045: Leading Great Culture Through A Great Crisis with Craig Forman


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Craig Forman shares how his military leadership service prepared him to manage culture during the pandemic. He mentions how we all experience human anxiety especially during this global crisis. He states, “And we many times, we fail to do that because of whatever reasons the imposter syndrome or we don’t believe it for ourselves, but also the inner work of here are some, really, you know, tough things that we need to address.” He shares how having a vulnerability can improve trust and ease tension in the workplace.

In this episode, Craig Forman, Lead People Scientist at Culture Amp, shares how to create a community within an organization to drive culture forward. The more connected to and inspired by our work and workplace we can be better humans that create successful organizations.

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

  • Understanding struggle is a human experience
  • Working on our internal crises to change the external
  • Create workplace vulnerability in a safe way
  • Joining a community to empower yourself

Resources Mentioned in this episode:

About the Guest:

Craig Forman holds the Lead People Scientist on Culture Amp’s Human Resources team. As Lead People Scientist, Craig Forman is entrusted with maintaining the happiness of employees, whether it be through creating a work environment employees look forward to, recognition and awards, or benefits. Employees at Culture Amp rate their leadership an A+, ranking them within the Top 5% in San Francisco.

He works every day to improve the state of our workplaces by supporting organizations to leverage data in making more human focused decisions, that results in more engaged people and more successful organizations. He supports organizations with people and culture strategies, along with building what has been come to be known as the Culture First Community.

Full Transcript: Powered by Otter.ai 


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 

This podcast is brought to you by Culture Design Studio. This is where I help creative organizations transform their cultures, from being controlling to being collaborative. Here are some of the things that I’ve learned. Your creative talent demands a co-creative culture in order to produce their best work. But there’s a problem. So let’s see if we can recognize some of these signs.

There’s no framework to move your culture forward, you have high turnover and low morale. There’s increasing toxicity across all levels. There’s t-engagement and satisfaction that are on the decline. There’s a misalignment between the employer brand and the employee experience. And there’s poor communication about expectations and values. So if you want to learn more about how I provide facilitation and coaching for your creative team, reach out to me at CultureDesignStudio.com.

Today, my guest on the show is my good friend, Craig Forman, who is the Lead People Scientist with Culture Amp, I have come to really admire Craig, not only for his passion for culture but even more so for the leaders that transform and lead cultures at organizations literally across the world. He supports organizations with people and culture strategies, along with building what has been come to be known as the Culture First Community.

I definitely wanted to be part of this in my own work because of his leadership. I was able to see how he led a community in conversation at a culture first event about a year and a half ago. And so when I had the opportunity to be part of this organization, I jumped at it. At the core of his work, is the mission to help the world would work better by improving the places that we work. And that’s a pretty worthy ambition to have.

He holds a master’s degree that I’m jealous of. It’s one that I wish I had taken, and maybe still can. It’s a master’s degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and he is a veteran of the US Air Force. Craig, welcome to the show. And thank you for your service.

Craig Forman 

Thank you. Thank you for that. And thank you for the introduction. And I am so grateful I’ve gotten to get to know you. I mean, it’s weird. When you said a year and a half ago, it was like, Oh, that’s right. That was probably a little more than a year and a half in LA.

Steve Chaparro 

It may have been.

Craig Forman 

So I just I’m really grateful I’ve gotten to know you and do some work with you along the way. And the fact that you jumped into Culture First has been such a gift to all of us. And yeah, I’m just glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Steve Chaparro 

Well, Craig, the topic of today is is Culture in Crisis. And we’re gonna definitely dig into that. But before we do, I always like to start off our conversations with just maybe, you know, what is the origin story of Craig form? And what is your professional journey look like? And how has that culminated with your work at Culture Amp?

Craig Forman 

Yeah, so I’ll just distinctly but I do want I think it’s important to go way back because it’s not been it’s definitely not been a straight line. I’ll say that. Even as a young kid, I always felt pulled towards people trying to understand people. I was curious about people, I liked people. And then my parents got divorced when I was in middle school, which kind of turned into a series of a lot of moving around. I moved states and I think that I honed that skill, I think an adaptive, you kind of like in. And I was a social creature anyways.

So, you know, I started leveraging that I think an early experience for me was working as a camp counselor, I think a lot about that. And the first time, I felt like community at work, I felt connection. It wasn’t just a hourly job where I felt like I was being taken advantage of, but I felt really like a deeper sense of calling that stuck with me. I didn’t know what that meant.

After high school, I did not do well in high school, I kind of clowned around a little bit I worked and then decided want to go to college and to have money. So I joined the Air Force and spent four years in the Air Force. And then that was how I paid my undergraduate degree. I returned to Florida in my undergraduate degree at University of Central Florida in business.

But in the military, I was I was out in California so I packed my car came back to California because I loved it out here and I didn’t want to have it and that was you know, gosh, 2003/2004 but started professional journey I started again, that calling towards people. There’s a company in San Francisco that was doing coaching, I got into coaching and higher ed i was in higher ed for about six years. That’s when I went back to school decided if I’m going to get my master’s degree, I wanted to really enjoy it. You know, the MBA was like what you should do but I kept looking back program the IO programs that’s calling me and loved every minute.

