I’m spending a few days in San Francisco at Culture Amp’s #CultureFirst19 event. The conversations (which I love!) are centered around building and nurturing company cultures that are competitive advantages.
The attendees at this event are super engaged and “get it” – these are people who are passionate about transforming work. One aspect I find particularly inspiring is the folks I’ve run into who are relatively “new” to the People/HR profession and are here – purposefully! – because they have both a desire and an ability to create (from the ground up in some cases) workplaces that are people-centered from the get-go. Oh sure, there are conversations occurring in every nook-and-cranny in the hall about linking employee insights/feedback and performance data (sounds very HR, I know). But the dynamic of these chats is not “traditional HR” – yeah…I think you know what I mean. There’s energy. There’s positivity. There’s talk about “what’s possible” and the future is viewed not with fright or skepticism but with eagerness.
Culture Amp (the company) is an employee feedback and analytics platform well-known for providing insight (and actionable advise) to its customers using engagement and performance data. I’ve been a fan for a number of years as I’ve watched the company grow and expand while remaining true to their mission and focus. Solidifying this for me, yesterday, was the fact that Didier Elzinga (CEO/Founder) opened the conference with a wonderful (and very human and personal) session.
It seems there is nothing that brings HR professionals as
much joy as rolling out tortuous physical activities for unwitting employees in
the name of “Wellness.” There are companies that, in the quest to promote
healthy lifestyles (aka “lower health care premiums”) have mandated everything
from Jazzercise to rock
climbing to participating in a local 5k run/walk for their employees. And yes…mandated;
meaning they’ve tied participation in such activities to performance appraisals
and salary reviews.
I once worked for an organization that, to be fair, was very
transparent about why it ran and supported a wellness program; to save money. Health
insurance costs were forever rising at a seemingly exorbitant rate and, as the
company had a self-insured medical plan, this meant each month the checks cut
from the company checkbook were growing ever larger. In addition, those
expenses that had not sufficiently budgeted for came right out of the end of
year calculation for the bonuses paid to leaders. In other words, a few medical
catastrophes spread across the employee population (or their covered
dependents) might mean that VP Bob wouldn’t be able to buy his vacation home in
So, with lowering costs as the primary reason, the company
launched a Wellness Program a number of years ago. It’s important to note that
when a company labels such an initiative a “program,” you have your first clue it
has nothing to do with truly caring about people’s health, financial stability
or mental and emotional wellness. And this program, like many before and since,
had all the hallmarks of failure including making participation a chore (“track
your meals and turn in this checklist!”) and running multiple “Biggest
Loser” contests which are just about the worst activity to run from both a legal
There was also, as you may imagine, quite a bit of employee
shaming that ran rampant. One of the HR zealots told me, with quite a bit of pride,
that he saw it as his DUTY to promote healthy eating. He would wander through
the employee lunchroom, on a regular basis, and stop and have discussions with
employees about their meal choices: “Sandy! Do you really want to eat that
leftover friend chicken? A better choice would be a healthy salad with some
lentils and a vinaigrette dressing!” (inner monologue from Sandy in Accounting: ‘get
out of my life crazy HR dude.’)
At one stage, amongst this backdrop of ill-informed and
ill-placed intentions, it was dictated from those-on-high that additional
physical activities were needed in order to ‘get everyone healthy.’ The answer, determined by an avid runner
sitting up high on the org chart, was to institute walking activities! This was
Setting up an obstacle course in the company
parking lot so employees could head outside during their 10-minute breaks and 30-minute
meal time to ‘get in a few steps’
Awarding points, on the employee’s annual
performance evaluation, if they participated in one of several chosen Run/Walks
on a Saturday morning
OK, you may think, those aren’t so bad (well, other than the
tie-in to a job performance review). But here’s the deal:
This was not a 9-to-5 organization; people weren’t cooped up
in an office and sitting at desks all day and thus eager to ‘stretch their legs’
at lunch time.
The majority of employees worked evening shifts
or overnight so talking a walk in the parking lot would have meant strolling around,
in the dark, at 11 PM or 2 AM.
The nature of the work meant that most everyone’s
job included STANDING ON THEIR FEET and/or WALKING for the duration of their
shift; by the time meal time came all they wanted to do was sink into a chair
for a few blessed minutes.
This was in south Louisiana. In the summer. With
heat, humidity and mosquitos as big as your fist.
But running a couch-to-5k challenge? What’s wrong with that?
Well, when the average hourly wage is just over $12 per hour it’s a bit much to
expect someone to purchase appropriate footwear ($150? $200?) and pay the entrance
fees for a 5k.
