Culture Renovation: How to Build an Unshakeable Company

Dave: Welcome to Bring Out The Talent, the podcast featuring learning and development experts discussing innovative approaches and industry insights. Tune in to hear our talent, and help develop yours. Now, here is your hosts, TTA CEO and President Maria Melfa, and talent manager Jocelyn Allen.

Maria Melfa: Hi everyone. This is Maria.

Jocelyn Allen: Hi guys. It’s Jocelyn. So glad to be back again.

Maria Melfa: We are very excited about our topic today on culture renovation. So let’s get started. Most business leaders understand the power of dynamic and positive workplace culture, but only about 15% of companies that seek to drive transformation are successful. Which leads, many of us to ask why do so many organizations fail when attempting a culture change? To discuss the topic [00:01:00] of culture change and what specific actions need to take place to successfully change an organization’s culture. We speak with Kevin Oaks, who is the CEO of the Institute for Corporate Productivity, otherwise known as i4cp. Kevin is also the author of ‘Culture Renovation.’ Welcome, Kevin!

Kevin Oakes: Thanks, Maria. Glad to be here.

Jocelyn Allen: We’re very excited to have you. Kevin culture is a huge part of TTA and why we operate the way we do. So we’re really excited to dig into this topic with you today and what you guys are doing over at i4cp.

Kevin Oakes: Well, it’s, a topic that I love Jocelyn. So looking forward to talking with you about it.

Jocelyn Allen: As we mentioned in the intro, only 15% of companies are successful in driving a dynamic and successful culture. Why do you think so many organizations fail in this area?

Kevin Oakes: In a word. It’s hard. That’s why. But, you know, Do it to expand on that Jocelyn, that was really why we did the original [00:02:00] research to begin with. We were. Very aware that a lot of companies who attempt to change their culture fail. And we were curious about those companies that succeeded, what were they doing? You know, was there some kind of commonality or blueprint that we could call from those companies that had some success in changing their culture? And that’s really what the original research that my team conducted was all about that.

And, and the reason I wrote the book. Was to help CEOs Help CHROs. and just help organizations, with a blueprint, if you want to change your culture, here are the steps you can take in order to do so. And I’m, I’m thrilled that today we have many organizations, Fortune 500 organizations, even branches of the military, they’re using the book to change their culture. It’s really been exciting to see, the uptick since the book was published just exactly a year ago.

Jocelyn Allen: No kidding. We’re on the year anniversary? Happy [00:03:00] Anniversary.!

Kevin Oakes: Thanks.

Maria Melfa: So Kevin, do you see a difference in how you’re working with the military versus corporations?

Kevin Oakes: You know, it’s funny. Um, So I just went in and spoke with the top 400 leaders of the US Navy. And I was a little nervous about that. But luckily the chief, the head of the Navy, the chief Naval officer said to me, look, Kevin, we’re not expecting you to come in and fix the Navy.

Let us do the interpretation. But what I love is that they are taking lessons from the corporate world and have been doing this for some time, it’s not new, and applying it to what they’re doing within the Navy. And, and what’s interesting is that a number of corporations that they’ve been speaking with are also doing the same. They’re taking some learnings from the Navy and applying to their, to their organization.

But I really think, you know, whether you’re a small company or a large company regardless of the industry you’re in, or if you’re a for-profit or nonprofit, The [00:04:00] lessons in the book about culture renovation really apply across the board. And I tried to profile in the book a wide variety of companies, and I don’t even know how many are profiled in the books, probably about 50 or so.

Where we give real-life examples of what those companies have done with their culture. And I firmly believe that you know, those lessons are things that almost anybody can apply within their organization. Although lately, I’ve had a number of entrepreneurs say, okay, look, I want to start a culture from scratch. Can you help me with that? And so maybe that’s the next book, Maria. We’ll. We’ll see.

Jocelyn Allen: Okay.

Maria Melfa: Maybe we can be part of it, the research. So, what are some signs an organization is in need of a culture renovation?

