To See a Corporate Culture, Listen to its Conversations

What does a fish know about the water in which he swims all his life?” (Albert Einstein)

I’ve become convinced that the “water” in which organizations swim is the conversations that take place every day, in meetings, in hallways, in the executive suite, on phone calls, in email exchanges, and in marketing materials and contract negotiations.

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Conversations at work

As I have mentioned previously, my first corporate job was with a mid-sized publishing firm. I was hired by the Vice President of Human Resources as the company’s first-ever Manager of Training and Development.

At that time I was particularly interested in management as a skill and as something that could be taught (I was a relatively newly-minted MBA graduate). I was excited about my new job because I saw my role as an opportunity to design and lead an ambitious set of management training programs – sales training, problem-solving, leadership, team-building. I wanted to create programs that would brand the company as “with-it,” help us recruit stronger talent into the organization, and – oh, by the way – enhance our performance and profitability.

Much to my surprise, my boss refused to let me set up a formal program.

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Conversations are at the Heart of Culture

Physical space matters. My first job after graduating with an MBA at age 25 was with a leading textbook publishing firm based in the Midwest.

The year before I was hired the company had moved from an aging center city eleven-story skyscraper to a suburban campus complex of four two-story buildings spread out on several acres of grassland with plenty of small trees that created a distinctive park-like setting.

Sounds idyllic, right? Employees now didn’t have to commute to the center city, riding the train or bus; they could drive to the office, where there was free parking and a brand-new, well-designed facility to work in.

I now believe that change in the physical layout of the corporate headquarters was actually a disaster. It completely changed the company’s culture and in particular the relationships between the senior executives and the rest of the employees.

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Collaborative Conversations Create Constructive Cultures

General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, the “Big Three” of the American automobile industry, draw on the same talent pools to staff their organizations. They hire from the same design, engineering, and management schools. Their assembly factories and distribution centers are often located within miles of each other and are staffed from the same local communities. Indeed, in many instances they hire people away from each other.

Yet those three organizations have distinctively different brands, different customers, vastly different organizational cultures, and clearly different track records.

Similarly, The Seattle Seahawks and the Oakland Raiders are two NFL football teams that draw on the same pool of college athletes, recruit coaches from the same broad cross-section of talent and experience, follow the same policies and rules of the game, use the same basic equipment – and have dramatically different won-loss records.

What makes an organization unique?

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Converting Conferences into Conversations

How often do you come home from a professional conference and say something like: “The best part of the event was the coffee breaks and the cocktail parties.”? I sometimes say that even when the keynote presentations were world-class.

In this age of social media, free long-distance phone calls, and webinars, why do we spend so much time and money to attend conferences?

Well, for most of us there is still plenty of power in face-to-face communication. Good keynote speakers can have an incredible impact even in a big, crowded ballroom – an impact that is substantially different from reading their books and blogs or listening to them during an online webinar.

But I know as well as you do that the real value of going to most conferences is the opportunity to meet and have personal conversations with colleagues and professional friends, both old and new.

So why do so many conference organizers still fill up their agendas with pontificating platform speakers and with endless breakout sessions that always seem to be “I will talk and you will listen” experiences?

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June 21: Talking About Tomorrow

9 AM Pacific Standard Time

Free, but advance registration is required

The next “Talking About Tomorrow” conversation will be on Thursday, June 21, at 9 AM Pacific time. And the one after that will be on July 19 at the same time.

 To reserve a seat for either conversation just send an email to Jim Ware.

Jim Ware will  moderate a loosely structured conversation that engages all the participants in a collaborative exchange of ideas and experiences on this topic. [continue reading...]

What’s Happened/Happening? (April 2012)

Recent Activity

Talking About Tomorrow

We have long wanted to engage more directly with smart practitioners and independent experts, as we all drive in parallel towards the future of work. Now we have found a way.

We took a first step towards creating an active community of workplace/workforce futurists on February 10, when twenty of you joined me for a one-hour free-wheeling conversation. Our second and third calls were equally engaging, and we now have a LinkedIn discussion group limited to “alumni” of these calls. Participant feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, so we will continue to host these calls, about once a month, for the foreseeable future.

The conversations are limited to no more than fifteen people who have registered in advance to ensure that they become active, meaningful conversations rather than one-way “pontifications.”

The next “Talking About Tomorrow” conversation, featuring Bob Fox of Workspace Design Magazine, is already oversubscribed. However there is plenty of room for new participants on May 24 and June 14, the next two scheduled conversations.

To sign up for the May 24 session, or for June 14, just send an email directly to Jim. Please tell us your company name and position (to help us know who you are). We will then reply with a call-in number and related information. We look forward to exploring the future together!

Occupiers Journal Limited

As you may know, Jim Ware, in addition to his leadership of The Future of Work….unlimited, is also a co-founder of Occupiers Journal Limited (OJL).

OJL is a global learning and development organization serving real estate and facilities management (FM) “end users” with whom OJL engages and cross-shares data, knowledge, experience, and case studies with other occupiers in a confidential environment. OJL’s premier program, GRID (Global Research Into Development) is actively seeking new members.

There is a brief description of the GRID program on the Occupiers Journal website, at this link.

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February 10: Talking About Tomorrow

11 AM Pacific Standard Time

Free, but advance registration is required. Update: this event is oversubscribed and now closed. There will be a another conversation in early March. See this post (dated February 1) for more information.

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White Paper: “The Future of Business Collaboration”

[click here to download a pdf version of the full report]

Sponsored by Citrix Online; published in November 2011

The Future of Business Collaboration

There are two things we know without question about the future of work:  it will require significantly more collaboration, and it will be dramatically more distributed. But what really matters is that these two trends are in direct conflict with each other. [continue reading...]