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No App for That (The Radical Way to Scale Culture)

Written by CultureCon 2022 Sponsor Liz Gulliver of Kunik


I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships at work.

Not the ‘call HR’ type, but the more basic, ‘do you have a relationship with your coworkers?’

It all started because I kept asking ‘how do you scale culture?’ I know, maybe not the most interesting thing to walk around thinking about. I also wonder what the hell is happening inside my toddler’s brains, why they like ketchup so much, and why waking up early to workout gets harder with age. But the culture thing is there too.

It’s on my mind because I’ve been going to a lot of conferences on the future of work, DEI, employee engagement - you name it. Most of them are masquerading as something sexier than ‘we need to hire & keep the best talent’ but at the end of the day, that’s what it really comes down to. And when I think about talent, there are a few truths that bring me back to this question:

  1. Companies are only as good as their people are - even the companies that don’t want to acknowledge that

  2. People (aka employees) genuinely want to be in a workplace where they feel seen, valued, and heard (that’s McKinsey and Microsoft talking, not me)

  3. Companies with great employees win and great employees want to work at companies with excellent culture

I’m no logic wizkid, but given all of that, it seems like culture should be at the top of the list for every company. We all know that’s not the case. But for those employers who are thinking about culture, the question of how to scale it has become increasingly important. It’s a competitive advantage. Mediocre culture can’t hide behind breakroom pastries anymore.

So how exactly do we scale culture?

First, we have to go back to the basics and ask ‘what is culture’? We’ve overcomplicated it. Made it too hard to wrap our hands around. Culture is really just the habits of how we think and what we do. Another way to think about it? Your personal character is made up of your characteristics—the collection of your habits. Culture is the character of the team, department, and organization.

Most companies have lost track of these fundamentals. They’re adding complexity onto an unstable base until things topple over. Before integrating new apps, recognition platforms, analytics systems, metrics, etc, leaders should take a step back and ask themselves ‘what is our culture’? How are we building it? How are we infusing it into every aspect of our work? Would a new hire know what culture to expect, would a long-time team member naturally be demonstrating that culture every day?

This is where it comes back to relationships. Culture is how we interact and what we do, and that’s built on relationships.

How do you build good relationships? I can only think of one way.

From the old cigarette break to the trendy kombucha tap, snack bar, and office games, every successful culture tool shares 1 secret: Conversation.

If you want a winning culture, you must create intentional moments of connection, learning, and growth over the issues that matter most to your people. Do that, and you will build relationships. Do that enough, and you will build community. And that is how you scale culture.