Kevin Oakes: Well, I’m always heartened that companies are looking at their culture when everything is going fabulously. Because that’s the time when you get complacent. And I do have some organizations that have reached out and said, Hey, you [00:05:00] know, things are generally going really well here, but we don’t want to sit on our laurels. We want to make sure that we’re continuing to work on culture.

And that is what it takes. You know, I had a number of cautionary tales in the book about companies that did sit on their laurels and got very comfortable with the success that they were having only to have a startup come around and disrupt their entire industry or their business model. But the typical catalyst, for looking at changing culture is a new CEO, I would say that’s probably one of the biggest catalysts. Having a series of poor quarters, you know, I have a lot of public companies that ended up talking to me after they’ve had three or four poor earnings quarters, or, you know, missed their street guidance. Or sometimes it’s around an acquisition. That’s also a common time for companies to re-examine their culture and try to make sure that when they’ve acquired a company they’re creating a uniform culture overall from an integration standpoint. So those are the common catalysts.

But [00:06:00] I, you know, just going back to how I started this, I really think any company should be looking at their culture because if there’s one thing that we’ve learned over the last two years, is that this pandemic has changed your culture like it or not, you know, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. My advice to companies is to be proactive about their culture. Don’t, don’t be passive and reactive and let the pandemic change it for you be proactive about what kind of culture you want to see in the long run. And I think that’s a big reason why the book has done so well over this past year.

Maria Melfa: Many of the areas where you mentioned that corporations look for help and define their culture, you mentioned after M&A, or getting a new CEO. So a lot of this is very much like Change Management.

Kevin Oakes: Yeah, Change Management is a part of the process, right. I think one of the reasons why people resonate with a [00:07:00] book is that there have been a lot of books written about culture, but they generally tend to be a little a theorial. And I think this frustrates some senior leaders. They understand inherently that culture is important and that culture is the key to financial success. In fact, I profile Microsoft quite heavily at the beginning of the book because I love the culture change that Satya Nadella and Kathleen Hogan, and a number of executives there have put in place over the last six, to seven years. And you can see the financial results. Microsoft today is the number two most valuable company in the world. It’s alternating the top spot with Apple. But they’ve done a marvelous job with financial success. Over that time period, since Satya has come on board. And while you can attribute that to a lot of things, market conditions you know, great products, acquisitions, most people at Microsoft will say that’s really due to the culture renovation that our organization [00:08:00] undertook and, you know, I think, I think it’s important to relay it always back to, you know, what is the end result that you’re looking for. And for most organizations, it’s that you know, how do we improve the bottom line business impact overall inside the organization?

Jocelyn Allen: What are some examples maybe of what Microsoft did cause I’m, I was also kind of curious too, when you mentioned it about certain actions that take place when you’re, you’re making this sort of change. So yes. What did Microsoft do, but do you see commonalities between the action steps that organizations are taking for culture change? Like is there one that kind of always happens?

Kevin Oakes: Well there’s 18. And so we, that, that was what we outlined in the book. But to go back to the Microsoft story, I love telling this story. If you think back Jocelyn to about 10 years ago, Microsoft was actually in a world of hurt. A lot of people were predicting they were going to go the way of Sears. You know, a once proud company that just was going to eventually, you know, die a slow death. [00:09:00] And all apologies to people who work at Sears still but, you know, I think, you know, we’ve seen that throughout business history that, you know, some of these great companies just stop innovating, they stop executing and, and the company withers as a result. And Microsoft was always a company that was pretty good at innovating. They came out with the very first portable music player, right. MP, you know, and they were, they were leaders in the MP3 space. I don’t know if they’re very first in that, but there are leaders in that at one time.

Before Apple came out with the iPod and or tablet PCs, they had those long before the iPad. Or there were very early in internet search and then Google usurped their authority there. They missed the mark in the mobile market. Right. They. They were on it to be a big player powering our mobile phones and they, they missed that.

