006 : Making Companies Great Places to Work (From Home) with Julian Lute


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What is your relationship to work? How can companies assess their culture and determine the steps they need to take in order to make their companies great places to work? This week, Julian Lute, a strategic advisor at Great Place to Work®, joins the podcast as he expands on how healthy cultures lead to great places to work… even if it’s from home.

As a strategic advisor and sound designer, Julian is passionate about helping companies delight both their customers and their employees as well as reinvigorating their experiences with brands. His brand of consulting companies on company culture is done through the multiple lenses of psychology, business, and design. In this conversation with Steve Chaparro he shares his professional journey, his work at Great Place to Work®, and his insights that come from coming alongside companies who are looking to transform culture.

For Julian, culture is important for companies to graph through a vigorous and emergent process of listening, sense-making, and involving employees in the ideation, iteration and implementation of new approaches. This requires a new mindset for leaders who embrace the ambiguity of these new journeys that cannot rely on the best practices of the past.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Julian shares his professional journey.
  • He describes the mission of Great Place to Work® to change the world by changing people’s relationship to work.
  • The challenges companies have in making sense of their people analytics data.
  • How using a strength-based approach can help companies take the first steps in solving cultural challenges.
  • How companies can structure themselves to involve employees in the co-creation of culture and the employee experience.
  • How to prepare the mindsets of executive leadership to lead through necessary organizational changes.
  • As a consultant, when a client is resistant to necessary changes, knowing when it may be time to walk away from an engagement.
  • How the themes of fairness and innovation emerged as  common culture challenges before COVID-19.
  • The challenges and opportunities for corporate culture which have arisen during COVID-19.
  • Why it’s a good thing to think about what re-entry looks like post-COVID19 now.
  • How design principles can be used to shape or reshape organizational culture.
  • The value of leaders leading as facilitators and coaches.

Resources Mentioned in this episode:

About the Guest:

Julian Lute is a strategic advisor with Great Place to Work® – a global authority on workplace culture. He is passionate about helping companies delight both their customers and their employees and reinvigorate their experiences with brands. Julian is also a sound designer who is dedicated to documenting the creative expression of some intensely talented artists.

Sponsor for this episode:

This episode is brought to you by the Culture Design Studio, a consulting firm that helps people and cultural leaders who feel constrained in their ability to engage their employees to become champions for their people through a series of facilitated workshops. They provide a practical and collaborative process to transform the culture within your creative organization.

Culture Design Studio has worked with organizations like Duarte Design, Design Thinkers Group, Red Bull, USAID, Bacardi, and the Office of Civic Innovation

If you’re looking for more than just a consultant and want someone who can facilitate your organization through a structured conversation to transform your culture, Culture Design Studio is the one for you.

Contact them today to learn more about what they can do for you and your company.

Full Transcript: Powered by Otter.ai

Announcer Welcome to The Culture Design Show where we feature conversations with leaders and thinkers who are passionate about culture and design. Now, let’s get started with the show,

Steve Chaparro Steve Chaparro, here. I am the host of The Culture Design Show, a podcast where I feature leaders and thinkers at some of the top creative firms in the world including architecture, design, technology and marketing. But what’s the one thing they all have in common? They all believe in the power of culture and design.

This podcast is brought to you by Culture Design Studio, we help people and culture leaders who feel constrained in their ability to engage their employees to become champions for their people. Through a series of facilitated workshops, we provide a practical and collaborative process to transform a culture within their creative organization. We’ve worked with organizations like Duarte Design, DesignThinkers Group, Red Bull, USAid, Bacardi and the Office of Civic Innovation. So if you’re looking for more than just a consultant, but someone who can facilitate your organization, the restructured conversation to transform your culture, reach out to us at culturedesignstudio.com.

Julian Lute is a strategic advisor with Great Place to Work® – a global authority on a workplace culture. He is passionate about helping companies delight both their customers and their employees, as well as reinvigorating their experiences with brands. Also, even those of you that may know this or know him may not know that he is also a sound designer who is dedicated to documenting the creative expression of some intensely talented artists, Julian, welcome to The Culture Design Show.

Julian Lute Thank you. Thanks for having me. You do great work I love I love all of the things that you’re doing and the way that we’re displaying culture and design together. So thank you.

Steve Chaparro Thank you. I mean, I know we met a while back when you were here in my home city of Long Beach you facilitated, moderated a panel with some ch rose. And so when I heard you moderate that conversation, I knew that we needed to chat further. And we’ve been in communication. It’s been crazy. It’s been crazy, our environment, but we’re here today.

Julian Lute Love it. Thank you.

Steve Chaparro So I’d love to for folks to hear a little bit about your background. It’s it’s pretty varied. And I’d love to hear what that journey was, you know, how did what did you think you were going to do? coming out of college? All the way to your role, a Great Places to Work today.

Julian Lute Wow. Okay. I appreciate that. Yeah. So if I think coming out of college, you know, I thought I was going to be a clinical psychologist. And at that point, I, you know, was very interested in psychology and how people thought, my mother when, you know, as I was growing up, she used to say about education. She said, you know, go And study what you want to know.

Steve Chaparro Yeah.

