When it comes to culture design, a co-design process that involves your employees can be incredibly rewarding. Not every business decides to involve their teams in the culture design process. However, at The Culture Equation, we found that when employees are included, they provide important perspectives, unearthing aspects of your culture you didn’t know existed. It increases engagement when your employees feel listened to and appreciated for their contributions. Above all they enjoy being part of the process, and new culture champions emerge from within your teams ready to bring to life the values you co-design together.

In this resource, we’ll address what the culture co-design process is, why it’s critical for your business and how to go about it.

Creating an attractive workplace culture can increase your revenue by 33%, according to recent research by Gallup. Creating a thriving workplace culture where everyone feels empowered, engaged and aligned is a very powerful place to be at. Whether you’re a startup, scaleup or a mature organisation, designing, transforming and evolving your workplace culture is always a work in progress.

Sometimes, making changes in your workplace culture is urgent because otherwise, the house of cards will start falling apart. And sometimes, it’s because you realise that what you have in place is “good”, but to win and grow, you have to take things to the next level. You have to design a culture that attracts the best talent, engages your employees, and empowers everyone on that journey to create a winning business.

In all cases, designing and transforming your culture requires change.

And change is never easy. So, when you embark on a journey that involves changes, especially the significant ones, it’s critical to consider and assess the best ways to go about it.

In our experience, at The Culture Equation, culture design and transformation require a co-design process, which is an empowering experience that can unlock growth opportunities and help your team achieve your ambitious business goals. 

At its core, a co-design process means every individual is involved in, and has a voice throughout the transformation process. 

Going through change as a collective makes it much less intimidating as you’ll have a support system there with you. And there are plenty of other things to consider to help you navigate a culture co-design process successfully.

With that said, here are 5 key tips to consider when embarking on a culture co-design process.

1. It takes a team

The first step to a successful culture transformation process is making sure everyone in your leadership team is aligned and committed to rolling out the co-design strategy. 

But even if the leadership team is on board, what about the rest of the organisation?

Culture is the collective values and behaviours of your leaders and employees which directly impacts your customers’ experience. And so, it’s important to involve your employees in the process from the start. 

Culture change can start with leaders but if your employees don’t understand, agree or simply don’t want to change, they won’t. That’s why it is integral to make sure everyone is on the same page from Day 1. 

Maybe think about holding a forum with your leaders where the team can learn about the co-design process and ask questions.  

And because it doesn’t happen overnight, it’s imperative to be open and transparent throughout the process to make sure everyone continues to work towards the goals and objectives.

2. It starts at the top

As a founder or a business leader, you are at the foundation of change within your business. Business leaders are role models that influence every little aspect of how a team works together. And yet, many executives, at times, believe that change starts anywhere but them. 

Change requires vulnerability – something that can be difficult for many of us especially if we are in a leadership position. We like to be the ones that know what’s what and can make decisions in a split second. But co-design doesn’t work like that. It requires leaders to be open, honest and ask for advice so the transformation can benefit everyone and be less overwhelming. 

Co-design needs leaders to make the changes themselves first. Employees will see and experience the culture and behaviours you value and start to mirror those intuitively. If the leaders aren’t living it, it won’t have a flow-on effect and your transformation will be stopped in its tracks right there.

And so, a large part of your time and resources should be dedicated to focusing and inspiring change at the top.

You should look into team coaching to help your leadership team implement these changes and values in their behaviour. Or, moving a few steps back, look at spending meaningful time together to get on the same page about your culture before you send it down the chain. Having a coach to facilitate healthy debate and help you navigate the change yourselves will make the next steps much easier. Have you ever seen a great sports team without a team coach? It’s the same in business.

John Doerr once said,

“You need a coach… everyone needs a coach. Every famous athlete, every famous performer has a coach… someone who can watch what they’re doing. The one thing that people are never good at is seeing themselves as others see them. A coach really, really helps.”

It’s all about being the change you want to see, collectively. 

3. Feedback is key

If we only schedule 1-1 feedback sessions monthly, how can we expect our managers to understand, implement and evaluate any expected behavioural changes? 

Managers need to leverage feedback as much as possible to assist bringing the culture to life. At times, executives can miss the fact that feedback doesn’t always have to be formal and scheduled. Informal sit-downs make employees feel comfortable and equal, which can help them open up and discuss their thoughts and suggestions. 

On the flip side, when you give feedback to your people, consider the 8 – 1 method: eight pieces of positive feedback for every piece of productive feedback. This ensures employees feel valued and understood, building that culture of trust and collaboration. 

Feedback should always be a two-way street and can also involve peer sessions and reverse feedback sessions. Simply asking “what’s one thing I can do to improve how I lead?” at the end of every 1-1 will unearth pure gold for you and demonstrate the kind of behaviour you want to see.

Creating an open communication platform for feedback and support is particularly helpful to reduce anxiety caused by workplace change. It’s important in two ways. First, an online platform can be a way to receive anonymous feedback about the transformation which leaders can then address, helping to iron out lumps and bumps in the road. 

And secondly, a community platform or network can also be used to support one another and build team connectedness through times of uncertainty. It might be used to share tips about managing the change or ask for advice from fellow employees in the same position. Support makes change less scary and knowing you’ll be heard makes all the difference.

4. Don’t be afraid to stumble

Have you heard of this quote “To teach is to learn twice” by Joseph Joubert?

A key factor to the success of your transformation process is knowing no one is going to be perfect – at least at the beginning anyway. 

A couple of training sessions can give managers the basics of a new skill but they are more likely to learn and master a new skill on the job, and this will surely involve some missteps. 

By encouraging employees to quickly adopt new behaviours and skills, you can uncover what works and what needs to be adjusted. 

It’s all about asking the right questions and refining as you go, ensuring the new culture changes are adopted, and evolve into something unique and purposefully yours.

It might be worth looking into a “train-the-trainer” experience. This is where you can teach your leaders all the skills, values and behaviours they need and then they go and pass it on to the next level. It’s a great way of teaching rather than telling, an important aspect of the co-design process. And it can provide some long-term peace of mind that there are experienced employees who can help if anyone stumbles. 

5. Don’t forget to say thank you

And finally, remember to show your gratitude to your staff. A co-design approach means that they have worked just as hard as you to reflect, create and implement new behaviours to drive a culture that reflects the business’s core values.  

Reinforcing new culture-aligned behaviours starts with a simple thank-you note to acknowledge what you’re seeing. It’s not feedback, it’s purely demonstrating your gratitude and recognising hard work. It’s important to continue this trend beyond your culture transformation. Look for good work and find opportunities to thank your people every single day. It ensures that your staff know they are valued, cared for and part of a strong, loyal team.

Expressing appreciation and gratitude is absolutely essential for a thriving culture. Here’s how impactful it can be.

The former CEO of Campbell Soup, Doug Conant, was in a serious car accident back in 2009. Whilst recovering in the hospital, he received get-well notes from employees across the globe. This in turn inspired him to use the handwritten note to reinforce good values based behvaiours – during his tenure, he sent around 30,000 handwritten thank-you notes to employees.

Although the thank-you notes probably weren’t the only reason Campbell Soup’s performance improved under Conant’s leadership, these notes contributed to a “company-wide culture of gratitude”.

And here’s the most interesting part. When Conant took over Campbell Soup, the stock price was falling and it was the worst performer of all the major food companies, according to Fast Company. By 2009, they were ahead of the S&P Food Group and the S&P 500.

Appreciation makes a big difference, on Culture, on people and performance.


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