But I didn’t get out and have a job wasn’t like oh, and here’s your cool OD job waiting for you. It wasn’t what I did do was leverage the fact that technology was booming again in the Bay Area, I went to an ed tech company. And then from there, I transition that was my like, I talked about this like leap pad so I leaped over to company called Achievers where I got to work with large organizations, helping them with their technology solution around recognition and reward.

So it’s finally like talking to talk and in the space. And I just kept moving from that place reading, networking, eventually ended up for a year at LinkedIn, working with talented professionals. And when that was coming due to a longer story, but I want I thought I wanted to stay. But I was very clear on what I wanted to be doing in the world. It wasn’t even to align with opportunities at LinkedIn, someone to talk to this company, Culture, Amp, they just came to the States, they’re from Australia, they’re doing great things. They’re really a great vibe.

And I went to them, we started a conversation, I was sharing the same things that I was showing other places about wanting to be a thought leader and a speaker and they’re like, come do this job. And we’ll support you. And that was three and a half years ago. So I joined I got to work with these amazing large well-known brands, either large organizations, or very well known brands around culture, and I was in the room with these results are giving them results. And there I am leading conversations with leaders. And it was, to me it all came together. It was facilitation. It was hard conversations, it was looking at data.

And I did that. And I started I got very involved in going to conferences and meet as many people as possible, start doing my own content. And that transcended my career. I’ve now last couple years away from as much clients and more into the world of events, I helped build our culture, First Global 2019 and 2018 and 2019, which is amazing experience. And then they asked if I would help build our chapters. That was you know, when we were trying to evolve this, this idea of culture first. And I was able to work with an amazing team of people to conceive what’s that look like? What’s that mean? How do we do this?

We launched it last year. And now we have about 40 chapters globally that are people hosting these conversations. So my journey’s been a strange, you know, wild one, and I’m just riding that wave and trying to bring you mentioned my mission before that drives everything I do, and it’s just how can I go harder on that mission? What’s the best vehicle? So long story, but that’s kind of what brings me here today?

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, no, that’s great. I mean, I didn’t realize that story that about you in terms of traveling much in your childhood and moving from place to place because that’s something that, that I share that part of my story with you. I wasn’t an, well don’t know what discipline it was what service it was, but I wasn’t the equivalent of an army brat. But I was a pastor’s kid. And I stopped counting at nine different schools and 35 different houses that I lived in.

So the ability to adapt to new environments was definitely something that I learned along the way as well. By the way, for those of you that can’t see us, we’re both wearing army green you know, you’re wearing camouflage that was completely unplanned. What were you thinking as you dress today?

Craig Forman 

Funny, you know, I threw this on this morning when I was like bringing the kids around, I don’t wear this sweatshirt that often this camouflage hoodie, I threw it on I came home, I did some final preparation for this. And I thought let me go let me go change. But while I was in my preparation, I was thinking a lot about we’re talking about like, you know, leadership, particularly everything in crisis, I’ve been reviewing some notes of conversations I’ve had, and like the military kept coming up for me like leadership. That is what the military does, like, how do you lead people in really intense situations. I’m a vet. I was wearing this, I was thinking and they and I was like I’m keeping it on.

It just felt right today to call in, you know, my service and when we talk about culture in the service of others, but I learned a lot in the military. And I think what me in my work is that, you know, look, let’s be real, most of the companies I’m talking to oftentimes feel like at least kind of pretty white collared law tech or you’re sitting in front of computers. And that’s a certain like, this creative energy work in these types of offices is unique of a culture. But I think we lump culture altogether. And I just I learned a lot about culture in the military.

And about, you know, culture is designed to get something done. And we should be clear on that. And it takes different things. I mean, I’m not a big fan of command and control, right? I don’t. But you know, what, if you want to get 70,000 people anywhere in the world in 24 hours if that’s really the objective command and control is important. So it’s like what’s the objective of how we build cultures to drive objectives in a good and healthy way? So I’m just calling in like today, it just felt right. And it feels like you know, leading in crisis is something that I learned in the military.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, there’s so much that I’m actually feeling a little bit of goosebumps as you’re sharing that because I think there’s so much about even the timeframe that we’ve been experiencing in the last 11 months, President Biden has described the pandemic that we’re facing as it requiring a wartime response. I’ve heard it said early on in this pandemic that generals are made in times of war, like in terms of leadership are truly fashioned in times of great crisis.

And I think there have been different aspects of society that has always been in some form of crisis over even the recent history, but I think over the last 11 months in particular, when you consider the pandemic, you consider economic upheaval, social unrest, discomfort, controversial election that it’s been this melting pot of crisis. How have you personally journeyed through this pandemic over the last year 11 months and maybe even to that point, how has your either one your military experience or your professional experience sort of fashioned you into the leader that helped you respond in that way?

Craig Forman 

Great question. Well, let me someone just came to mind when you’re saying that. So I’ll answer this first. And I’ll go into more of how I’ve dealt with it. But when you ask the military, what I take what comes to mind, first, I’m sure lots of things. I think the military even, like just six or seven weeks of basic training of like, the experience of going into something hard and just be like, Okay, get focused and get through. And for that matter, probably the first at least a couple years, if not four years.  

So when this hit, I was able to quickly pull on, okay, I’ve been through, things have been taken, stripped away, what that feels like. So I think that’s part of the military trains, trains, trains for intensity. So when intensity happens, you’re prepared. I mean, there’s something about that, if you’d let your brain experience the intensity before.

