Current People And Culture Strategies: How Did We Get Here?

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[ANNOUNCER]: Breaking down everyday workplace issues and diagnosing the hidden sickness not just the obvious symptom, our hosts James and Coby.

[COBY]: Did we lose a patient?

[JAMES]: No that’s just my lunch.

[COBY]: Hey thanks for joining us. I’m Coby, he’s James. Let’s get started with a question. Current people and culture strategies: how did we get here?

[JAMES]: I think a big part of the our progression to what’s happening now it, a lot of it has to do with the books that we read and the gurus that we listen to. So for example, over Christmas I had an opportunity to finally get caught up on some of the books that I had been wanting to read for a while. I don’t think a podcast has gone by without me referencing how much time I spend on Reddit. So once again, thank you Reddit. You know, frequently on entrepreneurial forums or subreddits there’s questions about, what are the books that I should be reading? What are what do I need to know to start my business? To structure my business? To do all of these things. And there are some great books out there to help you with business structure. So you know, watching these posts come up over and over again, there were a few books that always seem to be recommended, So I ended up picking up the audio versions of them so that I could just be lazy and listen to them, rather than physically have to hold something. Which is so much effort. Anyways, there’s a lot of good stuff in there. I’ve talked before about, you know, how I used to do business coaching. And a lot of these books, probably I should have read years ago when I was doing business coaching. Because they would have been helpful in how I approached some of the work with clients. The problem, and why this is why I wanted to talk about this topic, the problem is that they offer great advice on structure, great advice on starting, great advice on organizing, and then when you get to anything related to HR or people and culture, it’s a dumpster fire. A slight exaggeration. It’s ineffective at best and potential and damaging, especially in the long term, at worst. And the reason why I say that is because the examples that really spring to mind is that some of the good advice around, you know, getting your thoughts out and organizing pieces, were around identifying, early on identifying, company values, identifying what it is that you’re trying to achieve, and aligning your structure to those goals, which helps you have a clear path forward. A clear end point and a goal to work towards. However they took the same, the books that I read, took much the same approach with their approach to how do you engage with people. How do you bring your people along with you. And what I fundamentally disagree with are the ideas that a small group sets the values, and those values are somehow automatically your culture. And then we are going to create a completely… we’re going to have our managers create a completely subjective measurement on how well our employ… the people they manage meet those values. And then if they don’t hit our completely subjective benchmark on the completely subjective measurements, then we’re going to fire them. It’s this idea that you have to find the perfect person, that it’s uncovering who’s going to be the best person for your organization, and bringing them along with you. Rather than putting any effort into developing the skills and abilities of people who are already working with you.

[COBY]: Yeah so it’s funny because when you kind of came in, kind of after the break, you’re like “So I read all this stuff you’ll never kind of guess what I figured out”. And then you showed something, you played some of the audio for me, and you were laughing at the faces that I was making as I was listening to this terrible advice.

[JAMES] I was just laughing at your face.

[COBY]: Yeah maybe it’s a bit from column A and a bit of column B. But you know, so there is again the stuff around here’s this very technical tool that will let you kind of analyze the people in your workplace, and it’s more like the person just puts their opinion about it and then holds them to that opinion. And that’s not any kind of tangible measurement, that’s just, you’re trying to validate your opinion and you’re assuming that it is the same as, you know, clear measurable data. And I think a lot of where a lot of that kind of comes from. Because like the other thing you said that and I’m like “Well maybe you just kind of got some of these books”, and again what’s funny is these were like multi-million dollars selling books. These are the books that if the person listening to this, if you’ve read books management advice books, likely you’ve read some of these. And then we looked at some other ones, and we kind of kept finding the same trends. And I was like “Is this the generally accepted advice that’s highlighted in these Guru books and programs?”. Because a lot of this stuff was, I suppose kind of made sense like 20 years ago or like in the 90s, this might have been what could have worked in…

[JAMES]: The 90s wasn’t 20 years ago anymore.

[COBY]: That’s true, yeah wow, so 30 years ago or something this would have been, you know, that it might have been understood or accepted. But in a post-2020 world, the world changed with COVID. This stuff is, like you said, it’s potentially dangerous now. If this is still the playbook that most businesses are using to manage people and the culture.

[JAMES]: That’s some really important pieces to jump on. And I know I interrupted you, but I want to emphasize that it’s not that the books are terrible, or that they are offering you bad advice. Because in the context of when they were written it probably wasn’t far off the mark of popular thinking. But we have seen so much change since the onset of COVID from the way that people choose to engage in work, to the expectations that they have around work, that listening to those best-selling gurus talk about people and culture and just so fundamentally get it wrong for where we are now. Really that’s what struck a chord with me, because there’s some great, there is great material in these books. And if you want to learn about business structure, there are some great resources out there.

