Last week we sat down with Peter Phelan, the co-founder and CEO of ValuesCulture, to discuss the cross section of building winning cultures and how to best leverage data within an HR organization. Peter has a wealth of experience, spending over 20 years working with leading companies like Shutterstock, MediaMath, Bloomberg, Publicis Groupe, and WPP. We were excited to hear his thoughts on culture, data, and how HR teams are innovating.
Tell us about ValuesCulture. Who do you work with and how do you help them?
I founded ValuesCulture to provide Culture Doctor services to growing Silicon Alley companies who want to maintain a healthy and resilient organizational culture. Like any good doctor, the first goal is to leverage experience and specialist training to diagnose objectively. Then, with a good desk-side manner, we provide accurate prescriptions on how to promote system health.
How does a company create a winning culture?
In my experience – first knowing in very specific terms what winning looks like is step one. If you’re on the right track with this “What & Why” you should be able to capture it in a handful of words. After that, it’s incredibly important to establish a shared understanding of how this team will go about achieving the win together. Don’t make the mistake of throwing together some nice-sounding values and bring them down from the mountain to the team. If they don’t ring true to the team – you’ll cause cognitive dissonance and hurt trust. Discretionary effort might be the next victim. When ValuesCulture does a Values Definition Exercise it’s very data driven with lots of stakeholders ranking organizational competencies in a very structured way. We leverage any data we can access from employee surveys, client-facing brand positioning, and we have leaders use style assessment tools. We’re looking to get at making promises in values that the organization is wired to keep in a very fundamental, sometimes even subconscious, ways.
How should a company evaluate the strength of their culture?
We’re big believers in the power of data. Anonymous employee surveys are a great way to tap into how aligned a team is on “the way we get things done” (which I feel is great shorthand for organizational culture). There are lots of solid off-the-shelf tools for this purpose – many of which borrow from the classic Gallup 12 engagement questions.
Who within the company drives culture?
While everyone has the power to influence a culture in some way – those in leadership positions have an outside impact on setting the culture – none more so than the CEO. Where the People Team can be very impactful is in leveraging their expertise on culture to partner with leaders, so they’re tuned in to their impact on the culture and curate their signals accordingly. Great people leaders can guide leadership teams toward conscious competence in curating positive cultures that inspire discretionary effort.
How is it different between a 25-person company and a 500-person company?
Well, the stakes keep on getting higher. If a CEO unwittingly sends the wrong cultural message with 25 it might be possible to clean things up by doing 1:1 time with everyone and rebuilding trust. It’s harder to recover when you’ve disappointed/demotivated 500 people.
Can organizations use data-driven approaches to measure culture?
To know your culture well enough to help it scale and evolve, I believe a data-driven approach is the only way to curate a culture.
How do you source candidates with culture in mind?
“Cultural Fit” has been definitely weaponized in unhealthy ways. A candidate might be deemed to be “not a cultural fit” if they’re, for example, too old for the manager’s comfort level. So, to avoid behavior like that, it’s important to have a very clear sense of behavioral competencies that lead to good outcomes in your organization. Then, showcase that “clear sense of organizational self” in all of your job specs and employer branding. Then in every community where you spread the word about your organization – you’ll filter in and out talent effectively by showcasing your organization’s personality.
How do you interview for cultural fit?
If you do consistent structured behavioral interviewing that tests for values alignment (on values you’ve identified in an objective data-driven alignment process) by drawing out multiple examples of situations/scenarios – you won’t go far wrong!
How will technology change the way HR professionals do their jobs?
In a way, for the in-house People Pro, it’ll remain quite a human profession in that what’s routine or non-core to your business will be automated or outsourced.
What impact do you think Artificial Intelligence will have in the world of HR?
Well, Recruiting Coordinator may not be a job in five years. But, more significantly, I think that we’re about to enter a transformative time where data science and people analytics will be part of every People Team and AI will be an important tool. People are your single greatest asset/expense – so using the best tools available to optimize their success is just good business.
3 predictions for the HR industry in 2018?
- Data Science will open our eyes to the myriad ways we routinely shoot ourselves in the foot with talent!
- Sourcing will be increasingly automated, leveraging AI, for a growing number of roles.
- People will be routinely surprised that the person who set up their interview wasn’t a person.