Julian Lute And and so psychology was something that I grew up very intensely. You know, I just loved it. So anyway, when you know studied psychology, I got to the clinicals, I started working with people that were very disturbed, and I didn’t have the emotional reserves at that time to like really process and deal with it in that in, in what we’re probably productive ways. So I was like, You know what, I’m going to keep the peace of this that’s very human centered, very focused. And while I was getting my undergrad I also was working on a master’s degree in International and multicultural education.

And so you know, this passion for not only how people think but also why they think the things that they think led me into education and learning about how different countries I traveled around learning about how different countries societies peoples educated their people, both formally and informally. So that was a really cool experience, being you know, in in the world, outside The US, but really getting a sense of how people actually make sense of their world, which is something you and I spoke about just a few moments ago. So that was really cool. And then I went back to USF, a friend of mine was running a program, trying to diversify the K through 12. You know, teacher, the teacher pipeline, there was a point in time where, you know, if you were working in a low income school, or in a low income area, you didn’t have a lot of reflection of the diversity of those kids in the teacher or the administrative core, and we wanted to be a part of changing that. So all along the west coast, we work to diversify that pipeline through helping teachers or people who were sort of on the verge on the teacher pipeline that needed more money we would help support them with with money, and then we’d support them through pedagogy as well around, you know, using a culturally specific lens in that, you know, for that for those communities. And it was all about service. So that kind of I still was in this thing about humans and how humans behave in the world. Yeah. I went back, got my MBA and I learned the language of business. I’ve always been like a side hustler. I told my friends that, you know, I used to sell rocks when I was growing up. And you know, people always wonder what kind of rocks are you selling Julian in the 80s and 90s. It was, it was literal rocks, right? It was literal.

Steve Chaparro The pet rocks?

Julian Lute Yeah, the pet rocks, well, if people would use them for like their gardens, or people will use a knob so my brother and I were picking up really cool rocks and sell it up. So those kind of rocks but I’ve always had this entrepreneurial sort of side hustle going on. And then I went back to grad school, I got my MBA and from there on, you know, I got to work with some great design firms also work with people that were implementing brand and marketing strategy that really kind of connected with me because of the you know, the artistic side of my life. Marketing and brand brand design really kind of jumped in jumped out at me, then this will a great place to work opened up where I was a product manager. For our global network. We’re in about 90 countries we actually service about we service about 90 countries, but We have offices in about 60. And so I was supporting our global network around product development and integration. So that was really cool. And then I got an opportunity to be on the consulting team, you know, about four and a half, five years ago. And that really changed my perspective of like, what was really happening in organizations around how their strategies were coming to life through their people. And that was a nuance to business that I didn’t, I didn’t expect and it’s been a wonderful ride so far. So that’s where I am now. That’s, that’s the that’s the long story of what brought me here.

Steve Chaparro I love it. Yeah, I think we’re like, you know, some people might say, kinfolk, I think you and I are like passion and brain folk in that we have. We’re at this intersection, this Venn diagram of business, psychology and design. And that’s almost like we’re culture design exists at that at that sort of sweet spot of all those different things. And so being that great place to work is a global authority on workplace culture for those people that don’t know about great place to work. share with us the work that you folks do with organizations around the world.

Julian Lute I appreciate that. So, at Great Place to Work®, you know, we really believe that we’re going to be able to change the world and contribute to a better society, by changing people’s relationships with work, and basically making sure that there is a high trust experience for every person in the organization. Regardless of what you do, or what you look like you have you deserve a great workplace. And it’s our goal to be able to make sure that that exists for people. So what we typically do is we’re a data and analytics firm. So we collect data from lots of different organizations generally buy them running our trust index survey, we have a 60 statement survey that companies use to kind of get a barometer of the experience of their employees. And so you know, if you think about it in the US, a lot of folks are enticed by being a best company.

So we have a recognition certification program, where companies that you know, want to put their hat in the ring and see how they stack up against some of the other best companies. They can do that. But a significant portion of our clients really just use our survey as a way to inform as a part of their overall listening strategy, listening to their employees listening to what the market saying and how they bring those two together. So that’s what we really do we do that globally. We layer on sometimes some strategic advisory work, some consulting work on top of that, but typically, we’re trying to make sure that people have some intelligence around what’s going on in their organization, and some perspective from our research around what we see, based on these data sets. I mean, we probably get about 10 million responses each year. And so we’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I think we have probably the largest data set around employee experience in the world at this point.

Steve Chaparro Yeah, I love that in it. A lot of what you’re saying in terms of the analytics, the research side, a lot of it, as I understand it, is very much quantitative, but I would imagine there’s also some qualitative aspects to it there. When I put my design thinking hat on, you know, that empathizing phase or Reese design research phases is really listening. It’s not pre determining what the problems are or what even the outcomes are going to come out. But it’s really taking some time to listen to what employees are saying. But then after you listen, there has to be some, as we described earlier, some sense making that comes out of that. One, what are some of the challenges that companies have with making sense of all of that data?

