Designing Corporate Culture – A new system for the future of work

This article was originally published as an article on L’institut Idée’s website. To view the original article, click here.

We are living in a new era.

An era that is highly networked, digital and virtual. 

Until recently, the conventional wisdom has been that having employees physically together within a workplace was essential to maintain productivity, develop a strong culture and attract the best talent. 

But now, people are getting used to working from home (or from anywhere) thanks to the adoption of digital collaborative tools. They do not want to give up their flexibility or go back to long commutes. So, what does that mean for the workplace? And ultimately, its culture? Given how crucial culture is in creative industries, now more than ever, we need new models to help us build successful workplaces that consider current and future imperatives.

How can we reimagine this space, not only for a post-COVID world, but to be the kind of place in which talented people would choose to spend time? Is there now a new purpose or role for the workplace and a different way to build culture?

The year they discovered people

Since the industrial revolution, organizational culture has been defined by frameworks and models that are siloed, hierarchical and focused on performance, achievement and “getting the job done” efficiently. However, for over a century, people are increasingly realizing that this approach neglects our needs as humans. 

Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times was already making fun of this mechanical approach to work in the 1930s, laughing at the separation of tasks and productivity quotas to maximize output. So why are we still using it, one might wonder? In a factory model, the tendency might be to obliviate culture: Your task is so well defined, the work is divided into so many pieces, just getting your job done as quickly as possible is the only thing that matters. 

Yet, even earlier than this, scientists understood that socio-psychological factors significantly impacted our work, even in a factory model. Based on research conducted in the 1920s in a Western Electric plant, the infamous Hawthorne studies showed the power of social interaction in organizations. It is remembered as “The year they discovered people.” Groundbreaking. 

But if we “discovered people” in the 1920s, where does that leave us nearly 100 years later, in 2021? We have developed cutting-edge technology, top-of-the-line resources, but have we changed our ways at work to embrace the culture of this new digital era? Gone are the days when we blindly measured production numbers and worshipped mere efficiency. Talented people want to be engaged in meaningful work and experience new levels of mastery. And to do so, they seek environments that bring out their best. 

A systems-thinking approach to corporate culture

To move from a linear perspective to a more holistic point of view, we used our Structural Mapping Process® (SMP) to uncover core insights about the ideal workplace and what this implies for culture. The SMP, our proprietary process, reveals the emotional drivers of any given desired outcome. Two maps were used to help us determine the future of the workplace and, particularly, to identify the role that culture plays in bridging the divide between space, people and systems.

We look at organizations from a systems perspective, as a pentagram in which each side represents an archetypal pillar of success. If we were to describe each component as though it were the human body, Leadership would be the head (left brain), Creativity the mind (right brain), Strategy the body, Purpose the soul and Culture the heart. 

And what does the heart do? It beats. Culture is the heartbeat of an organization. When you look at an organization as an integrated, interdependent system rather than as a fragmented, siloed structure, the importance of culture (the heart) and the organization’s pulse become apparent. Culture is the driver and differentiator. And at L’Institut Idée, we define culture as the norms, behaviours, attitudes and beliefs that define a collective way of being. It is unique to every organization. It is what brings us together, defines our values and unites us around a central purpose. 

As Mark Miller stated, “the heart is a muscle, and you strengthen muscles by using them. The more I lead with my heart, the stronger it gets.” The more organizations lead with their culture, the stronger —and more successful—they will become.

How do we attract and retain talent in this emerging era? We need to evolve the workplace from being viewed through a mechanical lens, built for efficiency, productivity, control and compliance, to one that is seen as a holistic living ecosystem with a culture that enables people to be their best selves—individually and collectively.

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