So I definitely think when this hit that came up for me that like, Okay, all right, we’re gonna go back into the trenches a little bit here and hunker down. I don’t know what’s coming, so how do we share up with, you know, safety around me myself, and just that, that was that feeling that I think I first tapped into, in my time in the military, how I personally gotten through it, I think there’s a couple things come to mind.

One is finding stability quickly, you know, I noticed how I, you know, locked into some routines, I’ve been hiking, or walking or moving, it’s adapted and shifted, but like, some consistency has helped me and the family, you know, just the fact that I’m with my family, we’re in, you know, a place that we’re comfortable. That’s, that’s been really grounding for me, and really get back to source and grounding. You know, the people that are close in, you know, around me.

And then I’d say the other piece, and I’ve reflected on this more recently because I’ve had to do some thinking about talking about what we did last year with our community. Look, this was a this was part a job, so to speak. And I was asked to do this, I was clearly excited about it. But I don’t think until I look back over last year, and realize how lucky I was to do the work I was doing building community that meant something but also, I often say build for you build for the world and I think I was doing it there.

You know, I can’t believe it was the year was so much better, because I was building that community around me and that all the connection. And you know, watching this come to life to the people and just being around tribe, so to speak. It’s wild to think back now, I don’t know, I’ve connected the dots when I was in it. So that’s that’s how I got through.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, I mean, that that’s definitely something that I noticed for myself early on, I think the first six weeks of this pandemic, I felt like I was redlining it mentally, emotionally, really struggling to figure out how I wanted, how I needed to show up. And then I realized at a certain moment that one of the three things that I truly, truly needed and wanted was community was connection and the Culture First community was a big, big part of that.

And I think especially for those that are culture champions, in their respective companies, a lot of these folks are, you know, HR leaders who are having to lead, you know, they’re almost like in triage in their companies and having to troubleshoot and address some of these major decisions that have to be made in it and appear to me that many of us or I will put my name in that group, many of the culture first champions, were experiencing some degree of fatigue at a certain point, because they were shouldering a lot of that burden. And if it wasn’t for community, it probably wouldn’t have gone so well.

Craig Forman 

Yeah, I’m really happy call that out. So you know, one of the things, one of my colleagues that work closely with community did a project called HR for HR, it’s on you know, you can go to culturefirst.com and learn about companies, but also some of this work. And she, we ran a survey we gave resources out. And yeah, it was very good. We sensed it. But the survey results came back and was very clear that you’re right, the people that are out there to support the culture and that you know, the well-being of others, we’re getting really burnt out.

And it’s kind of like the oxygen mask, we need to call it out, you need to get your mask, you know, we need to support each other. So we can think about support one another, it will get depleted, and that’s not good. So I’m really happy to call that out that a lot has been carried by the people that are looking after our people in our organizations, and we got to take care of yourselves and we have to support them take care of themselves so they can take care of us.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, one of the things I think that we’ve learned throughout this whole time is this shared or what some might call a common humanity that we do have together. What are some lessons? You know, when we think of like, Oh my gosh, that that CEO or that CHRO they’re so high in their position. You know, someone who might be in middle management or on the frontlines may not think that they have a lot in common with these high profile figures.

But I think definitely our common humanity has been revealed and I think sometimes being able to share that vulnerability. I remember with one company that we were working with one of the common things that was brought up as we want our leaders to show that they are struggling with the same things that we are there they’re struggling with having to have kids in the background, you know, screaming, or that maybe not everything is going well, or, or maybe you know, just the struggles that we’re all working through, and maybe share, like, how am I personally dealing with crisis?

And so maybe that’s a question, you know, for our conversation today. What lessons have you learned from maybe your own personal crises, whether it’s during the pandemic or even before that you have seen that they can be lessons that we can share with others to as they’re going through their own crisis themselves?

Craig Forman 

Yeah, so I’m going to share some reflection about what I say is preparing for this, one of the things I wanted to do is look back on some of the interviews I’ve done, you know, particularly this past summer, so we were really in the thick of it. And we did a series called How We Work and I got to interview some amazing people. And today I looked at two interviews, one with Caitlyn Holloway and Claude Silver. Caitlyn was the CHRO at Reddit and is now at I believe, 776, double-check that venture.

So she’s very involved with the ex CEO of Reddit at this venture fund looking to build unique and you know, culture-driven organizations, and Claude is the Chief Heart Officer of VaynerMedia. I also spoke with and then the second one I looked at was Laurie, amazing sounding board, the CO CEO sounding board, a coaching company for leaders, Meredith Haberfield, from Think Human, and Moe Carrick, who is an author, and also does a lot of workarounds, you know, leadership development.

So I was reviewing those notes, and I just want to call them out, because I might hit some things that they said not specifically, but that was, you know, a lot. I wanted to pull from that information as well as my own. So your question is, let’s just reframe that question.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, so when you’ve gone through personal crisis yourself, what lessons have you learned that I’ve carried into your current work today?