[COBY]: Absolutely. And if you’re trying to gain momentum, or if you’re trying to gain traction, in your workplace, and in your business. Then some of the stuff can be very helpful. But when you get to the people and culture side of it, it is so… it is potentially damaging. Because this advice from the past is kind of where most of the problems that we have today are coming from. Because this antiquated stuff that made sense, it was popular opinion a long time ago, is not going to be what will create success today. And sticking to it or following through with it is going to be what puts a lot of businesses at risk. And essentially it is it is kind of where we are today. Kind of going back to the question we asked at the beginning, the people and culture and environment that we have largely were shaped by these by these these books and these guru’s advice. Because like we said, millions, and millions, and millions of people have read this stuff and assumingly have applied it. So this is largely kind of where…

[JAMES]: And it’s not only the books, entire consulting industries have developed around these books. And so it’s not just people reading the books and implementing it themselves, there are some fantastic people working in this area of providing business coaching, business services, business consulting helping with the structure, and the organization, and the process side of things that has really good tools in that regard. But they’re using the advice from these same, this people and culture piece, that is not going to accomplish what you want it to accomplish. If you see any success, then it’s as much luck as intent. And it’s probably costing you far more than it should to do basic… to shore up your recruitment and retention strategies. And this is what bothers me, it’s not a malicious thing by any stretch. Nobody has set out to do this wrong, it’s just these are the tools that have been popularized, and that have been taught, but they have an incomplete picture.

[COBY]: Yeah I would say they’re definitely written, and presented, and created with very, very good intentions. And with the best… and with the best thought put into it. But it’s either A misinterpreted, or B or it’s incomplete, and misses the mark. And so like, again we had a gentleman who’s become a close business partner of ours, who works with a lot of companies, doing a lot of coaching, and using a lot of these existing programs, like built around this kind of stuff, like you said. And he said to us “Well the problem that I keep running into is…. all the stuff around the structure and everything else is so great, but the people and culture side is so weak, that we need to find a better solution”. So it’s great though that the industry’s starting to realize this stuff is not working, so it’s not just us saying it.

[JAMES]: It is the professionals who are using these tools who are trying to help clients. A lot of them work with small businesses and like the gentleman who you mention is very passionate, very committed, very value driven to provide excellent resources and supports to his clients.

[COBY]: So shout out to Mark! Good job Mark!

[JAMES]: Yeah and I’m sure that the others who work in the same space as him are just as dedicated, right?

[COBY]: Absolutely.

[JAMES]: The problem is you can only use the tools that you’ve been given. And unfortunately in this very important area of people and culture, the tool is weak. Every other spot, in terms of the business structure, and processing, and organization it’s… I was going through, I was listening to the books and I was going “Yeah, yeah, no that’s actually a really good way to articulate it, damn I wish I had thought of that 10 years ago when I was trying to do this”. Every time there was a reference to people and culture, it felt like nails on a chalkboard. As I’m wincing listening to the recommendations.

[COBY]: Yeah well, and again let’s give a little bit of perspective here too. We are people in culture experts. Sometimes we mistakenly say, you know, we do employee engagement, or we do a workplace culture focus, but really, you know or we do workforce stuff, but honestly though we may slip up and misstate it at times, we are about people and culture. So this is an area that we live and breathe every day, that we do training, and certification, and coaching, and consulting, and all that kind of stuff. So it’s kind of like, this is our bag. So when we see this, it’s not that they’re doing not the way we would do it, it’s that the advice is not going to be effective. So I think that what we should do… I think we set the stage about why we’re talking about this, maybe a little more than we needed to.

[JAMES]: I’ll move on.

[COBY]: Yeah I think we should talk about what are the fundamental mistakes that its providing so the person listening can actually, you know, realize maybe if I am following this, where am I going wrong? And where can I go right?

[JAMES]: So I’m gonna steal your analogy, because I thought it was well stated when we had this conversation…

[COBY]: He usually does.

