After a two-year hiatus (thanks COVID), CultureCon 2022 returned to Madison, Wisconsin as the largest event in our five-year history with over 450 tickets and attendees from across 4 different countries and 33 different states. Our heads are still spinning.
Here is a snapshot of a few new organizations that experienced the conference for the first time.
Since the event, we've had many conversations with various conference stakeholders including our audience, speakers, sponsors, community partners, and volunteers. The conversations have helped illuminate the conference's core themes, lessons learned, and growth opportunities to advance our mission of inspiring positive change around organizational culture.
Here is our recap of CultureCon 2022, broken out into 5 Key Takeaways...
1. Forward, Together
Yes, this is a shameless call back to Wisconsin's official state motto, "Forward," but it also captures the mindset and energy of the conference - moving forward, together.
The past 2.5 years of navigating the pandemic has been arduous (to put it mildly), but it's also been a powerful catalyst for change. “The Future of Work” is the past. We are witnessing a societal shift, one where organizations are rapidly embracing their employees in new, holistic ways. Working environments are shifting from rigid, hierarchical, and inflexible to become more collaborative, equitable, and innovative. It's happening, and fast. we’re laying the train tracks with the locomotive just behind us. It's scary, and fun.
To commemorate the conference experience and deepen connections between participants, we partnered with Mosaicli to deliver an interactive art Mosaic. Each conference, we strive to embody the culture we dream to create and Mosaicli was pivotal in helping us live up to that aspiration. Within 5-minutes, participants danced, meditated, welcomed one another's sadness and joy, and everyone had an opportunity to reflect on and share about a person in their lives who helped them feel truly "seen." Throughout the event, attendees interviewed one another about their art, envisioned possibility, and added their unique contributions to the bigger picture. The resulting art-work embodied the "forward, together" spirit we all know is necessary to foster culture change across our organizations and in our communities.
2. Leading with empathy can radically improve employee experience
Reflection submitted by Jessica Liu
Colin Mincy, Chief People Officer for Human Rights Watch, kicked off the conference with a Keynote on empathy. While many of us probably already understand that empathy is important, Colin offered pointed communication on how leadership is defined by it and how the workplace can improve with it.
One example Colin used to demonstrate this point is when an employee loses a loved one. As humans, we recognize that bereavement doesn’t end 3-5 days later (like many bereavement leave policies do). We know that people need time to heal and “be okay,” so creating an environment of empathy, where associates receive grace and understanding while they’re grieving, creates an experience that truly produces the highest levels of productivity and the greatest engagement for our employees.
Colin’s presentation included the following points that left a mark on me:
Empathy is free and it changes the work experience and how people feel about each other.
An investment in training managers on how to create spaces for empathy would make a big impact. This is typically not a focus in management training.
Survey and engagement tools can be used to check in on empathy. Then invite employees to the table to name and claim the problem and solution without reframing it. Example question: “In what ways have you experienced your leaders’ empathy?” and “Where haven’t you?”
As Colin said, “Bad news travels fast, but good news stays with us forever.” Let’s create a positive story for employees to tell by leading with empathy.
3. Culture from the inside out
We know that thriving businesses arise from thriving employees. Using empathy, when companies cultivate an organizational culture that allows employees to bring their full, authentic selves to work, they unlock the single greatest competitive advantage: human contribution. The movement towards more fulfilling and uplifting work is immensely exciting, but it’s not without personal accountability...
CultureCon 2022 presentations helped convey that culture change starts and ends on the individual level. Our individual thoughts and actions have tremendous influence over the feelings and behaviors of others. We owe it to ourselves, and our coworkers, to bring our best-selves to work everyday. This requires cultivating healthy habits and relationships that give us restorative, positive energy. Making intentional space in your day for mental and physical health - exercise, eating healthy, deepening relationships, mindfulness practices!
Think about it. How many times have you felt the energy sucked out of a meeting (or even an entire team) because of one, toxic individual. Conversely, think about some of the best teams you've ever been apart of - how did those team members act? How did that make you feel?
To quote Caleb Campbell, "If we want the collective to bet great, it requires every individual devoting themselves to be great."
4. Organizations have more control over burnout than they realize...
Reflection submitted by Jessica Liu
While burnout is not a new phenomenon, it has emerged as one of the biggest problems to solve for as employers have become acutely aware of the consequences of burnout on their people and organizations. Recent trends towards solving for burnout tend to focus on offering self-care resources, including therapy, but Kate Snowise, Corporate Psychologist at Kunik, reminded us that organizational health is a key factor in employee burnout.
Kate offered a deeper look at burnout in her CultureCon breakout session, providing clarity around what leads to burnout and a different approach to solving for it. The big lesson I learned here is that stress is a result of our body's belief that the pressure we're experiencing cannot be adequately dealt with. And when we’re chronically exposed to unmanaged stress, that’s when burnout occurs. Kate shared that this is the point where, “you’ve burned through all your resources and have nothing left to give.”
Kate also showed attendees how businesses can do better in preventing and addressing burnout by focusing on 1) reducing the weight of pressure placed on employees 2) creating a supportive, safe and empowering environment that people believe in, and 3) helping people restore and re-energize.
Here are a few examples of the dozens of ways to reduce the weight of pressure that we discussed:
Reviewing and restructuring workflows
Training on prioritization and time management strategies
Leaders exemplifying behaviors that prevent burnout (like not sending late night & weekend emails)
Kate importantly highlighted that during the pandemic, companies felt the productivity of their people skyrocket, and are now expecting those same big results going forward. Unfortunately, humans can’t sprint forever – we just weren’t designed that way! Therefore, businesses need to stop asking people to meet that expectation on an ongoing basis and recognize reality.
The bottom line? We can do better here and must in order to keep our teams healthy, high-functioning, and interested in working for us at all. The pressure placed on employees is the most important place to start and it's possible to make impact here.
5. Finding Your People
CultureCon 2022 was very fortunate to feature some of the nation's best and brightest speakers. All of whom were eager to share their knowledge, lessons learned, and implementation strategies; but when we reflect on the magic of the conference, it's the value of community. Or as our attendees often put it, "being with 'our people.'"
Specifically, people who are bought into our shared movement toward building more uplifting, fulfilling, and healthier workplaces. It's a shared emotional connection among individuals who are inherently caring and passionate. Above all, they're eager to make connections, share ideas, and show support.
CultureCon, now a Certified B Corporation®, is on a mission to inspire positive change around organizational culture. Through community events, custom courses, consulting services, and virtual learning, we deliver experiences that provide practical tools and motivation for our customers to become cultural change agents within their organizations. Our customers include business owners, CxOs, HR leaders, senior executives, Directors, Managers, individual contributors, and anyone who has a vested interest towards inspiring positive change around their organization’s culture.
We invite you to join our community of Culture Geeks and support the movement towards more uplifting, fulfilling, and healthier workplaces.
For a limited time, grab your discounted CultureCon 2023 Early Bird tickets by visiting www.cultureconusa.org/tickets.
Special thanks to Hedi Lamarr Photography for capturing the essence of CultureCon 2022.