Craig Forman 

EQ, EQ, EQ, EQ, like, the more that I’ve worked with organizations, and like, they’re all trying to trying to fix it, which is great, we need to create good structures, we need to build organizations to support humans, the more it becomes clear that so much work is fixing it and appointing inside as well. It’s I’ve, you know, I’ve started this journey of growth and like, you know, do my own work probably 9/10 years ago, but it’s, it’s a journey, but are more and more I realize our leaders, we need to do this.

You know, especially in conflict when your own fear is up when your own anxiety is up when your own uncertainty is up, and you’re leading others, can you tease apart? Can you put that on a shelf? Can you even identify like, that’s my piece? Or you’ve got this challenging employee? Can you say, okay, like, I get it, I have a story that people that are insistent, you know, trying to get information are X, Y, and Z. I’ll put that aside and I got to deal with this person who needs something.

Like so how do you get out of the equation as a great leader? How do you take yourself out of the equation in a sense, or at least be aware of yourself in the equation, so you’re not being driven around by some unmet needs that you have, and you can’t best support others? So I, you know, I definitely go back to that piece, I think, you know, the more I go, it’s important. And it’s been important for me, I think, my journey and my success and my failures.

But like, I’m able to grow from my failures I’m able to learn, I’m able to take feedback, because I’m able to, like, get me out of it, and want the deep desire to grow. And I think we need more of that with our leaders. And I think we all and it’s not a one and done, it’s not a training, it is a practice, it is continued. And we need accountability and sustainability inside of organizations to hold our leaders accountable to a certain set of standards and not be so loose and only look at outcomes.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, I think for me, when I think of crises, you know, I think it’s a sometimes a crisis of identity sometimes for me when I go back to, you know, where I’ve had some really, really good heart to heart conversations. I was doing some soul searching about three years ago. And I sent a list of questions out to about 10 people, some families, some friends, some co-workers and ask them quite very pointed questions, you know, things like, what are some things that you think that I do? Well, what is one thing that I really need to work on? What are some things that I take for granted, and I think their responses were both very affirming, but also very gut-wrenching?

I literally with some of the gut wrenching stuff was sick to my stomach for a couple of weeks. Because of realizing that I definitely needed to work on some things. I look back over my leadership journey and just realize that there have been some things that I know, I’ve done wrong, I definitely have learned from them. And thank God, the people that I worked with, had a lot of grace for me. What are some specific things maybe that you’ve drawn from your own experience that you could say, these, you know, these times of crisis, or maybe the crisis is not the right word, and maybe just some time of deep transformation for yourself that you’ve definitely could say, I bring this into my work today.

Craig Forman 

Yeah, you know, one thing I’ll say is, look, I think this is unique time, all crises collectively, like that doesn’t happen often. Let’s not forget like crisis is happening all the time people lost to a struggling with addiction, people are struggling with, you know, jobs or losing jobs or getting jobs. So I just I hope we hold on to this common humanity that, yes, what’s unique now is we all can rally around this common source of struggle. However, struggle is a human experience. And I hope we all learn how to lead others, and maybe even when things are better, like who is in crisis, and how do we better lead?

I think, for me, it’s been the work…Okay, so I’ve decided this belief, you know, like, I think we all can, everything has a shadow side, lights are great. And the shadow is kind of the I think is, especially for myself, the piece I’m trying to repress, deny or hide, and the work has been like, getting in a safe way to be able to start to pull those up and look at those, like you said, You got sick for two weeks. To me, what that tells me is like, I’m really sorry, number one, you felt that number two is, that’s probably the thing you had to look at harder than anything. And you didn’t want to because it was hard. And it was, but that was the growth edge.

And the truth is, you probably got through it, you’re probably okay today, and you’re better off and you’ve grown and it was hard. And I think for me, what comes up around the shadow, let’s just say on the shadow side, for now, is can you start to play with that pull these things up, you kind of don’t want to look at and like start to look at a little bit just out that holding, maybe there’s something to learn here what’s going on versus if you just push it down, don’t want to look at it. They’re there. They’re like, you’re, and it’s driving the bus, like blindly and like is that what you want?

So I think that’s the that’s one side of the equation is looking at those and I’ll even a second off, tap in if you want to live take, I’ll take a look at what some of mine have been just to share with others. But the flip side that I think I’m learning more and more to is the gold side, the side we think is like Oh, of course I’ll just look at the shadow. That’s where the work needs to be done. And I realized more and more that even our gold can be scary to like if your gold is about you going in the world making change going for it to like fully like dislike cut the cord and go, that’s scary to embrace your greatness to all of it like that comes a lot of responsibility, and what if I fail and all that.

So also looking and building to unlock your gold in the world? So I’ll just get let’s see, I’ll get personal, what are some of my shadow my shadows, professionally, and I’ve done a lot of work and keep looking. It’s pretty similar classic, I mean, imposter syndrome, this thing I talked about for a long time, I’m not good enough, they’re gonna find out who the f**k am I to be out here, sorry, who am I to be talking about, like the world and culture and, and like coming to terms with those stories and being like, I feel I have something to say I’m going to share it with the world.

Like it’s a reciprocal, I don’t need the whole world, I simply have something to share. And it seems to. So just leaning into that. I mean, both from sharing my voice but also organizationally of stepping into like, just, you know, who am I to kick off a community who am I like lead any of that. But when it comes up instead now I’m like, Ah, there you are, I know you and like cool.

