Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A recipe for culture change

If you could design your ideal workplace, what would it look like?  If you are reading this blog, chances are that your description includes more than a high salary and state of the art facilities and includes being valued for your ability and treated fairly and respectfully by others.

Recently I served on a visiting committee that privately interviewed every staff and faculty member of an academic department.  If I had to design my ideal workplace, I could not have come up with a more satisfied group.  Everyone loves their job and feels welcomed and respected.  Inclusion, diversity, and excellence are seamlessly interwoven.  My ideal workplace would look a lot like that.

During the past two years I was given the gift of time (about 18 months) to study my university in depth to make recommendations for advancing a respectful and caring community.  The result is a report currently under discussion by faculty, staff, postdocs, students and alumni.  Some of the recommendations, such as universal unconscious bias training, would, I believe, be quite impactful if they spread widely.  That particular recommendation is based on groundbreaking work done at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Google.

Business guru Peter Drucker is said to have remarked, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."  What he meant is that the unwritten rules of how people interact and what they feel is normal for their organization will make it difficult to implement organizational change unless the tacit assumptions are spoken aloud.

Shifting a culture requires that it first be understood.  Efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion often are hindered by culture.  What if we made culture part of the solution instead of part of the problem?

That is the approach I followed in writing this report.  It's not the usual one.  But isn't that what researchers do?  We experiment and innovate.  When empathy is added to this equation, we have the ingredients for culture change.  Submit your recipes!  And let's use culture to our advantage.

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