Artifacts of Culture or “What’s in the BOX!”

Paul Hebert Culture, Diversity, employee experience, Employment Branding and Culture, Uncategorized

Company culture.  

The go-to excuse or ultimate reason for everything good or bad that happens at a company. It’s never the people – it’s the culture.  

It enables idiots and sinners. 

It encourages geniuses and visionaries.  

It is what makes each company different and unique. It’s also what everyone shares, making us the same.  

It is the ultimate paradox. It is both good and bad. It is common while still being individual. It allows you to mold it while it stays immutable.  

Culture is pretty much what we say it is. And that’s what makes it difficult to really control and leverage.  

I know there are 100s of companies that will help you measure it, change it or if needed, re-create it (whatever “it” is). But that outcome will just be your arrangement of the same words that are on your competitors mahogany walls in Successories framed posters.  

Culture isn’t what you say. It is what you leave behind.  

What Are Your Cultural Artifacts? 

I know culture is a squishy word. So, let’s make it a little firmer. Let’s make culture more “atom-based.” Your culture is all those things that are left behind that others can see, touch, experience and observe. Your culture isn’t what you say. It is what is solid. Culture is the artifact of what you say.  

I clipped an article from HBR 4 years ago about IDEO – the design firm started by David Kelly in 1978 as David Kelly Design and later created from the merger of three other design firms. IDEO designed the Apple mouse, the Palm V, Steelcase’s Leap chair and many other iconic products. The article was about how they drive employee engagement. One of their essential factors in their engagement strategy is labeled “Permission to Play.”  

That seems a bit innocuous no? I mean – anyone can say that. You can say that too. You can print it on a poster. You can put it on the back of your business cards. You can do all-employee activities with games and goofy winner’s trophies. You can talk about it all you want. 

But when they say: “Permission to Play.” They mean it. 

They manifest it. They may it real – not virtual. They want to be SURE you play. And not play like the fake play most companies do. They want you to play to make a difference for the company and for their clients. They created specific “makers” spaces filled with tools and materials to bring ideas to life. They have “brainstorm kits” in every meeting room with Sharpies and Post-it Notes. Employees are encouraged to create their own work environments.  

If you say “we encourage individuality” but you require everyone to have the same pose and background for your “employee badge” photo you don’t mean it. Your artifacts say different.  

When archeologists dig up an ancient civilization, they are digging up the artifacts of that culture. It’s the stuff left behind that tells us what they really valued. When someone examines the artifacts of your culture will it scream creative, engaged, playful, fun? Or will those Orwellian cubes, “only 3 family photos on the desk”, matchy-matchy desk accessories really tell future organizational archeologists that your company was one OF a million not one IN a million companies.  

Look around. What are the artifacts of your culture? Similar offices. Similar conference rooms. Similar dress code. Yawn… I’m falling asleep talking about it.  

Ask your team to assemble what they think are the artifacts of your company culture. Let them do it anonymously. What physical, atom-based, examples would they come up with to really represent your culture.  

Whatever they put in that box is your culture.

Not what you say or what you put on posters.