applications in the workplace. Technological advances in both video and in internet bandwidth have created an opportunity for many businesses to capitalize on remote work options for employees that would have never been possible just mere years ago.
Another such reinvention of a popular communication vehicle in today’s society is the use of podcasts by corporations as a way to engage their employees. Take, for example, the wildly popular Trader Joe’s podcast. Originally intended to be a limited, five episode, release, the popularity of the effort evolved into an ongoing phenomenon that customers love as well.
Podcasts may be all the rage, but they might not be the silver bullet your organization is looking for to engage your employees. In an effort to dive a bit deeper into the topic, I spoke with two experts to understand their opinions on when and why an internal, corporate podcast may be the right solution for you.
My first perspective comes from Mike Hicks, CMO of Igloo Software. Mike has held a variety of leadership roles at integrated communications agencies and global enterprise software companies and he understands peoples’ desire to gravitate toward podcasts as a new and shiny communication vehicle.
Chris- What potential benefits can organizations gain from deploying internal podcasts as a form of transparency and communication with employees?
Mike- Podcasts can be an effective way to communicate to employees in any organization. Millennials and Gen Zers are demanding more accessible leadership, and podcasts provide a medium for executives to reach all employees efficiently. Recognizing that this type of communication is largely one-way, podcasts are most effective when they’re part of an integrated communications plan, anchored by a digital workplace communication solution, like a News Room or Leadership Corner.
As new generations enter the workforce, employers have to understand and appreciate preferences for communication tactics, channels, and mediums. Podcasts have risen to popularity thanks to the medium’s storytelling capabilities and ability to create communities around niche topics, making it one of the preferred methods for younger generations to take in information. Studies from LinkedIn show that 42 percent of people between the ages of 18-34 listen to podcasts at least once a week. When done right, employers can leverage the rise of podcasts and effectively communicate with their workforces.
CC- What aspects of this approach make it one that is not a really good fit for some organizations?
MH- Communication must be driven by company culture and employee preferences. Some workforces might not be that interested in communication via a podcast medium. While podcasts provide a strong opportunity for organizations with dispersed workers – as it’s a way to get in touch with every individual – an office used to face-to-face communication from leadership might be turned off by podcasts because it could actually come off as having a more disconnected and a less accessible executive team.
CC- What are the key factors in determining whether or not this approach may be a good fit for your organization?
MH- The best way to decide whether or not podcasting is the right fit for your company is by directly asking your workforce. Anonymous surveys are a great tactic for understanding the overall sentiment toward company changes. Secondly, evaluate the current level of accessibility by leadership. Is upper management usually available to all company employees, or is it difficult for most employees to reach executives? If a podcast approach will make messages from leadership more accessible for every employee in the organization, it’s probably a good fit for your company, and won’t be overly time-consuming for leaders to participate.
CC- What was is about Trader Joe’s podcast that made it so wildly popular?
MH- The Trader Joe’s podcast was successful because it provided listeners, also employees, with value aside from a corporate update through the use of storytelling. In addition to an update on company happenings and releases, it offered practical advice around its products, like how to keep foods good for longer in the freezer. Organization leaders have to remember that employees don’t necessarily want to spend their free time hearing about their company via podcast- you have to make it interesting and provide value to your employees in a unique way.
CC- If internal podcasts are not a good approach for an organization, what other options might they consider?
MH- Most employees today just want an easy way to connect with the information, people, and processes they need to get their jobs done, so before employers look into specific channels like podcasts or video, consider providing employees with a single digital destination where they go to start their day. From there, employers can experiment with communication solutions like a leadership corner, virtual town halls, as well as communication app preferences like instant messaging, and more. It’s all about understanding the best communication and collaboration tactics for your company culture, and digital workplaces make it easy to fine-tune your organization’s communication strategy.
In order to explore this topic from a variety of perspectives, I sat down with Casey Combest, CEO of Blue Sky Studios, a podcast production company that specializes in producing podcasts for corporate clients for both external and internal use. Acknowledging the multitude of evidence that organizations whose employees are engaged outperform their competitors on a wide variety of performance measures, Casey adds, “While it sounds incredibly touchy-feely, business need to engage the hearts of their employees. Podcasts can be a powerful way to do that, in the right situations, to provide increased access to leadership in a way that is very quick and easy to produce.”
Combest adds that while video can also be effective, the time and energy it takes to produce video can be somewhat of a turnoff for busy executives. “In the two to three hours it takes to do a video shoot, we can record five to ten podcast episodes which can then be shared with employees over a period of weeks or months,” Combest suggests.
While podcasts may not be the best approach for all organizations (Combest suggests that smaller organizations can accomplish the same intend simply by bringing people together live), they may have their place in organizations that are large and/or have employees who are geographically dispersed. Here are a few things for you to consider before jumping on the internal podcast train.
Content is king. There are a lot of ways to get creative with a podcast. Ways that actively engage employees in the production process and that help them to make it something that they have their fingerprint on. Don’t waste that opportunity. Finding a variety of high-quality content based on what your employees are interested in is a critical first step.
Don’t just push policy. An internal podcast might be a good opportunity to share updates on policies and procedures (occasionally) but people aren’t going to tune in regularly without a variety of interesting content. “People want to listen to their leaders share success stories. They want their leaders to help them understand that they are a part of something bigger than themselves,” Combest shares.
Provide time at work to listen in. As much as you think your company’s internal podcast deserves awards and accolades (and it just might), don’t assume that people are going to want to tune in on their off time. If you are going to invest in internal podcasts as a communication vehicle, make sure you make them accessible for employees during the workday. Some organizations embed them in login dashboards so that employees can listen to them first thing in the morning.
Measure engagement. As with any investment of resources, you’ll want to make sure that whatever method you are using to push your podcast content to your listeners, that you have a way to measure the impact. If things aren’t going well you’ll be glad you have some insight into why so you can adapt things for greater impact.
Invest in doing it right. While internal podcasts can provide some very good “bang for the buck”, remember that production quality can go a long way in helping to engage people and to bring them back for more. Don’t skimp when it comes to production quality.
As technology evolves, it will provide new ways to engage employees in the workplace. If you are considering integrating an internal podcast into your communication strategy, there are a variety of things to consider. That said, jumping in with both feet without understanding the full scope of what you may be getting into may not get you where you want to go. If podcasts seem to be a good addition, there can be some nice benefits to be had with relatively low effort.