Julian Lute That’s an amazing question. I appreciate this one, because this is what when I get called into organizations, it’s typically for this, I’d say, you know, it can depend on the size of the organization, right. So when I think about smaller organizations, where there’s a lot more, a lot less people, and you know, most people are very focused on execution. And there’s a lot of involvement of people when you’re in a smaller organization, you know, you get to touch a lot of things. There’s less silos generally. So when people are trying to make sense of that data, a lot of times People are trying to say, Well, what makes us unique at this point, right? They look at the data they see places where people are having a very consistent experience because we measure consistency, right? It’s like, Are you having a consistent experience of trust, an inconsistent experience? Or a inconsistently negative experience? So we’re trying to figure out, where’s your consistency? And how can you build upon that? So I’d say that for smaller companies, they’re always trying to figure out like, what are we good at? And how do we keep doing that? Right? How do we keep doing that? Well, they’re still they’re still in the sense making a lot of times depending on where they are in their journey. 

When you get to the medium sized company, that’s where it really gets interesting, because they’re, they’re big enough that, you know, a lot of the activities that people used to be able to have their hands in, you know, whether it’s through growth or acquisitions or just headcount, it starts to get division start to emerge, right there begin to be more siloed conversations. And people start to say, huh, we started off feeling this particular way, having all these you know, all of this access to leadership, all of this access to decision making. Now we’re kind of getting, we’re getting sort of put into a structure Well, I’m focused on a function or something like that. And what does this mean for our culture? Can we are there pieces of us of our culture that we’re going to lose going forward? You know, there’s a, it’s a different sort of sense making because people had a sense of what they were. And now it’s being challenged just by the structure of how organizations as they grow. So that’s kind of like being I call it like being an American teenager, you know, it’s like, you’re 15 and a half, and you’re not 16, which is when you can drive generally, right? So it’s kind of like being in this zone of I’m old enough to not do certain things, but I’m not quite old enough to do the things that I really want to do. And what does that mean for me? Yeah, that’s, that’s one of the things that I think about they’re some of the things that stand out, though, at that phase is like promotions. How do people get promoted? How do people get developed? Or is there favoritism? So fairness is a big thing that stands out when you’re like in that middle phase.

And I say the last piece, you know, when you’re a larger company, a lot of times it’s all over the map. Sometimes it’s about leadership. And going back to what you said. It’s about the commitment to the values. It’s like How do we scale leadership? How do we scale things? How do people get work done in a bureaucratic environment, a lot of folks and hide in an environment like this, you know, we spent a lot of time talking to people who are involved in change management, because they’re trying to edit educate masses of people. And honestly, you started off the conversation with this, I always say that you’re in the actual business during change management of empathy management, you know, that’s really where you have to start. And so, you know, you think about some of the cultural challenges if I sum it all up, it really does boil down to as you get larger, how do you listen better? And that’s that’s where the empathy connects to me with the design process. How do you get better at listening, and everyone wants to move to action action, sort of like what we talked about earlier? How do we get out of this? What should we be doing next? And I’m you know, post COVID. Yeah, this this empathy phase is a little bit longer, probably twice as long than most companies give themself credit credit for?

Steve Chaparro Yeah, I would imagine. That regardless of the size of the organization, when they go through this process of listening, and making sense of one, here are some really great things about us, right? This is these are things that we want to move forward because we, we, we’ve extracted this understanding that this is who we are, but in the process, it also probably reveals some weaknesses and some cracks in our culture. And I would imagine for some, they come away from this process at this stage overwhelmed. You know, I’ve got 510 different things as it is culture is already a thing that is like, I kind of refer to it as you like you’re trying to grasp a bowl of jello like without the bowl, you know, just like jello, you’re trying to grasp and every time you squeeze, it goes to a different part because it’s such a, you know, just that not sometimes it seems like something that you can’t understand and grasp.

Julian Lute Yeah.

Steve Chaparro So, if people feel this, what do you recommend that they do in terms of Okay, I we got it we there’s this landscape of challenges. And even on top of that are is a layer of some really great things. What what’s the first step in this marathon?

Julian Lute Yeah, that’s a great question. I’d say the first step is really thinking about those players like using the AI of, of strength, having a strength based perspective. So really putting at the top of the heap, what do we do very well, and how and why are people having this great experience of this? So for some organizations, they have a very people feel very connected to their communities, right? They feel like Oh, the work that we’re doing as an organization, I know we’re making a better world. So the purpose of the organization is very strong. If you look back as to why it’s because they do. They talk about their purpose all the time, right and in lots of different ways. They are constantly referring to our purpose. A lot of people The customer. 

So when you talk to organizations and you have a statement around, you know about our relationship with our customers for service organs of oriented organizations, they are like in the 90s percent people of people who are consistently have this experience because we’re really good at talking about what we do for our customers. Now, when we think about things like promotions, most people don’t understand why Sally may have gotten this new job or when these two companies merged together, how come Bill now heads that we don’t have, and we don’t talk as much about why people are qualified for the work they do. So one of the lower so as an example, we sort of look at the strength base and say, Well, what do we do with why do people have this consistent experience of us helping our community? Well, we talk about it in town halls, we talk about it when we talk about what our customers are doing. We talk about it 50 times a month we talk about or a week we talked about this. When we talk about things like development, we might talk about that three times and it might be via email a month. It might be just during time for you know To do performance management, so you always start with what you’re doing well, and kind of dissecting that and saying, why is it that we’re doing this? Well.