Like you’re there, you’re trying to say something to me, my mind is probably my scared little kid that’s trying to like avoid failure or getting hurt. And I can like see it and be like, I hear you, I get it and you’re trying to protect me. In this case, I’m looking at the whole thing. I’m gonna keep moving, but thanks. And I’m not trying to kill it, remove it, deny it, but I’m in relationship with it. And it’s not kind of incessantly driving me.  

On the gold side. I think I’ve probably hidden from some leadership, I think that that, you know, to really step into it, I have to be in my own kind of get my life in integrity and like, how can I walk the walk, and I’ll talk the talk. So I think there was some work I had to do personally to get myself feeling I really tight alignment to my values and how I’m living and behaving in my life. Or I would be in an authentic leader and they’d all see it. There’s the imposter syndrome again. The goal for me was Yeah, just saying like, a leader is not a manager, it’s not an assigned position and leaders how I can just show up in the world and like lead in my own way and follow others. So that’s probably the two sides for me.

Steve Chaparro 

I think it’s so important for us as leaders, no matter what level you are, for us to have some degree of self-reflection and soul searching in that regard to one understand what is the gold, what is the light that we bring to the world and not be afraid, you know, there’s a scripture that says don’t put your light under a bushel, like don’t hide it from the world, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

And we many times we fail to do that because of whatever reasons the imposter syndrome or we don’t believe it for ourselves, but also the inner work of here are some, really, you know, tough things that we need to address. And I don’t know about you, but I feel like if I really want to be effective and create change in whatever world I’m in, whether it’s in the industry, whether it’s with a client, whether it’s with a team that I am a part of. I feel like I need to do some of that inner work first. Have you experienced that for yourself?

Craig Forman 

Oh, yeah, I mean, I think what’s else become more obvious to me along the way is that it’s easy to want to try to like push people beat them over the head with something especially when you feel deeply like it’s the right thing I know people would see it this way belonging, inclusion, all these things that maybe we struggle within our organizations to try to push others which sometimes this may be helpful.

But what I’ve learned more than anything Is the harder work is to say, you know, Be the change you want to see in the world. I wish they were doing this. I wish it was more like that. And then looking at yourself and saying, How can I do more of that? How can I be more of that? How can I be more inclusive? How can I be more understanding? How can I do all the things you want? You’re probably frustrated with a probably a good signal for you of what you and then I asked is that be that and what I’ve learned is, the more I showed up from that place, the world is kind of responded differently.

And to the flip side, let’s say imposter syndrome as a manager, gosh, my first goals of being a manager was not a good experience. Because of course, just like I probably don’t with leaders, they sniffed it out, and they poked on it, and I got defensive and defended and guard create this really bad versus if I could just show up and being like, I don’t know, I don’t know, here’s what I know, here’s what I can do. How might we and you can’t get there unless you’re willing to do the work to say I’m willing to show up and say I don’t know. So yeah, that’s been it for me.

And the other example I’ll use, I learned this early on, like, I’m really like vulnerability, like, you know, and I love what happens when people get vulnerable. I’ve seen it 1000 times. But I was aware of that I’ve been doing some work. I was like, I want to bring this to the workplace. And I would say like, let’s organize a group and like, let’s get vulnerable. And it was like crickets. Like, yeah, let’s go get vulnerable. However, if I started bringing nuggets and ways to make meetings a little bit more vulnerable, or, you know, saying, Let’s, let’s come together, let’s have connection, and then using my skills as a facilitator to create some vulnerability in a safe way. Every time it is over people lit up in love. We wanted as humans.

So that was an example of like, how do you go like, go do it, stop talking about it, be it, do it, live it. And I think you’ll find that when you can be comfortable with your own leader that people will be comfortable to start like saying, Okay, let’s go somewhere together, and they’ll follow you somewhere.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, one of the things you said to me in our conversations, as we were preparing for our conversation today was in order to fix it there meaning in whatever professional context, you may find yourself. It’s important to fix a here, it’s a pretty powerful statement. And I think it speaks to what we’re describing as the inner journey of a leader. Because a lot of times we are in some form of crisis internally, and maybe no one will ever see it even for those that are charismatic, for those that do well in front of on a stage or in front of people.

There’s a lot that’s going on and the imposter syndrome is actually a really big one. In fact, we have a question from one of our audience members about imposter syndrome says how do you convince leaders that cultivating the culture is important, and not just nice to have?

This person says I seem to easily shut down when I try to start the conversation about being kind and creating a purposeful rounding on staff. So how do we when we talk about cultivating culture and describing it as important necessity? How do we address some of those things in the cultures that we are trying to foster?

Craig Forman 

Yeah, like that. Okay, Terry, I’m seeing this. Okay. So here’s the first thing, Terry, when I heard that question, the first word that jumped out to me was, how do you convince, stop trying to convince? I think that is kind of a scenario where we get stuck trying to like change another not that…

I admire, know where you’re going, I think you’re talking about and we see this question all the time, like, how do we get leaders to come on board? To not just a nice to have I seem to be easily shut down when I try to start the conversation being kind of creating them? I don’t know where you work. I don’t know what’s going on. There’s probably a lot going on. But I would say the same thing that I just said, first of all, is what’s the change that you’re really struggling you want to see in your organization? And how can you do more of it?