As for those somewhat-mandated Run/Walks and 5ks, well, all
of them (I mean all of them) occur on Saturday mornings; usually kicking
off between 7 AM and 9 AM. On a day, and a time, when the vast majority of
employees were either just getting off shift after working all night, or,
sleeping because they had worked until 3 AM.
Oh yes…there were many wellness fails at this organization:
There was no consideration of the fact that in a multi-gendered
workforce that spanned ages 18 to 80, individuals would have not only varying
physical abilities but also differing metabolisms.
Activities and plans were formulated by leaders with lots of
disposable income and disposable time. Their prism of privilege meant they
never gave any thought to the fact that employees had multiple jobs to make
ends meet or ate white bread and processed-lunch-meat sandwiches because they couldn’t
afford to purchase fresh fruit with granola when their take home pay for the
week was $300.
This stuff drives me crazy.
Pass me the quinoa please.
For a recent conversation “Calling BS on Wellness Programs” –
check out this
episode of New Yawk HR
where we also offer some helpful (hopefully) tips.
I have, over the course of time, participated in and/or facilitated numerous activities designed to create, define and encapsulate company “Mission, Vision & Values.”
Quite often, because some training facilitator settled on a way to approach this exercise in 1987, this process has involved a cross-section of employees and other stakeholders settling themselves into a room armed with flip charts, markers, and cartons of post-it notes. There may have been focus groups, assessments, surveys and iterative discussions prior to this day but THIS one-day event (with catered lunch!) has been the culmination of hours upon hours of work. I’ve seen some raw emotions too; at one organization a senior leader, not accustomed to a collaborative process, stormed out of the room flinging papers and markers in her wake.
Certainly there are some people who think this is a colossal waste of time; fluff dreamed up by management consultants and HR folks. After all, thinks Mr./Ms. MoneyBags CEO, “our missionis to make money, our visionis to make MORE money, and our valuesare to make that money in whatever way we need to make it.”
I, however, have always believed that clarity around M/V/Vs not only aligns people across an organization but provides a guiding point – a lodestar if you will, for everyone to follow.
We recently went through this exercise at my company and, let me say, it was GREAT! No conference rooms with post-it notes for us though; we’re 100% virtual so we worked through the process via Zoom calls and whiteboarding things out on Google Docs. There may or may not have been adult beverages involved.
What I have determined, over the years, is that the mission and vision part is relatively easy; why we’re here and we’re going. Most every company can easily articulate this with just a modicum of prodding.
It’s the values part that leaves people flummoxed, confused and exasperated. It can be an arduous task for leaders to allow employees to not partake of some serious self-reflection but also to have the discussions around the “not so good things” about a company’s deeply-held beliefs. (Inverting the question and asking “what is our company NOT” or “what do similar organizations do that we would NEVER do?” can lead to some interesting discussions).
So because it’s hard, and then because it’s safe, these M/V/V teams end up just tossing word-salad up on the wall and calling it a day. This, my friends is why 99.9% of organizations have the same values: teamwork! communication! service! integrity! (blech). Watered down pabulum.
But in our recent foray into encapsulating and defining our company values we didn’t settle for the mundane. I’m telling you, not only was the process great but I so love what we came up with that I feel the need to share. Let me present, the Strio Consultingvalues:
No Doors and Open Windows Lots of companies talk about an “open door” culture but we embrace a culture with no doors and wide-open windows. We’re transparent and accessible to our clients and to each other. Got a question? Ask it. Need access to someone? You got it. Think something sucks? Bring it up.
Doing Things Right Means Doing the Right Thing We’re honorable and trustworthy in all our interactions; integrity is non-negotiable. We play it straight from the get-go and, if we screw up, we own it. The needs and interests of our clients are top of mind. Always.
Embrace That Which is UnusualWe’re OK with being weird. Really. We consider it a badge of honor to be of strange or extraordinary character. Got humor? We like that too.
Unburdened by Tradition We’re not bound by the traditional walls of an office nor are we stuck in the typical nine-to-five grind. With a reverential nod to workplace customs that have served us well, we take great delight in consigning the soul-sucking, outdated ways of doing things to the trash heap of business practices as we focus on the future of work. We pride ourselves in the way we work; we’re creative, adaptable and fast-moving – and we help our clients work this way too.
Bold and Brainy We surround ourselves with people who exhibit insatiable curiosity; people who read, learn, explore and debate. We like people who ask “why?” and we love nothing more than answering that question.
Ubiquitous Uniqueness Our community – our company – is made up of human beings and we celebrate the individual. Be yourself. Be unique. Be special. Live your best life.
What we believe, how we operate and what’s important. These are ours and no one else’s; and most definitely NOT the same as it ever was.