And so at the time, they recognized that they needed some changes. And Steve Ballmer agreed to step down as CEO, which set off a year-long CEO search and they eventually settled on Satya [00:10:00] Nadella. Now Nadella was very different than the two previous CEOs, which were Ballmer and Bill Gates. That he was the first CEO that grew up in the company. He was on the engineering team for 10 years. He evolved into leadership roles in the company. But what was not lost on the organization is that he really understood the culture of the company. He understood the good and the bad. And on the bad side, Microsoft was a culture of know-it-alls. They had a lot of very bright people, and still do of course but a lot of people would use knowledge as power. They were using knowledge to protect themselves, to protect their, their groups, and their position in the organization. And they did not freely share knowledge. And Nadella changed that right out of the gate. He said, look, I want a culture of a learn-it-alls is not a culture of know-it-alls.

And he adopted the concept of a growth mindset throughout the company. Now we weren’t talking about a growth mindset before [00:11:00] Microsoft did this. And it’s interesting how they came about it was from Carol Dweck’s book, Carol’s a professor at Stanford. And the book is called ‘Mindset.’ Satya’s wife gave him the book because she just thought from a family perspective, that he would resonate with it. But as he read it, he’s he realized this is what I need to do within the organization. And, he taught everybody that the concept of a growth mindset is something they needed to embrace. And it’s the concept that skills and capabilities aren’t always innate. They can be learned, we should learn from failure. And we should reward knowledge sharing overall. Nobody at Microsoft would be able to tell you what a growth mindset is. They do a fabulous job, at educating the workforce about a growth mindset. And that really embodied the start of their cultural renovation. Today knowledge sharing is power. They’re very cooperative. And I think in times as we’ve been in the last two years where agility is so [00:12:00] critical to, to either surviving or thriving or failing. You see companies that are able to share knowledge freely and quickly. Those are the ones that are the most agile and I think more and more CEOs now recognize this, and they’re embracing some of the same concepts, that Satya imparted upon Microsoft.

Maria Melfa: That’s a great story.

Jocelyn Allen: It is a great story. I love the innovation behind you know, not only what they’re doing with their product, but also how they’re thinking about changing their culture. TTA. Now one of TTA’s values is a growth mindset too. I’m looking at it behind me, cause it’s on the list right here, but it’s one of our top priorities. Maria talks about it all the time. You talk about in your book, culture renovation. Another common culture problem is collaboration overload. You also say COVID-19 demonstrated just how large the problem has become. What is collaboration overload and how can business leaders and employees alike overcome the issue?

Kevin Oakes: Let’s talk about collaboration first, before we talk about [00:13:00] overload. So if you think about your organization or any organization that you’ve been in.

There were typically go-to people in the organization. And these are people that others turn to for subject matter expertise, but often turn to for energy and influence. And there’s a lot of people in your life and, and, you know, work or personal that you turn to for energy and you, you talk to them and you walk away just kind of fired up. Right. You get excited by what the conversation was. Conversely, there are others who suck the life out of you after the conversation. Right. And you have the opposite reaction. Those people who are in the middle of the beehive, if you will, the ones who are often turned to are the influencers inside your organization.

And many times if you ask senior leaders who are the influencers in the company, They have no idea or they miss more than half of them. Because senior [00:14:00] leaders tend to think in terms of hierarchy, they’re not thinking in terms of workflow. Now, those influencers are many, many times, and we’ve studied this thousand of times are buried in the hierarchy. Sometimes they’re introverts and not extroverts. And so it’s kind of easy to miss those. So we’re big fans of the science that I outline in the book called organizational network analysis. Which you may have heard of. And ONA is a methodology to unearth who is in the middle of that beehive. And who’s on the outskirts.

Who’s collaborating with whom and who’s, you know, what, what silos don’t collaborate with anybody. And that happens in a lot of organizations where you have, you know, these groups that just are only communicating or collaborating, with themselves. It’s important to know who’s in the middle of the beehive because when you’re changing culture, those are the people you want on board. And successful companies like Microsoft enlisted the help of those influencers and energizers and got them [00:15:00] involved in the culture change that they wanted to see. Cause they’re the ones that are going to make it happen at the ground level. Now the downside of those people who are in the middle of the beehive is collaborative overload.