I think that I’ve found with leaders, Okay, I’m gonna tap into my professional side now, right? So I work for a company called Culture Amp. We run these, we have these amazing tools, both engagement surveys, but also kind of like one on ones and you know, diversity, equity, inclusion surveys, a large surveys, and also tools that help like individual kind of connection. And what really happens, I’ve heard a lot of leaders say, I’ve been saying these things for a long time to my leaders getting nowhere. And when I run a tool like yours, I finally have some data to back me up it speaks.

Like it or not, I think right now, leadership, and most of our organizations is kind of leans towards, like the left brain a bit analytical, decisive, and making decisions, timelines, those sorts of things. So having some data to support a story for a leader, I think goes a long way. So I would ask you, is there anything that in your organization? Is there data that you can use to tell the story? Do you know that, you know, four out of 10 of our employees in this division feel x versus only two out of 10? Are the rest of the organization?  

You know, how can we look at that are some strategies, here’s how it’s impacting engagement, what can we do? That’s the other thing is tying it back to the outcome for leaders? Look, I want every organization to be like, yeah, we’re changing to make the best organization in the world. But I’ve walked into many organizations that I can tell the leadership feels like, like, I don’t know, but I believe that engagement is important. We got to run surveys and you know, so we’re gonna do that we need to be listening. And it might not be the most altruistic but they’re starting.

And it’s what we talked about before Steve’s that journey and emotional intelligence, both organizationally and individually, starting to get some feedback, some data, those gut checks a little bit. So can you get have that in your organization now Terry, in hospitals everyone is stressed turns into shortness and rude respons is, When I bring that up leaders find other reasons to excuse the data.

I’d also say some of it’s kind of how we’re facilitating those conversations, we got stress happening right now. I would imagine sometimes you get, you might get frustrated and say, like, why can’t wait, what? When that energy happens, people aren’t in the most. So how are we? Can you set aside some time? Can you get a facilitator to come in to help hold that space? Can we check in what’s going on here, because you’re going to learn that that leaders stressing out because they’ve got investors out there, whatever, you know, so like, we gotta get everybody is dealing with the same human anxiety, which is fear, joy, sadness, shame, guilt, like there are some of these core emotions.

And if we can tease those out, that’s where our commonality is. They’re not doing it to you. They’re doing their best to survive and do what they think they’re trying to do. And it’s like, how do we come together and serve as reflections for each other and support one another? So I’d have to get into a deeper conversation. But I hope that was sort of helpful, Terry, I appreciate the question. Yeah, I think what do you think?

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, I think, you know, I think many times when we’re trying to change culture in any given organization, especially some of these high stress, such as hospitals, especially in the midst of a pandemic, you know, we see it as a Titanic. A Titanic have a change to change and to turn. And I almost think of it, I used to do marathons, and I haven’t done one in 10 years.

But I remember when I first started training for a marathon, my first workout was only about a mile, I thought he had been like three miles, and I’m thinking, Oh, my gosh, I’ve got 26.2 of these, how am I going to do it? I had one coach that said, How do you finish a marathon one step at a time. And so I translate that to even some of my culture work as well, sometimes that shift doesn’t happen at a ship level, it happens at an individual level.

So sometimes I need to change that within me and almost start with a culture of one, and then finding someone else to help and finding other people one person at a time to, to to be able to change that culture. And it’s like, you know, running a marathon, you finish it one step at a time. How do you change culture, one person at a time. So I think that that’s the long game. That’s not an easy answer. It’s not one that people like to hear, because that’s going to take a long time.

But if you get one person impacting another person, those two people impact one person each that’s for it becomes this. Like, it’s like catching fire at an organic level. And hopefully people can be convinced at a much greater level. So folks, for folks that are listening to us, please,

Craig Forman 

Can I back up real quick, I just had a chance to process a little more Terry’s question, and I think I like my first answer. But I also had never when I saw hospitals, so first of all, let me acknowledge I do not know what it’s like to be in a hospital right now. I can’t imagine that level of stress, anxiety, or what I’m projecting is going on there. So first of all, I can only speak at this high level, and you’re in an environment that I don’t know. And I’m not living.

But I had this other thought to Terry and like, I thought to myself, okay, like, what if it was like battle time, or like really hardcore, like what I imagine you might be in a hospital, I think another effective measure is that we’ll, when we’re frustrated, or we see a different way, we’re trying to, like you said, try to convince or push. I think, you know, talking about vulnerability and going deeper is what what’s whether you’re not getting, when you act this way to me, I shut down. I’m scared. I don’t know what to do with this patient. I don’t know.  

If you could probably go to a leader and say when you know, when you are quick with your decisions, or whatever that thing is, that’s very definable, not a lot of judgment and say, here’s what’s here’s what happens to me. And, you know, here’s what comes up. And I feel like it’s hard to work in that environment. What I’d like is x, you might not get it, but at least you spoke it and you said it and you’re able to share your deeper truth.

What are you not getting? What do you need? Maybe 10 people love that leader. And you’re like, I don’t like it, like, I get it direction we know what to do? I don’t know. I think sometimes if we can hear how our actions are being perceived by others, it puts the onus on the person now to say, Do I want to keep behaving that way? Do I intentionally want to do that? So that’s another one is if you’re willing to really what’s your deeper want? What do you not getting? And can you share that with this person, say when you do x or comes up for me.