And then if you’re really trying to strategize now about the things that you have, you know, as opportunities, the things I always say pulled to the top or anything around communication, so that speaking and listening, are you communicating the direction of the organization? are you communicating clearly what we’re doing, why we’re doing things, who’s going to be impacted, and asking people for feedback, you always start there. That’s credibility for leadership. You know, if people don’t feel like you’re credible, they’re not going to leave, they’re not going to listen, they may show up and collect that paycheck. But they’re not necessarily going to believe you. When you say, Hey, we got to pivot and go do this thing. And so there’s a lot of people that will, you know, oftentimes drag their heels so we start there.

And the next place that we look is also around involvement. How are we involving people so if you can get the listening and the communication piece right, and then double click into how people are involved in decisions that affect them affect their work? You will Sort of, you actually give wind to the sales of some of the other places in your organization because people know that you’re going to be credible people know that they’re going to be in use, they’re going to be involved in this process and that they get buy in and they build trust through that process. So those are the two or three things I’d say focus in on.

Steve Chaparro Yeah, I love that. I’m glad that you went there on the involving the employees, because that is a passion and a foundation of even my work. And I think I think of it as co creating culture or co creating the employee experience because it’s one thing to listen to them in terms of what’s going well and what’s not going well and even deriving sense from that. But if there is a way for us to involve employees, in actually the ideation and the prototyping and the testing of the new initiatives to respond to the challenges, or to capitalize on on the the current springs, then that for me, that just involves VHS involves employees at a much higher level. So what are your thoughts about that? And what are some of the challenges in making that happen?

Julian Lute Yeah, that’s awesome. Again, I love that. I mean, we have worked with lots of organizations around just that process of, um, you know, it’s it’s a design based application, right, then we’re trying to, you know, to deploy out to folks that are either in HR or in marketing at HR, like these cross functional teams. And I’d say, number one, the hardest thing about sort of implementing or thinking about the, you know, this design of this design approach, and co creating culture with people is it with employees is that a lot of organizations are not sort of set up in a very agile way. So they’re not set up in a way that they can quickly, you know, iterate and test what their assumptions oftentimes the assumption is made high. If it’s the plan is made for how to execute and then it’s pushed out And so yeah, that’s real opportunities, you know what I mean are not there for people to actually grab ahold of something, see if it’s actually work and get some feedback, and then send it back up the chain. It’s a little bit harder for folks.

But what I have seen work, and it’s such a, you can almost see it in people’s eyes when we first start off with this idea of empathy, like, let’s use data. And both Quan and qualitatively in a humanistic way like you as a HR manager, you as a business process leader, go out and ask your direct reports, what their experiences with this and they’re like, Oh my gosh, how come I didn’t do this before? Or they or they come back. Now you’ve got 15 or 20 people, whoever’s part of the design team in the design sprint, they come back and they’re like, Oh, I heard this and then fortunately, people bring their perspectives. The decisions are always better, but it’s not something that they typically do. So I say that the struggle the challenge is having an organization that’s ready for it. I was working with an organization that does Like vacation rentals, it’s a popular organization. It does a lot of vacation rentals and short term rentals. And luckily they had just gotten new executive leadership who wanted to, you know, inter sort of interject into the organization is very nimble feeling. So they started doing this, this these 90 day sprints, maybe about three months before we had come in. 

So they were at the very, the beginning of their journey around sort of incorporating design into their, into their processes, the language that we were using, they understood at that point in time, why we were doing this as an organization, why we rip by this approach, great place to work. They were in the middle of it, so they were down for IT organizations where they don’t even use the word agility. They don’t work in these very quick ways. And that bureaucracy actually is there to keep people from doing things like this. Yeah, it’s much harder to kind of get traction and move quickly. Yeah.

Steve Chaparro Well, what I love about what you’re saying when you’re talking about Language language is an indication of culture, right? It very much. And so there was a, one of my former bosses used to say that words create worlds or to Europe to our point, language creates culture. And if that language is already there, we know that there’s a culture within the organization that will be open to certain ideas. However, in other cases, we need to adopt their language and not use our design, speak or even consultants speak, because sometimes that comes off a little arrogant sometimes, but if we can adopt or at least adapt our language to theirs, then it’s something that they could already use. However, what I was going to get to was, what happens when we know what the opportunities are, we know what the strengths are, and we even have a methodology that can help take them from A to B, but the leadership is not yet sold on those things, the methodology language, how challenging is it then to move forward? And if so, what can be done to change that mindset of leadership?

Julian Lute Yeah, this is something that I faced, especially early on in my, you know, my tenure as a consultant as we were working with huge multinational organizations like big telecom organizations that like, you know, that that power our wireless networks, right, so those those those guys and gals, and, you know, they’re almost militaristic in their, in their approach, right. So what what you could get from a group of people who were kind of what I call culture champions, was a lot of excitement. They had a pretty good span of control, you could get this change happening in certain departments, like, for example, this this particular organization had a group of people who would go into your home to install your cable or Your internet, right? They were having a particular set of challenges around how they were being measured, they were being measured by almost time on site, and not whether the problem actually got solved. So the you know, the shorter that you were that it would be better for you to go back multiple times shorter time duration, that it would be for you to stay long enough to get the actual problem finished. So they understood that very, very quickly. And they realized that that was an impediment to them getting their work done.