[JAMES]: Yeah I do that. So essentially where… I kind of alluded to it earlier, where a lot of the advice seems to flow towards is the idea of uncovering the right person, discovering the right person, identifying that person, so the analogy that you used Coby, that I thought was really apt, is the idea of mining for potential. Mining is a finite activity. Eventually the mine is going to run out of precious gems and you’ll have to find another solution, right? This idea of uncovering the precious gem, and then all you have to do is just polish it a little bit, and put it into in the right place and it’ll sparkle, That is a short short-term solution, and that’s where the advice really tends to focus on is how do you identify… Well that’s one of the problems. How do you identify those people and put them into… the right person in the right position. That statement I agree with. The other big problem that I have with the way the advice around people and culture was given is that first of all please don’t confuse your values with your culture. Just because you as an organization or as a leadership team have created a mission statement, or a value statement, or have identified what your core values are, that does not automatically create culture. And so the way that the advice in… I’m kind of blending the different books that I’ve read, but generally the way that the advice is presented in these different resources is that what you want to do is find people who fit in with your culture. And that seems like a pretty benign statement, or even it seems like a pretty reasonable statement, to make. Because yes, you want people who share your the same values that you do. ‘You want people who will fit in with your culture’ is kind that’s the language that is used. The problem with that statement is that it’s not an inclusive statement, right? It’s not about finding people who will fit in. It’s not about finding people who you can bring in and have them assimilate to the same way of doing things. Because all that does is it creates this dull, gray, just bland environment where everybody thinks the same, acts the same, says the same things. There’s no room for diversity of thought, or opinion, or perspective. Which is incredibly important and very, very valuable in everything that you do. If you can actually create a culture that values and seeks out diversity of opinion, that’s huge. And so this is part of the problem that I have with the language that is used, because it sounds good, and it sounds reasonable, but it actually takes you down a path that I feel is unhealthy. That I feel we have actually gone down that path as a society of workplaces. Of expecting people to… you’re expecting to find the perfect person who’s going to fit in with our culture. Versus the other part of the analogy, that I’m continuing to steal from Coby, is the idea of, you know, rather than mining, farming, right? So in a farming activity you are intentionally creating the conditions, the soil, the fertilizer, you’re planting a seed in the right conditions, and you are taking steps to nurture that seed. That is a sustainable talent process. You still need to identify the right kind of people who will work with your organization, but focus on values, not forcing people to conform to what you already believe. Seeking out diverse, diversity in thought and perspective is huge. Allowing people to be their authentic self is incredibly important in creating inclusion and belonging. And a lot we’ve talked about our Hierarchy many times and we’ll keep going back to that because it is core fundamental theory for how workplace cultures are built. This idea of you need to develop your talent because identification is not enough to retain people. There are so many companies who are looking for that right person, there are so many direct and indirect competitors who are all struggling with talent attraction and retention, That if what you are offering is a workplace where everybody looks the same, feels the same, thinks the same, acts the same, says the same things, that’s not a way to attract and retain talent.

[COBY]: Yeah and a lot of it is that this is kind of what… if you boil down the mistakes in the advice. Fundamentally it’s that its prioritizing the wrong things. And the things that they do get right, that they do state are they’re usually not bang on. These are like kind of roughly in the ballpark, or they’re barely scratching the surface, or they kind of start on the right path and then go in the wrong direction. Because you’re right, it values or it advises a very mining approach to how we attract, retain, and motivate talent. Because it’s about finding people, it’s about placing them in a position, and it’s about making sure that they assimilate, and that they fall in lockstep. Because your subjective opinion about what success looks like is the empirical data that you need to verify that you have a good employee. And that is largely what it all kind of boils down to. And that’s kind of why we see workplaces that are creating integration instead of inclusion, because they’ve identified a person that looks the way they want them to look, meets the expectation of diversity, but then doesn’t actually let them belong and actually fully get their opinions and their perspectives and everything. And it makes a very superficial engagement. It’s why we’re not spending enough time training people. Why we’re not developing talent because we think we have to find them pre-made, ready to go. You know like, insert and then and then they’ll work perfectly. And why we don’t do enough promote internal promotions, because we don’t create these great career ladders or career paths for people. Because it’s about finding the right person that will go into the position to kind of achieve the outcome. And these are a lot of these really fundamental mistakes that we’re seeing, that are causing a lot of these problems with the labor market. And what’s going against and making the future of work concepts so much harder to achieve is this fundamental breakdown of trying to have this mining, assimilation, ‘fit in’ approach. When what we should be doing is taking the farming approach, like you said. We need to be creating the soil, we need to be formulating the conditions, providing the support that’s needed to nurture talent, and give it room to grow. We need to be looking for those diverse perspectives, we need to be looking to put people in positions where they can play to their strengths, we need to be realizing that the culture is not based on the mission statement that we define as managers. The culture is actually best defined by what people who are working in the organization think the culture is. Because we can’t dictate culture. Culture creates itself and if you’re not creating the conditions that will have an effective workplace culture, then you end up creating a bad culture, despite the fact that you might say it’s a good culture.

