How do you build a puzzle? Most of us start with the corners, then work on the edges and major images, and finally fill in the background. Building culture is essentially the same; we start with guideposts — vision, mission, and values — and supporting behaviors that, pieced together, form the totality of an organization.
But how do we adapt culture when experience and expectations are changing? We now find ourselves at a tipping point when changes in workplace demographics and new cycles of innovation are requiring every leader to find new ways of working.
The future of work will change our jobs, how we live, what we do, and who we do it with — so we must adapt. Technology is redefining jobs by leveraging AI, machine learning, and robotics, while converging industries are changing the marketplace as we know it. The gig economy is increasingly making individuals the CEOs of their own careers, and the workplace is seeing the silver tsunami of Boomers exiting or redefining their careers and the digerati of Millennials and Gen Z entering with new expectations.
Challenging the Status Quo
While we may debate the rate at which it’s happening, we all agree change is accelerating, and in order to succeed, companies must look at the workforce in a new way. Case in point: Recently, chief executives in the Business Roundtable committed to a new “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation,” asserting that “it is not the place of the board to concern themselves only with the share price” and that they “must invest in employees and deliver value to customers.” In their statement, they went on to observe that “the experience is vital to the engagement and retention of talent.”
“They’re responding to something in the zeitgeist,” said Nancy Koehn, a historian at Harvard Business School. “They perceive that business as usual is no longer acceptable.”
Thriving in the Now
Changing the employee experience so that workers feel valued and enabled to contribute to new products and services is crucial today. Employees’ ability to represent the voice of the customer is what brings consumer understanding and loyalty. Daimler realized this imperative in reigniting an innovation culture. With 3% of the world’s workforce impacted by autonomous driving and 1 in 6 jobs in Germany stemming from the auto industry, necessity became the mother of reinvention. Partnering with SAP, they leveraged design thinking for strategy, manufacturing, and core R&D to transform their business from a car manufacturer to a mobility solution provider. Working with them on this new consumer-experience-focused approach to thinking ― as well as on physical changes in the workplace ― enabled collaboration, a lift in energy, creativity, and engagement. Most recently, BMW Group and Daimler AG partnered, creating a new global player in urban mobility. The cooperation comprises multimodal services, charging, taxi ride-hailing, parking, and car-sharing. New internal employee experiences are translating into new consumer experiences on the road.
Adopting an Innovation Culture
Motivating change for one person is a mindset shift; mobilizing many in a sustainable manner requires widespread cultural adaptation.
In an interview about Stephen Hawking, well-known author Walter Isaacson cited curiosity as the mark of a genius. Other qualities he mentioned are a sense of wonder, observation, and an interest in collaboration and discovery. Consistent with the Future of Jobs report, these are the kinds of puzzle pieces SAP has learned companies need to reinforce in order to improve employee experience, keep employees engaged, and exploit uniquely human traits in an increasingly digitalized world. Here are some specific actions to effect culture change now:
• Create opportunities for employees to discover and craft their experience, both at the start and at the end of their careers.
• Be curious ― observe and listen to your customers/employees, and respond to their asks.
• Focus on the employee experience to harness the power of people, leverage their superpowers, and spark joy ― let them participate in building the future.
It is not new for culture change and technology to influence our world. If we look back at the genesis of Silicon Valley, it was the failing culture of the Shockley Semiconductor Company that led to the ultimate formation of Intel, AMD, and now the FAANG companies ― Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google. Scaling without sacrificing culture is no simple feat, regardless of the size of an organization.
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