So we were able to engage with that team leader and they were able to make some changes there and then a couple of other places like some of their call centers, but if that next layer of people don’t see the value, then you don’t get the sustainability of that chain. Once there’s a hiccup once there’s a hiring freeze, once there’s a discretionary budget issue, that’s that’s no longer a part of the part of our plan. So what we what we typically say is for us, generally, even the companies that we work with, there is a very Clear edict from the leadership, yes, we believe in this. And oftentimes the boards of the organization are judging the senior leaders on this. So that is the best play that you can make. And when that happens, it makes it so much easier because as you said, the language is a common language, people are actually living the values, the cultural values that we’re supposed to live by, you see those people doing it, talking about it, versus saying, Okay, this is a nice to have, but I know to really get things done in my organization, I have to like beat this next person’s argument to the ground. That’s how I’m gonna get it up in the head versus collaborating because what if that person steals it or takes it like a lot of you know, you see a lot of that that people people face. 

So but we do nowadays, it’s like, you know, we need we need actually see the eo to CEO talk, really will work with certain complexity, because if if we can’t get our people to interface with them, People is a strategic advisor can only influence people to to a certain degree, depending on the size of the organization. So we need really strong connection with our senior leadership and their senior leadership to say, what are we trying to do here versus just sending me out as like a, you know, as a century or something to try to help the organization because it’s limited in the scope. It just, it actually can do more harm. When you ask people for their opinion and you don’t do anything with it.

Steve Chaparro Yeah, exactly. It’s it’s almost like you’re dangling hope in front of the employees, middle management, whatever. And you’re making that you’re allowing them to think that things could be better. When there’s a lid. There’s a lot of leadership on that that type of work. Yeah, I remember. It reminds me of a conversation I had with my father in law. And we were beginning to we were having our first child, and he said, Steve, oh, here’s something I want to share with you. He said, Steve, if I ever wanted my kids to change, I needed to change first. Have you ever walked away from a possible engagement? Where the leader wasn’t willing to change first? Is that is that something you’ve ever encountered? And if it maybe you didn’t walk away, but maybe you address it in a certain way, what are some of the dynamics that you noticed in that type of realization?

Julian Lute Hmm, wow, that yes, we Yes, I have walked away and we have walked away as an organization. What are some of the dynamics? Typically, what you see is, you know, you can call it you could put it in the broad, the broad category of resistance, right? When people are listening or are even if you as a regular person, someone sort of giving you feedback or thinking about how you could be better or where you could where they see you. When you’re listening. You’re actually asking questions. You’re curious, you know, you want to know More about what the other person is sort of talking about and why they think that way. When you have people that I work with, and we work with as an organization that start listening and questioning and are curious, you can sort of tell where they’re headed. Yeah, the dynamics that are at play, when you are encountering resistance, it’s, well, this is why we do this. It’s it’s our people, you hear a lot of can’t, won’t, will never, you know, you hear things that sort of put a stop on possibility on potential for change. You know, so so we’ve had to sort of say, when people aren’t ready, oh, and the big one is really, the, you know, it’s the V word. I mean, if I, if I think back, I’ve heard people say, Julian, you can talk to our executive team. It’s right before meeting, you can talk to our executive team. I can’t wait for you to meet our CEO, blah, blah, blah, blah, but don’t use the word. What’s the word empathy. Don’t use that word, right. I’m like, Oh, my God. All about the employees.

So it goes back To your point, if you have to learn the language, the V word, which is the word vulnerability is the next. Yeah, people want and when you see leaders who are built, being vulnerable and sharing their stories of when they didn’t get it right, without you pressing them too hard. That’s that that’s a great sign. The other great sign is when you see people or hear leaders talk about when things are at their best. It’s because we’re doing this. And when they’re not, it’s because we’re doing this. So for example, go back to that the big Telecom, right that’s responsible for our broadband and all of those things. We asked them a very similar question when when there’s no bureaucracy, when people are out there, you know, kind of doing their thing and you’re at the best when is it? And they said, it’s during a disaster. It’s when in the Midwest, you know, a tornado comes through because what happens? People get in their trucks and they just go out there and start fixing stuff. They don’t ask for permission. No one’s coordinating with them. They just see the needle And they go feed the need, and they work with the people to solve the problems together, they don’t need all the oversight. And so we asked them, well, what sort of stands in the way of sort of operating more like that, and they say, Oh, we can’t operate like that all the time, you know, we would be losing this and it’ll be too much of that.

But it’s, it’s interesting when, when, when people are at their best, all of the the ways of working that we sort of built up for ourselves to, you know, to maintain our identity or whatever we think about our culture sort of gets stripped away and the essence the core actually emerges, which is we are a organization that wants to help and that’s what we really want to do and our people are there because they want to help and because they do that best without the expense reporting anything over 50 bucks and without, you know, asking for permission, five chains up before we can make a decision. Once you knock that out, people can actually do what they’re really, really called to do.

Steve Chaparro Yeah, absolutely. Right now we find ourselves obviously during the time of COVID-19, and if we were to think of COVID-19 as a, as a as a time that splits time and half, like, we see an ad, so we think of BC is before COVID. What were some of the challenges that you saw that were trending in some of the organizations that you’ve worked with? In terms of culture? What were some of the things that were rising to the top, regardless of size, industry, geography? What are some of those things that that became commonplace?

