Culture Matters

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by Doug Kirkpatrick, US Partner at NuFocus Strategic Group

Like the Utah sunrise in the photo, it's finally dawning on organizational leaders: culture matters. As the Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2016 report stated: "Top executives increasingly recognize the need for a conscious strategy to shape their corporate culture, rather than having it defined for them through Glassdoor or Facebook."

To help organizations thrive by unleashing the talent, passion and potential of people at work, the Center for Innovative Cultures recently held its US Summer Conference 2016 in beautiful Park City, Utah.

Under the leadership of Michael Pacanowsky, the Center's stellar and tireless team of conference logisticians (including Judy Fang, Susan Arsht, Summer Shumway and Michael Zavell) kept things rolling nonstop.

Fifty-five invited academics, thought leaders, practitioners and business leaders from across the US and beyond converged on the most recent iteration of the bi-annual event to explore key ideas--both conceptual and practical--related to high-performing organizational cultures.

The conference kicked off on August 10th with an evening get-acquainted dinner to set up a packed interactive agenda for the following two days. Michael Pacanowsky kicked things off the next morning with his presentation on the "Deep Dynamics of High-Performing Cultures", including a review of the details of the Center's Model of High Performing Organizational Cultures.

In the afternoon, management consultant Joe Patrnchak, author of The Engaged Enterprise: A Field Guide for the Servant-Leader, shared his compelling and powerful first-hand story of driving effective culture change while serving as Chief Human Resource Officer at the Cleveland Clinic. Mr. Patrnchak began with a simple yet profound working definition of employee engagement: a heightened emotional and intellectual connection that an employee has for his/her job, organization, manager or co-worker...that influences him/her to apply additional discretionary effort to his/her work. It made sense.

His experience showed that embracing servant leadership, paying attention to caregiver wellness and recognition, and focusing on mission, vision, values and language can pay enormous cultural dividends. Cleveland Clinic experienced significant increases in employee engagement levels and patient satisfaction as its Gallup Q12 employee engagement score rose from a mean of 3.80 in 2008 to 4.17 in 2012. When every employee is focused on superior caregiving regardless of position or role, caregiving gets better.

The final day witnessed an informative and entertaining presentation by Benyamin Lichtenstein, Ph.D., author of Generative Emergence: A New Discipline of Organizational, Entrepreneurial, and Social Innovation on "Applying Complexity Science".

From the universe of multiple nonlinear complexity sciences (including fractals, cybernetics, and complex adaptive systems, among others), Lichtenstein zeroed in on NK Landscapes, Deterministic Chaos Theory and Dissipative Structures as the focus of a mind-stretching table exercise in applying complexity science to a real-world organizational issue.

Coming up for air after the group dive into chaos theory, participants heard presentations based on white papers: the first on Transparency and High Performing Organizations, by Tom Ellison, Ph.D. JD, Jess Roadman and Vicki Whiting, Ph.D. MBA., where the authors addressed the positive relationships between transparency, adaptive culture and shared leadership; and the second on The Cultural Implications of Lean and Agile by data professional Tanya Stout, who shared the beneficial cultural impacts of adopting lean and agile practices in her team of analysts at Primary Children's Hospital.

The Center's website declares that "the objectives of the conference are to bring together academics, business leaders, practitioners and thought leaders ...to explore issues and opportunities of developing high-performing organizational cultures, to create a deeper knowledge and understanding of the dynamics of vibrant and effective organizational cultures, and to build a foundation for future dialogue and learning about organizational culture." Based on the depth of dialogue and the number of meaningful connections developed by and between participants, it's a strong bet that the Center met its objectives for the US Summer Conference 2016.

With multiple events scheduled for Europe and the US over the coming year, the leaders of the Center for Innovative Cultures appear to be fully engaged in their work (both emotionally and intellectually).

Doug Kirkpatrick is the author of Beyond Empowerment: The Age of the Self-Managed Organization. He is an organizational change consultant, TEDx and keynote speaker, executive coach, writer, educator and SPHR. He engages with the Great Work Cultures, The Center for Innovative Cultures, Work Revolution and other vibrant organizations and leaders to co-create the future of management. Contact Doug at Twitter @Redshifter3.
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