[JAMES]: Yeah I just want to pick up on one point that you said there about we can’t create culture, which is true. We can create the conditions and that’s what the Hierarchy really focuses on is what are the… what needs to exist at each stage before we can… before this will be successful. And I mean we’ve just gone through a certification program on this and that statement is like that’s at every stage of ‘what needs to exist before we can be successful’ we need to actively work on creating the conditions that create a healthy workplace culture.

[COBY]: Yeah and again this is no so where we are right now is we have these workplaces that are unable to consistently gain traction on core people and culture issues like recruitment and retention and productivity. And it’s because we’re trying to create… we’re trying to set the culture from the top, and then reinforce it, instead of actually creating those conditions. And again because we can’t address the fact that the workplace is changing. And again maybe this recommendation of this mining, assimilation expectation may have may have worked, or at least may have been accepted, in the 90s, it will not work now. It is not working now this is why we’re in the mess that we’re in, in many workplaces.

[JAMES]: Yeah and that’s the key. Is that it’s not… even if you’ve had success with that mentality in the past, it’s not working for the majority of businesses today. Sorry, go ahead.

[COBY]: I was gonna say, so I think that… so the real question we need to be moving into is what do we do now? So because one of the things that, you know again working with Mark, working with the consultant we work with, he’s like “Well I okay…” you know we kind of have this kind of ranty kind of conversation with him, over many conversations and coffees and stuff, and he said “Okay, I get it. You’re right. So what do we do? Because I need to be able to kind of track, and measure, and build this kind of momentum with the same expectations, in the same way that these businesses are used to running, so how do we still measure and collect actual empirical data, not subjective data, on the workplace to actually to create the progression towards better recruitment, and retention, and productivity, and performance. So the, and really the kind of answer to that question, the short answer, is what James said. It’s about the conditions of the workplace that create the culture. If you can measure and improve the factors, the conditions, the locations, all that happens in the workplace, that is creating, affecting the culture, that is making the culture up, then that’s the way that you can actually start to really see tangible actionable steps to improve the objective measurement of people and culture.

[JAMES]: So what’s really cool is that we, one of the core activities that we do is we build tools. We build tools and resources, what’s nice is that we have three tiers of tools for each stage of our Hierarchy. We’ve got indicator tools, that will provide a kind of a snapshot, quick glance of what’s going on. We’ve got risk assessment tools, and actually we just finished delivering a certification program over the last few days, teaching people how to use these risk assessment tools. And then we’ve got full auditing tools for each stage that will allow us to do a really in-depth analysis of what’s going on. And what’s exciting about this partnership with Mark is how we can take these assessment tools that we have developed and turn it into… using the software solutions that are existing out there, we can measure and actually link what you do, the actions that you take on a weekly basis around your people and culture, and how that affects and influences business outcomes. Yeah so we’re really excited about this this partnership.

[COBY]: And what’s neat too is that this is the kind of stuff that people are asking for. So like you know, again we just did our Workplace Culture Intelligence (WCI) certification program with a bunch of HR professionals and senior managers. And it was really interesting because like this type of tangible measurement of the factors, and the locations, and all the kinds of the influences on people and culture is what everyone is ready for and wants. Because again, going back to the books and everything, part of the problem was that the leaders subjective opinions were seen as tangible measurements. And then one of the problems that managers have when it comes talking to HR professionals, or to their low lower level managers, is that they find the people and culture areas too subjective. They find it to be too ‘feeling based’ or too, you know, almost like that… we use the term kind of vapor or ether, that is people and culture. Because it’s not… you can’t grab onto it, hold on to it, so therefore it’s almost less important. So we are ready now, people want this type of, you know, of a way of gathering this information to actually find the systematic approaches to moving it. Which is so awesome, because we’re starting to really see how this stuff can be really helpful. Because again, demonstrating the workplace transformations that affects people intelligence can be visible, and they can be transparent, and they can be proven, and they will actually improve productivity, and performance, and create that type of effect and impact that the organizations want. Provided they are open to the transformation and moving away from the mining approach to the farming approach. And I kind of think that’s if there’s a takeaway from this conversation, I think it’s that maybe just the analogy on its own, that we’ve been told to mine for talent for so long that maybe now we start… we need to start realizing how unsustainable that is. Because if you go back to the gold rush, it wasn’t the miners that got rich, it was, you know, it was all the people that sold them shovels, that sort of thing. Whereas if we move to the farming approach that idea of nurturing and creating room to grow is going to be the more sustainable, impactful, effective way that will lead to the future of work.