Julian Lute Yeah. One of the big things was people really wanting to dig into the idea of fairness, right. So as we evolved our methodology to talk about the experience of everybody, so we call it for all making great places to work or all. There are people there were organizations that certain employees were just allowed to have a crappy experience, right? So for certainly for call centers, people would say things like, Well, you know, what’s crazy work. I mean, that crazy work. It’s Very grinding and demanding work. It’s 24 seven work. It’s It’s It’s It’s low paid work, and there was a reality that people just assigned to people’s work, and it just wasn’t even expected to get better. And so what more and more people were starting to open up and dig deeply into is how can we be more fair and I mentioned things about promotions and recognition, but also about development, you know, how do people get access to to developing and the organization becoming leaders?

You know, we’ve always had the conversation of diversity, inclusion and equity, people really wanting to kind of dig into what that means, because you’re seeing we saw from some of our survey, so that if you sort of asked people certain demographic questions about their identities, that you know, for every 10 you know, people or 10% of people that didn’t answer this, this statement, you could see or didn’t feel comfortable responding to the statement, whether you know, for your personal characteristics, it actually actually had a negative impact. on people’s total experience of trust, so when you had a group of people who were isolated and alienated it impact the whole organization, even if they weren’t a very visible group of people, because, you know, we’re still digging into why that is. So that that’s something that people were really digging into fairness. We’ve always had this sense of innovation. You know, innovation has always been a topic that people sort of Bandy about in all sorts of contexts. But the way we talk about innovation and bringing everybody into the innovation cycle, not just you know, your your research team, or people that are assigned into it, people really wanted to understand that too, because the market for a lot of these organizations is continuously under pressure continuously changing and continuously being disrupted by technology.

So it wasn’t enough to just have, you know, an r&d team sort of running this so they wanted to know how do we meaningfully bring people into the conversation and and sort of deal with the fear of governing by consensus because people have this fear that when when you invite people in, it’s going to take a little longer, but that instant Some way you have to sort of take everybody’s opinions into account and please everybody, which is not what we mean. And that’s not even what employees want. They just want to know that if you’re asking for their opinion that you’re going to use it, or at least tell us why you didn’t and remove it. So that’s kind of the other thing innovation and involving people innovation was the other thing that people were really wrapping their heads around pre COVID.

Steve Chaparro Yeah. So speaking of COVID now, you know, we’ve we’ve come into this period here where, you know, everything is a have, everything has changed. In a sense, it’s what some people have called the great equalizer in terms of no matter what role you have in a company, it almost seems like we’re all experiencing this collectively as a human race. And so our emotions are equally as valid, the anxiety, the, you know, the wanting to see clarity. During this time, I’m sure you’ve had a ton of conversations with leaders at companies across The world, what have you seen has been some of the challenges? And even maybe those surprising the surprising opportunities that have come up and have been revealed during this time?

Julian Lute Yeah, the biggest challenges are in the service in the retail industries. I mean, I know we see it on TV, but these people are making heartbreaking decisions at times, to either, you know, shut down and furlough employees for a limited time or even dealing with the possibility that they may never be back in business. So what does that mean for people? How are they taking care of people through that? And you know, we’ve seen some bad examples publicly. But we’ve also seen some really good examples. I think one of the ones we saw was Marriott, and talking about how they were going to take care of their employees during this time in a very vulnerable message. And, you know, so So, when I think about the challenges is that you know, particularly our service industry, it’s just hitting us all and hitting all those businesses in a major way, and there’s lots of people just unemployed due to that.

Julian Lute But what I what I see as the big opportunity, especially for folks that are holding on and still, you know, employing folks and people still show up to work is, even for restaurants in the service industry, this pivot to what we didn’t even think we could do. Right, you have certain restaurants now who are selling growlers of beer because we change the laws in certain way, then you can actually take beer out now, you know, we had this law that said you couldn’t because people were making money not having to now you got to change it. So you’re starting to see loosening of regulations in certain areas, which I think is an opportunity. But I think the biggest thing is the new perceptions of how people can work and can work together efficiently.

Julian Lute You know, I shared an example of one of our financial service organizations that’s on our hundred best list that you know, as a financial service company, they always thought that people had to just come into the office. They’ve seen in the month that people have been working from home productivity and some of their KPIs have actually tracked better from people working from home. It actually has made them make different decisions about or projections about how much real estate they’ll need. But that was something that literally, if you read the comments for the last five years, people have said, I could do my work from home, why do I have to commute an hour and a half each way just to do this work, I can do this from home. And that was almost like a blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, we’re not hearing a we’re not hearing that kind of thing. Until you have to do it. And people are surprised at how collaborative how willing people are to, you know, to step in and jump in and do these, you know, be a be a part of this, this new way of working. I think that the the part is going to be equally important that more people are focused on is how to help people balance this now, because working at home is one thing when your kids or family members are all doing their own thing. Working at home is entirely different. When everybody’s on top of everybody. Yeah, sure. How do you stay emotionally healthy and what kind of things you have to do now to have some sort of balance where it was working from home was still different. even, you know, pre COVID it didn’t mean to say because it means right now. So those are a couple of the things that I saw as opportunities and also challenges that people are facing.

Steve Chaparro Well, who knows how long this work from home period is gonna last that if it lasts any month, any, any degree longer, we may have to change the name of your company to great place to work from home.

