Culture Still Eats Strategy for Breakfast?

Working time takes up a grand majority of our lives. The overall impact of working life conditions in the mental and physical well-being of employers is huge.

This weekend, I am attending a well-being hackathon event related to solving and reducing the negative impact of burnouts. The event is organized by the Finnish insurance company called Varma.

In philosophy, the term ‘well-being’ (and ‘welfare’, ‘utility’, etc.) refers, in a nutshell, to the manner of how an individual’s life manifests desires, objectives, and needs—among myriad more diverse variables—and how these affect the individual’s perspective.

Keeping up motivation for working and working life in general has sprouted numerous efforts at workplaces to improve upon the employer experience. Some workplaces offer free fruits, others set up a lounge with Fatboys for breaks. It is a common practice everywhere to host office parties, even working holidays.

I took part in an inspiring workshop last week that I feel deserves some attention in this blog while preparing for the hackathon. The workshop was organized by the fab Antti Harjuoja of a company called Milestone, devoted to improving upon the working life conditions via researching and recording the atmosphere at workplaces.

The groundbreaking notion in the tools developed by Milestone is that any improvements upon the customer experience are largely dependent upon the mindset of the employees involved in delivering the customer experience of a certain organization. The main methodology to solve commonplace issues and to make improvements in working life culture of Milestone here is to utilize a quantitative matrix that highlights with different color codes the several factors affecting the employer experience.

With the 5 people, most of the attendees being HR professionals, attending the workshop and discussion facilitated by Harjuoja the atmosphere was relaxed and easygoing with results that will hopefully be of assistance in developing these tools further.

Agile is a buzzword with a huge relevance in the evolution of organizational culture. “Agility is about flexibility and the ability of an organization to rapidly adapt and steer itself in a new direction. It’s about minimizing handovers and bureaucracy, and empowering people” says Bart Schlatmann, as quoted by Nordkapp’s Creative Director Sami Niemelä in a speech he recently delivered in New York.

I suggest you read the full paraphrase of “The New Invisibles” by Niemelä, I think this has very much to do with how the employees are being empowered and how design can have a positive impact in solving prevailing global challenges.

With trickle-down hierarchy, it is hard to make people realize their full potential as employees and the pace of change is slow. Waterfall hierarchies being still commonplace, I think we are in dire need practical tools to improve upon the employer’s attitudes and motivation towards their work, as well as the agility of organizations.

Design sprints can certainly be of assistance in this as well as solving many other problems. This weekend’s VarmaHack event will be a chance to see several practical digital solutions to these commonplace issues and burnout rehabilitation being prototyped by several teams. Excited to be attending the event and to see the outcomes.

This is the 50th blog post on this blog. I feel like I have reached a preliminary goal I set myself ex tempore around 1,5 years ago.

Read the paraphrase of the speech delivered at IxDA global conference 2017 New York by Nordkapp’s Creative Director Sami Niemelä: https://blog.nordkapp.fi/the-new-invisibles-a-look-into-the-changing-face-of-design-31531b7326d6

or

Get to know Milestone (site only in Finnish): https://milestone.fi

On Generating and Maintaining an Innovative Organizational Culture

How do successful organizations cultivate creativity? And what is it that makes generating and maintaining an outstanding organizational culture so challenging?

The organization’s capacity to innovate, as well as its creativity and connectivity are increasingly highlighted as essential for success. The concepts of “innovation environment” or “innovation ecosystem” are referred to very often in this context.

When describing a creative organizational culture in more detail, case-examples of start-ups and influential Silicon Valley enterprises pop up in various publications, and it seems Richard Florida’s theory of the “creative class” is still dominating many discussions.

I believe that given a chance, any individual or a group of people can adopt a creative mindset and participate in generating original innovations.

And I think the best innovations are created by breaking the silos and getting a multi-disciplinary team of experts from different departments collaborating on a shared project, and by introducing and applying service design methodology at the workplace.

This view is based on my own experiences with co-design so far.

But I think many professionals that have experience of working in similar teams might agree.

Service design processes and methods can be of assistance in generating new, innovative concepts and in streamlining existing services — as well as generating and maintaining a culture of co-creation.

I think organizing co-design workshops based on recent analytics and research can help an organization to boost and foster a creative culture at the workplace and to refine the personnel’s capability to innovate.