[JAMES]: And let’s be real. Farming is a lot of work. And taking a farming approach to your talent development, in your organization, is going to be a lot of work. It will be more successful. But you really have to make sure like, senior leadership needs to be on board, because it’s not a, it’s not a quick fix. There are things that you can do to make quick improvements, yes. But it’s not a quick fix.

[COBY]: Right, absolutely. And that is a great point. Because there’s… because part of it too is the long-term commitment, that kind of comes from farming. Because farming is something that, you know, your soil and your success kind of grows year over year. But it still takes a long time to plant the seeds, you know, cultivate the soil, make room to grow, and nurture it. And then to kind of get to where you want to be, where it’s Harvest Time. Whereas the cool thing about mining is you can put some work into it then all of a sudden, Boom, you hit pay dirt. And you hit that vein of shiny. And then now you’re in the gold. But you know, as great as that is, that is not going to be a sustainable way. Almost like we’ve tapped the minds. You know, and that mining is going to work… isn’t going to work anymore. The farming approach is the approach that will actually yield the success and the results that we’re looking for.

So I think that, I think it kind of pretty much summarizes, kind of the whole conversation. One thing we should, you know, just kind of mention is that for people who are looking for kind of some resources or processes around measuring people and culture aspects.

[JAMES]: Yeah let’s… we should probably tell them what we… not just tell them what we’ve developed but point them to it.

[COBY]: Yeah, so if you’re someone that wants to see if this is the missing piece that you’re looking for in your workplace. Or putting some more tangible measurements around people and culture, check out Because part of what we’re trying to do with this moving towards these larger pieces around people intelligence and culture transformation. so PICT, so so if you want to check that out I think you might find something helpful there. I think that kind of covers most of the conversation. Going back to, you know, how do we get here? Is there anything else you want to add before can I jump into a summary James?

[JAMES]: No I just want to reinforce that we’re not saying you need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are a lot of good recommendations and if you are someone who’s looking to answer questions of how can I structure my business in a way, how can I organize things? What are the processes that I need to go through? There are fantastic books and resources that are out there available to you. Be cautious of taking the advice around people and culture at face value.

[COBY]: Right okay. No that’s a good piece of advice. All right so for a quick summarize. So the current people and culture strategies that we use today tend to have come from a lot of the same places. A lot of gurus and books and programs that were kind of popular, or accepted, or at least in line with people’s thinking, you know from 30 years ago, were often hailed as best practice. However there’s a lot of antiquated information in there, especially around people and culture. And in the way that we need to look for talent and make people fit in to our workplaces. And because of how great a lot of the information in other sections of the books, or in other other talks by the gurus, or other programs for consulting programs are, it may it kind of puts credence to some bad advice around the people and culture. Because it’s, again, incomplete at best, but potentially damaging to your people and culture at worst, especially when you’re talking long term. Because one of the mistakes that we make if you’re trying, if we try and take a mining approach to finding talent, and placing talent, and that’s something that is unsustainable, and is very difficult to measure, and to kind of create a clear path for success too. And the other mistake that’s often kind of comes up is that defining culture through mission statements or through kind of higher level decisions at the top level, and then saying this is what culture is, this is how you have to fit in, and this is the way that we are going to hold you to our subjective opinions for success. But what we need to start doing is realizing that that information may have worked before, isn’t going to work now, especially in a post-2020 world. We need to start thinking about people and culture through more of a farming mentality, where it’s about understanding that diff… you know, that we need to to cultivate people, we need to create the conditions that will actually allow them to grow, and the different products, different crops, different people, need different things, and that it’s okay to kind of look at finding, or growing people, and providing them what they need to blossom. And that type of strategy is going to be easier to measure, is going to be easier to sustain, and will have a greater impact. And there are ways to do that, to measure people, but the best way is not going to be to measure the culture itself, but to actually measure the conditions that create the culture. Because that’s going to be where the success will come from. All right I think that’s about it in our exploratory surgery on how do we get here.

[COBY]: All right so that about does it for us. So for a full archive of our podcasts and access to the video version hosted on our YouTube channel visit our website at Thanks for joining us.

[ANNOUNCER]: For more information on topics like these don’t forget to visit us at Side effects of this podcast may include improved retention, high productivity, increased market share, employees breaking out in spontaneous dance, dry mouth, aversion to the sound of James’s voice, desire to find a better podcast…

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