Julian Lute Oh, you’re right. Well, if I could just expand that last night last night, which is, you know, we talked a little bit about, you know, the empathy the the the sort of discovery phase of design, right, where, you know, you kind of get all the information, you’re listening and all that sort of thing. And now you want to, you know, start working on what you could do to iterate on it. Whereas It feels like right now, because of that anxiety that you described, people are trying to figure out what what does reentry look like, right, people are already starting to think about that, that how do we bring people back together? I think it’s a good thing to be thinking about right now. And but but I also think that there is a little bit of let’s just get on to the next thing and not be like this anymore in that A little bit of, I feel like there’s probably going to be a little bit more of us having to deal with this this reality for a little bit longer than I think many people might expect. Yeah, for sure there’s no end date. So I hope that we can see so I just would say we’re still in the discovery phase. Let’s keep listening. Let’s keep talking to employees. Let’s keep talking to each other staying connected because we still need this foundation with you. We can’t go back to work when schools aren’t opened up, or you know, it’s just going to be a lot of coordination. I think we may need to kind of let you know discover a little bit more.

Steve Chaparro Yeah. It’s almost as if for myself, like I think of Okay, I don’t know what the timeline is. And I’m almost like giving myself a staged journey through this time to say that okay, maybe for the month of you know, the four month of March was like understanding man, this is we’re like this is real. And then the month of April, it’s been like okay, let me just embrace this. This this situation. And not have higher aspirations like like just curb, like have grace for myself compassion for myself and my neighbors. And then I thought, well, maybe I could start in may try to start to figure it out. But I don’t even know if that’s gonna be the case either. But it’s been interesting, like, I’m trying to psych myself up into how I, what is my relationship with this time period? And how do I be okay with that?

Julian Lute Right? See, that’s such a, that’s such a. That’s the type of thinking that a lot of employees are thinking about, too. You know what I mean? They’re, they’re, they’re grappling with that. So we’ve been talking to managers and leaders to give space to that, yes. Especially when you split an employee spend so much time, you know, in meetings and talking to people at their job that while we used to be able to keep work over here for a lot of people, a lot of organizations that these things are blending together and people are still trying to make sense of this. So provide space for that, whether it’s at the top of the meeting, right, can we talk about it and check it in with folks in a different way? Yeah, this is great point.

Steve Chaparro Ways to offer space for that space could be having those conversations, but it also can be on your definition of productivity. You know, we already know that and on a normal eight hour day, you’re not going to have eight hours of productivity, we’d like to think that’s the case. But even pre COVID, like even even in just normal circumstances, it’s five, six hours of real productivity, right? And I think allowing us space to even say, Okay, well, now that we’re working from home, it’s not that we’re going to be messing around necessarily, but we’re not necessarily always going to be in the frame of mind to have per real productive work.

Steve Chaparro And I think, especially professional services organizations, where their time is they build by their time, you know, billable hours. And I think there have been expectations that have had to be redefined during this time period. Because, you know, it’s just a very unknown circumstance that we’re in. Absolutely. So I’m gonna switch gears a little bit before we start to round the corner. We talked about this Venn diagram that both you and I reside in. And that’s business psychology and design. Right? And you said that some of these design principles are implemented in your work with organizations. So I’m really interested to hear what your take is on how design principles can be used to either one shape or reshape organizational culture.

Julian Lute Mm hmm. Yes, I think it always goes back to, you know, it goes back to giving language to what we’re doing at this point in time. And that’s what I think why design thinking for a lot of folks has really taken off because if certain times it is a little a morphus, you know, without having a language to describe the work that we’re doing, it’s hard to describe, I mean, it’s hard to communicate why.

So I believe wholeheartedly in in the discovery process, and that’s one of the things that I’ve seen be the most impactful. You’d be surprised and I was very surprised. You might not be surprised, but I was surprised and how many people especially leaders, were making decisions based on two or three pieces of information. Yeah. And, and, and that was, and cultural like decisions about the business that then seeped into how we do business, which is to meet the culture. And so you’re making a decision based on a couple of variables, you basically come up with a plan, you roll it out, and then people just do it and people complain, and when they complain, or they give feedback, and no one’s listening, they just complain amongst each other and create a bunch of workarounds and then you know, all the things that you’re trying to do either, you know, don’t work to not optimize, or it has to get thrown out and done again, what I’ve seen is by people really starting with this empathetic, this human centered design that we are designing, we’re not designing. We’re not designing for the service that we’re trying to do. We’re designing for the people by the needs of the user the needs of the employee, taking back Add into account helped us design helps us design different things.

I’ll give an example. One of these organizations that I was working with wanted to change what they call parental leave, or non they call it maternity leave, to parental leave to include, you know, mothers, fathers and anyone else that identified as a parent to not just have to be about mothers. But one of the things that they realized after they started, they had this whole process already sort of built out that they were going to, you know, redesign their parental leave process, but they hadn’t talked to very many parents about it, right? They hadn’t talked to people who had returned from from maternity leave formerly to see sort of what their experience was like and how that was before we came in. So we started talking about like, thinking about the personas, right, who are these people? Some of these folks are leaders that are having children, second, third, children first, second, children, think about your people. So coming at it from an empathetic perspective of needing that, you know, meeting the needs of the folks it started actually talking to their leaders and realizing people who is particularly women 27% Almost 30% of the women who went out on maternity leave, never returned. Because they were afraid that they weren’t going to get a promotion due to the way that they had their promotion cycles. We’re on like a 12 to 18 month rolling timeline. And so if you’re out for three months, four months, you know, you might miss a promotion, you might miss something that you’ve been working in. So people were coming back. They didn’t know that data. They didn’t ask about that. They didn’t ask about people’s experience. They didn’t they started asking fathers, what is your experience? Like coming back? What are you juggling? What are some things that we can that that are happening for you and fathers were saying, well, geez, you only give us two weeks, you know, and you know, even from my experience when when we had our first child, we were in the hospital for one of those two weeks. Yeah.

