June 6, 2013

Culture Hacks: What They Are and How to Do Them

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Have you ever dropped the ball when it came to improving an element of your company’s culture? If you have, it could be because you believed one of these three myths.

Myth #1: You can’t influence your culture.

Myth #2: Your culture is too big to put into words.

Myth #3: You’ll need to make a huge change to fix your culture.

I’m going to tell you all three of these myths are untrue. You’re part of your company’s culture and are capable of defining a problem and working to improve it. Even the smallest and most inexpensive changes can benefit your company for years.

In the past year, CLEARLINK has rapidly grown and during this dramatic personnel growth, we’ve realized we need to make it easier for every employee to make subsequent changes to our culture.

To help make our culture more open-source, we brought in organizational psychologist, Daniel Crosby, Ph.D. While in Salt Lake City, he shared a new process, which he first heard about from Jason Lauritsen of Talent Anarchy, of turning every employee into a culture hacker.

What is a Hacker?

Now when I say “hacker,” don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not saying he encouraged employees to break into computer systems or steal files. Daniel’s definition of a hacker is one who understands the details of a programmable system and makes changes to that system to expand its capabilities. Basically, hacking = competence + curiosity.

1. Daniel says that hacking is effective for three reasons:  It’s survivable. Small changes won’t kill your office culture.

2. It’s simple. It isn’t rocket science and all the best hacks are free.

3. It’s scalable. Company culture hacks are repeatable and available to everyone.


Four Steps for a Successful Culture Hack

Now it’s time for you to do your own culture hack. Here are the four steps to take to help make it happen successfully for you.

1. Get curious and think before you hack.

Start off by answering: what’s a culture problem that captivates you?

But, wait! Before you start hacking a culture problem that fascinates you, Daniel wants you to ask yourself if the part of the culture you’re about to change is awesome. Just because you’re passionate about it doesn’t mean it’s broken, so you need to ensure you aren’t wasting your time with something is working effectively.

Once you’ve found an issue that sparks your interest and causes instability in your culture, it’s time to take a deeper look at the problem.

2. Analyze the problem.

Now that you know your target, it’s time to delve in. Daniel explained how much time you should dedicate to understanding the problem with a quote from Albert Einstein, “If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.” It’s important to outline everything you can about the problem you hope to fix, so you have the best game plan possible.

The first step is to establish the elements of the problem you can control. For example, in a meeting, you can control elements like the time of day it’s held, where, the agenda, and how long it lasts. Once you pick one of these elements, you should ask yourself how you could improve it.

Part of that is establishing if it’s in line with your company’s culture. Daniel divides a company’s culture into four dimensions:

Mission: goals, strategy, vision

Adaptability: change, lifetime learning, customer focus

Involvement: empowerment, team focus

Consistency: core values, agreement, integration

Decide if the element you’re focused on is in line with all four of these dimensions. If it is lacking one of these areas, do your research to figure out how to improve it. For example, if your meeting agenda doesn’t keep people engaged, figure out how to effectively conduct a meeting.

3. Make it stick.

Now that you’ve established the problem and figured out how you’re going to solve it, you need to make sure it’s going to be something everyone in the company can implement. This might sound overwhelming, but it isn’t. Daniel came up with three questions to help you.

1. How will you make the solution stick?

Check out the acronym “SUCCES” from the book “Made to Stick.” It will help you figure out how to make your ideas resonate with co-workers.

2. How will you make the solution fun?

Make participation with your resolution enjoyable for employees. If your fix isn’t fun, your co-workers will resort back to the old broken component.

3. What can you do to maximize autonomy?

Give everyone the freedom to use the hack. Make sure it only requires one person and they don’t need a specialized skill to carry out the hack.

4. Present findings.

Your solution will only be beneficial to your culture if its findings are clearly communicated to employees that are in a position to influence the direction of the hack. Make your finding as transparent as possible. When you provide a report to company leaders, Daniel recommends making sure you answer why this is a problem, what the solution is, and how you’ll measure success.

Now that you know how to conduct a culture hack, it’s time to try it out. Let us know in the comments how your hack turns out or via Twitter with the hashtag #culturehack.


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