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, that’s so good. So good. One of the things we thought to talk about today, too, was you know, you in your work, you talk with leaders, these great cultural leaders thought leaders from around the world. And you’ve, you’ve convened a ton of conversations, not just in the last year, but over the last three, four or five years. And I would imagine that you’ve been able to observe how they have led their teams and how they have collaborated in the middle of a crisis.

But let’s be maybe a little bit more specific. Sarah has a question for us. That says that leading through crisis can be challenging, exhausting and lonely work. What are some ways maybe that you have seen and observed other leaders that help their team to stay energized and positive when trying to make a difference?

Craig Forman 

Yeah, Sarah. Thank you. First to the culture changers, we call them culture activists, people that are willing to take action to make a difference. And we love we, in culture first we hold, like, we feel like we can take back that word activist doesn’t have to be a bad word, a negative word, an angry word. It’s about taking action, and we want to take action change something.

Most people in organizations I’m learning, not everybody gets to sit, Steve, I imagine you get to have these conversations. Often I work for Culture Amp come on like I’m talking about culture all day long. What I’m learning is so many people aren’t they feel alone, Sarah, imagine our conversations a little bit like you are that champion out there pushing this idea that you might get all the support you need your organization is not always realistic like they’re doing their best, but they, you know, to be a change agent is hard, and it’s lonely, or it would have been done already.

So what I say to you is, where’s your community? Like, that’s what we found in Culture First come be with your community, recharge your engines, remind yourself that we’re all out there’s a lot of us. So you’re you have the energy to go back to that to the battlefield and do what you need to do, you’re probably not going to get your your your, your energy field on the battlefield, right?

So it’s like, Where are how can you connect with your community of people that are feeling like you’re dealing with what you’re dealing with. So you can empower yourself to go back and have the energy? Okay, flipping your organization, now you’ve done that, right? Put your oxygen mask on, first take care of yourself, you can’t bring it to your organization, then our leaders and managers are feeling the same way.

They’re stuck in the middle like trying to figure this out to their employees and their managers, and they’re struggling, can you bring them together? Can you help them support one another? And their struggles? Can they show up in a safe space, maybe not with their subordinates or direct reports where they could say I’m scared, I don’t know, this sucks, we don’t have the money, what do we do and another main amount of magic, so here’s what I’ve done, and they can support one another.

And then say to them, Go support your team, especially in crisis, like they need to be heard, like, you can, you can try to push it down, but someone’s scared, like, their minds not operating the way you probably want it to. And if you can have a conversation, and if it’s realistic to do it, you can do to help minimize that and make it happen, help them feel safe again, you know, not only is teamwork gonna happen, but the product is, you know, is probably going to happen.

And so I would just say it’s a trickle-down, take care of yourself, then forgot to take care of your managers, because they’re stressed, so they can then go take care of their employees, and your employees that are expected to take care of our customers or your customers, whoever they are. And I guess that goes back to servant leadership in a sense. So that’s, that’s what I’d say is how do we create the support networks, so people can get real with one another, and like, be honest, and get, you know, clear with space, they can keep doing their best work?

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, some of the deep work is so important. And again, I keep bringing up maybe scriptural references, but there’s this one verse that says, Let me or a song rather it was a song, not a verse, it says, Let me encourage you, as I encourage myself, because it’s we’re having to continuously, you know, get recharged and heal and fixed and encouraged ourselves so that we can go back out to the battlefield, as he as you said, and share with others, you know, some degree of encouragement.

That’s why for me being part of this Culture First, which is not the intention of this conversation, but it keeps coming up. Being part of the culture first community has been so important to me, we gather, you know, the leaders gather once a week, but the groups get gathered together once a month.

And it just so important, that’s the common thing that I hear every time we hold a session on any topic, they’re almost saying, like, I don’t care what we talk about, I just want to be with people that are like-minded, like-hearted, light-hearted and are willing to be vulnerable, and talk about the challenges that we’re facing, but also be able to celebrate together when great things happen.

And that has been such a beautiful thing that I have come apart of, or that I’ve experienced and culture first definitely does provide that but I think other industries, other functional areas, there needs to be community that is generated for those areas as well. So for me, I thank you for leading that effort across the globe.

Craig Forman 

Appreciate it means a lot. And you know, one of the what you said one of the things look, I started this and I tell you heard me say and I said on our leads calls like I don’t know, you know, I just know that I’ve trusted my intuition that people around me we’ve got this far we’ll keep going. So I hold the space open, they don’t have all the answers. But I also didn’t know in the beginning and I thought at first it was all about content content content.

And we started seeing the feedback coming saying it’s the you know, when you do the breakout, so we connect with others, and I was like, Look, I still want great content. But I’m listening and when I’m here is people are fine with the content and I think we over this again, left brain, I gotta give content I gotta give value measurable value, fine, but there’s also the right brain which is connection, I need humanity. I need to like Connect we’re you know, we are pack animals like historically we don’t survive, we can’t live without each other. 

It’s you know, I have a dog or you watch dogs kind of interesting. You learn about pack how it works, and I’m realizing more and more we’re the same so we need that. So I’m realizing that when we build our events, we focus as much on content as we do on on process on facilitation, and we break out to the conversations. It keeps people, it’s what I think it really it’s really that the fire in this whole thing. And that’s, you know, sometimes people have run an event only six or seven people show up. Sometimes those are the best.