Obviously, there are costs involved in gathering analytics, conducting initial research and organizing any co-design process, in terms of human resources, time and money.

However, co-creation and co-design may yield significant benefits, both internally and externally.

As I’m a planner, I have only so much to do with strategy implementation in my current organization. But I think reflecting on and aligning one’s own tasks with shared strategic objectives is important.

And similar thought should be given to the team’s role in the organization, and to one’s role in a team.

An important notion here is that each team as well as each individual is equally responsible of committing to the organization’s common goals and values as well as mutual respect.

One of the core values of my current organization is “together”.

I find that my co-workers in the FNG are an enthusiastic and inspiring group of professionals.

A creative environment is often described as “dynamic” and “open” — it supports fresh ideas, it is emotionally safe and compassionate, and its atmosphere promotes the freedom to brainstorm. In such an environment, debates are considered positive, conflicts constructive, and moderate risk taking is allowed.

As a result of this kind of atmosphere in the organization, new ideas emerge and flourish, and they have enough time and space to take shape. And even more importantly, the people enjoy working together.

Service design methods and intrapreneurship combined can yield the very best of results, when they are applied in a way unique to the organization’s culture.

Soren Kaplan, the author of the best-seller “Leapfrogging”, says that when we are “cultivating innovation”, we are, essentially, “cultivating a unique system”.

Kaplan’s notion is echoed in the recent book “Strategy That Works: How Winning Companies Close the Strategy-to-Execution Gap” by Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi. According to the authors, what makes the distinctive internal practices and capabilities of successful organizations so special is the fact that they cannot be easily replicated by others in the same field. In that sense, creating a unique organizational culture and supporting an innovative ecosystem pays off.

In the aforementioned book, Leinwand and Mainardi emphasize, that the most successful organizations:

  • Commit to what they do best instead of chasing multiple opportunities
  • Build their own unique winning capabilities instead of copying others
  • Put their culture to work instead of struggling to change it
  • Invest where it matters instead of going lean across the board
  • Shape the future instead of reacting to it

According to the authors, these are the five essential practices for connecting strategy and its execution.

Having given various issues quite a lot of thought last year in the middle of facilitating a series of workshops on our digital strategy implementation and other tasks, I eventually decided to document some of my thoughts on different topics related to my work and some of my other interests in this blog, now also found via the domain name http://lifeofaplanner.fi.

I have been surprised by the amount of unique visitors and visits here, as well as the amount of positive feedback from colleagues and other friends.

Thank you for reading and all the comments!

On the Digital Dimension and Creativity

This week, I stumbled upon a somewhat uncommon article in the Harvard Business Review – an article on creativity, and more specifically, creativity in digitally or technologically driven organizations.

The author of this article quite straightforwardly states that in order to succeed, tech-savvy companies should really hire more creatives – instead of merely hiring more people who excel in business analytics, or even instead of hiring people who have hard core skills in creating new software.

(You can read the full article, by Tom Perrault, bluntly entitled “Digital Companies Need More Liberal Arts Majors”, at the HBR website: https://hbr.org/2016/01/digital-companies-need-more-liberal-arts-majors.)

Coming from a design background, and moreover, a background in philosophy, I think that we could certainly do with more of us in technologically oriented companies. However, I also think there’s much more to success than simply hiring a designer, or a philosopher, or several, for that matter.

Much like the author here, I find what the management of any successful digital or otherwise technology-oriented company really needs to do is to “create the type of culture in which creatives thrive”.

Having done some reading on this issue, I previously wrote about it in a post entitled “A Structure of Unstructured Time” in this blog last year (https://iiriskblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/a-structure-of-unstructured-time/).

To briefly recap that post, the point I wished to make was that in relation to creating an innovation-oriented culture was that employees should perhaps be given some “unstructured” time to act as “intrapreneurs” in their respective organizations. This is the kind of culture that many prominent companies like Apple and Google seem to make it a point of supporting and sustaining.

Most digital and technological innovations – or at least the very best ones – tend to require the early input of a creative person, or a group of creative people.

I firmly believe that many people, given a chance to, can act as creatives, regardless of their vocational background. Only hiring a creative marketing posse for the product or service hardly makes any sense.

What really makes or breaks success, then, is having and maintaining a creative organizational culture.