Culture Chat

And other musings on humanizing the workplace
How WorkXO Began

How WorkXO Began

December 12, 2016
Jamie Notter

As 2016 draws to a close, I’ve been doing some reflection on what we’ve accomplished this year, and I was almost surprised when I realized that a year ago today, WorkXO didn’t even exist. It was in the works, of course (we had already created the Workplace Genome), but we weren’t incorporated, we didn’t have a website, and only a handful of people knew it even existed. Today, we’re a thriving start up. We’ve done work with 45 different clients already, 12 of whom have either completed or are scheduled to map their Workplace Genome. The three of us made upward of 50 speaking appearances this year. We’re going places, folks.

And while I marvel a bit at our launch, I realize that this year is not really a “beginning.” Charlie, Maddie, and I each walked some long and circuitous paths to get here. WorkXO is really the culmination of many years of hard work, both together and in parallel. Looking ahead to 2017 and beyond, I know that WorkXO will quickly grow beyond just the Charlie-Maddie-and-Jamie show, but the three of us will always be the Founding Partners. So before we get too far down the path, I thought I’d share the story of how this all came to be.

The three of us came from quite different directions. Charlie built an impressive career in HR, including consulting around the globe with the powerhouse, Deloitte and serving as CHRO in sizeable companies, not to mention establishing himself as a thought leader around the future of work. Maddie managed to leverage two art history degrees into a successful agency in the digital strategy and social media space, focusing on the nonprofit community. And I started in the field of international conflict resolution back in the 1990s, before launching my own management consulting practice fifteen years ago, focusing on conflict, leadership, and (eventually) culture.

The three of us first met five years ago, in the fall of 2011, by which point Maddie and I had already been collaborating for a few years. In fact, our first book, Humanize, was published about a month before we met Charlie at a small gathering of like-minded professionals, convened by our mutual friends, Joe Gerstandt and Jason Lauritsen. That meeting, focusing on the future of work, was affectionately known as “the Boondoggle” (though, for the record, we convened in a fairly rustic cabin in State Park in Nebraska, so there wasn’t really anything “boondogglish” about it).

But we did some pretty cool work in that cabin. At the end of the meeting, Maddie wrote up a “manifesto” that captures a lot of what that group worked through over those few days, and we’ve posted it here on our site. We didn’t realize that the basic, elemental particles of WorkXO were starting to swirl together in that cabin, but they were.

The Boondoggle quickly became an annual affair, with different people attending each time, and while the three of us could not make every one, it was frequently a place where we could come together and try to move the ball forward on articulating what the future of work is going to look like. By 2014, Maddie had merged her agency with a much larger digital agency in DC, and she and I were finally able to create a culture consultancy together, and at the same time we started writing our second book, When Millennials Take Over, which came out in early 2015.

Parallel to that, Charlie was beginning to hatch a plan. Amidst all the conversations about the future of work, Charlie was taking a good hard look at the world of organizations and workplace culture, and he noticed a huge, gaping hole: the truth. Very few organizations were being authentic and honest about their cultures. Even the individuals inside those organizations didn’t have either the language or the permission to paint an honest picture of what it’s like to work there. This slows us down. It hurts recruiting, it hurts productivity, it hurts engagement. It’s a big problem.

So like any good entrepreneur, Charlie made the leap. He quit his job to create a start up that could solve the problem. The original company name was TruWork, and from the very beginning, Charlie wanted to create a way for companies get real and authentic about what it was truly like to work there. He went through a few iterations on the vehicle for doing that, before he settled on a survey-based company assessment, and as he was building it, he reached out to me and Maddie.

I remember the call well: “I keep coming back to the books you two wrote,” Charlie said. There are an infinite number of questions one could ask to determine what it’s truly like to work someplace, and Charlie was already doing a fantastic job at narrowing them down, but he asked us to collaborate with him on the development of the survey, since the years of research that went into our books was clearly aligned with the direction in which he was heading. Of course we agreed, and the three of us began to craft what has now become the Workplace Genome assessment. Within a few months of that collaboration, we realized that the culture consulting Maddie and I were doing and Charlie’s new concept of the Workplace Genome were simply two sides of the same coin—and that coin became WorkXO LLC.

So on this day—December 12, 2016—this year’s edition of the Boondoggle is convening in Nebraska, and Charlie, Maddie, and I are not there—not because we don’t want to be, but because client stuff got in the way. I’m sad not to be there, but I think it makes today a fitting today to tell this story of how WorkXO came to be. The universe moves in mysterious ways, folks. I’m grateful Maddie reached out to me as a fan of my blog way back in 2007. I’m grateful Joe included Charlie, Maddie, and me in that first Boondoggle. I’m grateful Charlie asked us to help him develop the Genome. I’m grateful that I get to spend every day doing this amazing work. So let’s get out there and upgrade this thing we call work.

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