So let’s not, you know, be careful about the measurement, just silly. Just keep providing connection around the theme, we got it, we can’t just we’re not anybody gathering we are people who believe a better world of work as possible and want to do something about it. If that fits, this is your community. By the way, I have to say www.culturefirst.com. To learn more, you can see all the upcoming events too. If you just want to drop into some there another gift, they’re all virtual now.

There’s 12 to 15 a month running. It’s, it’s it’s brilliant. So please come be part, like Be the change you want to see in the world. Be part. And if you’re part of the community, you’re not just a taker, we’re going to ask you to be like, what’s your unique contribution? How can you put a little bit of seasoning in the soup to make this thing happen?

Steve Chaparro 

Yeah, thank you so much for that. It’s been an amazing part of my journey throughout these last 9 months or 11 months. So it’s been an encouragement. I know that early on the vision was for us to gather together. And in the vision is big, big, you know, you said it was a how many groups are there right now? How many chapters

Craig Forman 

Over 40.

Steve Chaparro 

40, and I know that the goal is 100.

Craig Forman 

The first growth that was just something… No, the goal is way bigger than 100. But first benchmark is like let’s get to 100 chapters,

Steve Chaparro 

Which is amazing,

Craig Forman 

The largest community of people around the globe who believe a better world of work. That’s what we want.

Steve Chaparro 

So as we start to wind down, I want to return back to another question that we had before. And that is, as you’ve observed leaders, what are some leaders or some even just some attributes that you’ve seen of leaders that have really risen to the task throughout these 11 months that have done some amazing things at their organizations? Maybe one example of somebody that you’ve observed heard about anyone come to mind for that?

Craig Forman 

Oh, my gosh, no ton. But so on the spot, I mean, first it comes up is Culture Amp I love look I’ve always said it culture and someone’s attracted me and still does is that we are as much about our what is our why. And I you know, in the beginning, I was saying that I felt it was like, Is it true? And I’m three and a half years with Culture Amp, and I still feel that yes, our what is our tools.

But more important is our why we’re trying to create in the world the same reason or supporting the culture first community, the same reason that why and how we build our tools. And we only have four values. And so I would say that watching our CEO leadership team, particularly DA Elsinga try to be that not is that he messes up and he owns it. So one of our eyes, his courage to be vulnerable.

I think as a leader, he does that he shows that and I’ve seen others, you know, when I talked to Claude Silver, you know, she’s always exemplifying what it’s like to be, you know, vulnerable. She leads 1000 people she’s, you know, Gary says he is her number two period before the CFO. And also she talks about empathy, struggle, vulnerability starts about love, love, love, you know, can we look at that were a little more, you know, is that a scary word? And how can we bring like this idea of love into our workplaces, to cars to be vulnerable?

Another one is amplify others, which is our value again, I think that it’s leaders that don’t take their eye off the ball and look to amplify greatness around them and amplify others. Even in times of crisis. How do you amplify people that are doing great work, maybe it’s not the person that you had that came up through the ranks and times of everything was chill, and maybe all of a sudden, in times of crisis? You have a person that’s four years in their career that’s showing some real skill? Can you amplify that person? Because we need them now? I don’t know. You know, so that’s, that’s another example.

The third would be trust others to make decisions, especially now we need to move fast or distributed. Can you let go of control a little bit and trust the people you’ve built? The people you’re supporting, can make decisions and what does that look like to trust others to make decisions. And finally, learn faster through feedback is our fourth value clearly with our tools and what not, but mean it like learn faster through feedback and listen, and we talked about is collect, understand act repeat, it is not a one to one and done.

It is a dynamic, it’s a cycle, get that feedback collected, take time individually, organizationally to understand and make sure you have good tools to understand what can you make sense of this data? What one or two actions you know, we talked about change, you know, one easiest one to three, take one thing Listen, if you got your notepads out, people love this one, take one thing, come up with two things you want to do about it and communicate three times the beginning, also middle and the end. Like it’s and it’s its truth. It’s like, it’s how to get that feedback. Here’s what to do about it. Let me communicate to those that need to know, here’s what you can expect. And I’m gonna follow up on this. learn faster through feedback. Like, it’s important.

Steve Chaparro 

You mentioned DDA, and, and Claude and I both hoped, I hope to have both of them on the podcast one day, so we’ll, we’ll look forward to that potential reality that Craig, you mentioned How to get ahold of sort of the culture first community but in general, and specifically, you can include that one. If people want to know more about you and your work, where can they go?

Craig Forman 

Right now it’s LinkedIn, go to LinkedIn, Culture Craig, you can look me up at Culture Craig Craig Forman, connect with me on LinkedIn. I love LinkedIn. However, I’m in the process of launching CultureCraig.com so I’ll put that on there now because it will be live.

So hopefully, there’ll be a hub where I can like have more of this content, everything live longer than like LinkedIn workflows. But right now, reach out connect with me, let me know that you heard me you know, you heard this with Steve, give me a note when you connect to me, it’s important. And I’d love to be connected and we can continue to work together and support and build that community stronger.

Steve Chaparro 

Well, thank you, Craig, thanks for being on the show. Much appreciated.

Craig Forman 

Thank you, Steve.


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