Second week, I was at home with my wife, and then I had to go back to work, right. So I say that just because that the thing that’s been the most impactful is this sense of just getting empathy and starting that with the needs of the business, right. That’s we’re gonna hit that but starting with the needs of the people who have to do the work. has just reframed people’s, you know, a lot of organizations understanding of where they could start. So that’s a very clear design principle. I am also a advocate. And I love the sense I love journey mapping, right? I love helping or helping or talking to people about how are people moving through our value chain as an organization. And so that is the next piece at once. I’ve seen that actually literally blow people’s minds, right? Like, I didn’t understand or even consider where a person how a person was handed to me and how I hand that person off, and what that does for the for the whole value chain. And so that that, to me is like that next level, if you can get a group of people really thinking about the journey of their user, not just the salesperson or the product person, if you can get other people thinking about how a person flows and connects with the organization. I mean, as a design principle, I think that that’s one of the biggest and best uses of time along with personas. Yeah, you know, because it all goes back to this. Looking at the The needs of the user or the employee and kind of starting from from there.

Steve Chaparro Yeah, I love that. And I, a lot of times I will adopt or readapt some of my, my architecture language, which is where I came from in my world. And I think of it as the move from leaders as architects, to leaders as facilitators. And the reason why I go there is because many times the executives based on sort of past best practices could be seen as the smartest people in the organization. Because, you know, they there’s a reason why they’re in their roles because they’ve moved up through the ranks and learned a lot. And either one, they’re the experts or they hire outside third party experts that give them the answers. They say, Okay, I’ve got this book, I got this strategy, boom, everyone else, this is what we’re going to do. But the movement from that predetermined top down, you know, kind of structure to the leader, being a facilitator, say, Hey, this is what we’re trying to achieve. This is the direction we’re going I don’t know the destination. I want to, I want to involve you to hear you to listen to you, but also involve you in the ideation and iteration. That That becomes such a different perspective. But I and I, but I also realized that that is a capability that not every leader has. In either one, they need to learn it, or two, they need to expect or embrace the cost of not doing it.

Julian Lute Right.

Steve Chaparro Any of your thoughts about that, a leader as an architect versus facilitator.

Julian Lute Yeah, I agree I’d add a third to you with which is, you know, you don’t have to be a leader. You know, one of the things is, if the only our CEO Michael Bush has often said that if the only way to get paid more in your organization or to achieve any kind of financial sustainability in your organization is to become a people leader. You got to change that because that that sort of decent, it D emphasizes the need for all the things that you actually are describing. The other thing I’d say is that you’re right leaders as facilitators are in people talking about as leaders leadership as coaches. You know, being a facilitator is really what great leaders have really always known. You know, I studied basketball and, you know, listen to a lot of the leadership lessons from folks like Phil Jackson and other great coaches. And the thing that was that that always stands out is that they had the pieces and they knew that they believed in their people to make good decisions and be on the court or, you know, in the game and know what’s happening. So I relied on that information.

And based on what that coach or that leader was seeing, could make some recommendations and say, Hey, we’re going to do this. Let’s try this. And people will go along with it. And that really is the design. The design challenge of being a facilitator versus the way that the industrial complex was sort of created was that the leader was the architect and you had to decide things because people just needed to do a certain piece of this value creation. And you need to get out the way. So it was architecture at a certain point. But you know, it has slowly began to change as people needed to get more nimble. And organizations needed to be able to compete with it. I think in our global economy with fast moving, and fast changing technology, people are having this are seeing that the agility that comes from a leader, being a facilitator, is much much different than when you you know, as an architect, have already got something built or something designed, and you get halfway through building it, realizing that it’s not going to work in the way that you thought, you know, it’s a different it’s a little bit different, different opportunity for you then.

Steve Chaparro Well, folks, we’ve been talking to Julian Lute, strategic advisor at Great Place to Work. Man, Julian, we this was an awesome conversation. I could talk for hours and hours and maybe that’s just our reason to stay connected. So if people want to learn more about you in your way Work a great place to work. Where can they go?

Julian Lute Yeah, I would say check me out on LinkedIn, just search Julian lute on LinkedIn. I think I’m one of the only ones and that’ll lead you straight to great place to work and you know, if you’re interested in sort of all the things that we do, or learning about, you know, your company’s culture, a great place to work comm has so many resources for folks that are leaders and individual contributors. And so you can catch me there. I’m also on Twitter a bit so if you want to connect on there, it’s just Julian lute at you know at at Julia lute and Instagram, same thing, so wherever, wherever you are, I’ll be there. I may even be on tik tok later this week. So we’ll see.

Steve Chaparro All right, Julian, thank you very much. We appreciate your time.

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