Culture Chat

And other musings on humanizing the workplace
Are You Paying Attention?

Are You Paying Attention?

February 23, 2017

I read today that a portion of the scientific community is strongly recommending that we recognize we’ve officially entered a new geological epoch. The Anthropocene Age (“Age of Man”), as we’ve been calling it since the turn of the century, is one in which everything on our planet is influenced – for the first time – almost entirely by the human race. At 7B strong, Earth hears our roar and feels our stomp. It is all apparently quite indelible. We are beastly. Every move we make – individually and collectively – creates ripple upon ripple upon ripple.  And we, quite unfortunately, are not paying attention. Or at least, not as much as we think we are.

This became abundantly clear to me last week when Jamie and I spent a couple of hours at Sparks and Honey on Madison Avenue in New York. I mean, I pay attention to what’s shaking out there. Right? I stay plugged into social media, I read the paper front to back every Sunday, I have a bunch of alerts that buzz me with breaking news throughout the day, I listen to NPR almost incessantly. Then I witnessed the ritual that S&H goes through every day between 12:00 and 1:00 pm.

Sparks and Honey is a marketing and branding company. And they’ve figured out that a deep understanding – like an intimate and nuanced understanding – of what’s shaping our society and the culture that envelops it has everything to do with how they help their clients differentiate. They differentiate by making them culturally relevant. Relevance, for them, is not about what’s happening today, but what might be happening tomorrow. This understanding is of course constantly shifting. Constantly. So, to stay out in front of it, they use a highly-functioning yet sometimes messy process for essentially crowd-sourcing Cultural Signals. They enlist their influencers and advisors, people-of-interest, “global scouts” (volunteers throughout the globe who have their eyes and ears open), and the entire staff of S&H to keep a constant watch for even the tiniest of signals that might indicate what might be next. I’m not talking about news headlines. I’m talking about the obscure, the oft overlooked: hashtag trends that aren’t quite yet trends; new ingredients in beauty products that might be an indication of a shift in consumer sentiment; political alliances or estrangements; technological functionality; unique beats. Once a signal is noticed, it’s submitted. A team is charged with going through each signal every day and filtering to those that warrant notice and discussion. And then that team presents those at noon (when we were there, they had 20 of them). As the signals are presented, open conversation ensues, new observations are made, connections are drawn, notes are made. Whether that day’s signals prompt a tangible “to-do” for those in the room, every one leaves at 1:00 pm with new context, color, and much more clarity around “where the puck is headed.” And again, they do this every single freakin’ day.

My head hurt just watching it. It was kind of exhausting. Not the exercise itself, but the cognitive load that came with it. There is just SO much to be thinking about. We move so fast, things change so quickly. Here we are plodding along as a human race – boom boom boom – and so few are really paying this kind of attention to the ripples we create. We at WorkXO talk a lot about “the future of work” as being the line-in-the-sand for workplace culture evolution. We also say that the future of work today will very soon become the workplace of the past tomorrow. So, we of course adjust our model accordingly. But after this day with S&H it struck me – like a wrecking ball to the head – that we all need to get better at looking for these signals as they emerge. Not long after someone has come along, studied them, and written another book on them. The same thing S&H is doing with societal culture we need to be doing with workplace culture. And by ‘we’ I also mean you!

Are you paying attention? What can you do to observe, track, discuss and adapt to your workplace culture signals more regularly? What can you do to enlist others to do the same? Do you even know what signals to look for? Organizations that get and stay intentional about aligning their cultures with what drives their success are experiencing tremendous growth. If you could find a way to get intentional in the same way Sparks and Honey does, imagine your potential.

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