We today have a lot of ways to communicate and, you know, though, just straight email texts through slack, through teams, through other apps. We have the ability to reach people through a variety of methods. And when you’re an influence or an energizer, you tend to get hit from all sides. And particularly during the pandemic where collaboration has increased overall, because people generally were remote. What we’re finding is that a lot of those people in the middle got burnt out, right? They are suffering from collaborative overload. And it’s something that our colleague Rob Cross a professor at Babson College has written about. He’s got a brand new book out on this very subject.

Where companies have to make it safe for those people who are suffering from collaborative [00:16:00] overload to raise their hand and admit that. They’ve got to make it safe for those individuals to shift some of the collaboration responsibilities and the action items that people give to them to others in the organization. And they should really be talking pretty frequently and doing stay interviews with those people because if those people leave, that’s when things tend to collapse. And so you want to make sure that you’re taking care of those influencers and energizers that are likely suffering from collaborative overload and trying to make their lives a little easier. I think in this day and age because of the Great Resignation is probably more important than ever.

Maria Melfa: So in an organization, an influencer could hide within their team. How does an organization bring them out, so they are able to share more of their knowledge?

Kevin Oakes: Yeah. So ONA is a way to at least uncover who some of those people are. But in a lot of organizations that have done a great job of creating a [00:17:00] learning culture, they make sure that they recognize and reward people who are sharing knowledge and that’s important. You wanna buttress against those people who are using knowledge as power. And in order to make sure that everybody recognizes that the sharing of knowledge is what we value as an organization, you have to have leadership do a big deal about, you know, make a big deal about that. To recognize those people and sometimes even reward them. A lot of companies are putting that into performance reviews, for example. And they’re even screening for it when they’re bringing on new employees, they’re talking about the ability to share knowledge and that we have a learning culture right up front. So you kind of set that tone and then you can measure it once they come on board.

Maria Melfa: In the past, I’ve seen sometimes that a manager or leader could get threatened by having one of these knowledge sharers in their team. Because they might know more than they do. [00:18:00] Do you notice that happening a lot?

Kevin Oakes: Oh, I think that’s happened a lot over time. And typically those managers don’t fare very well in the long term. If that threatens you, then I would re-examine how you’re thinking about the whole art of leading people. The smart managers are the ones who are supporting that and encouraging that amongst their team members. We’re seeing a shift in how leaders are leading these remote teams that typically are a combination of people onsite and people offsite. And to be effective. I think you’ve got to promote knowledge sharing. You also have to promote talent mobility, and it’s something I talk a lot about in the book and it’s a, it’s a tactic that not a lot of companies are really very good at, but when we study talent mobility and we find companies that are great at it and are more formal about it, they typically are off the charts, high performing organizations, meaning they have better [00:19:00] revenue, growth, profitability market share than their competition.

The managers are actively trying to get their talent. Both promoted and moved throughout the organization, they become the talent magnets over time. People want to go work for those people. And the same thing holds true for people who are recognizing my sharing of knowledge. You know that’s the type of manager I want to go work for. And that one who is going to be a feel threatened by my skillset, you know, by my expertise.

Maria Melfa: Yes, it is interesting because you would think that that thought process would be uncommon or crazy because of course you want to have very capable people on your team. But, I have seen that in my past.

Kevin Oakes: The best managers try to hire smarter people than them. And surround themselves with a more skilled talent other than they have. That’s typically how you succeed in life. And you know, certainly, I recognize that in my own [00:20:00] companies, you know, let me bring on the best and brightest and we’re going to succeed as an organization if we do so.

Maria Melfa: Yes, absolutely. I could talk about this for hours. I find this very fascinating. Yeah. The other thing I was going to mention. I know we’re not directly talking about it, but, how have organizations handled culture transformation if they decided to become more of a flat organization? Do you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing as far as having flat organizations?

Kevin Oakes: No, I think overall you know, the flatter you can make your organization the better. Typically you are more nimble and agile like I talked about earlier, then if you have a very strict hierarchy where people don’t have the autonomy to make decisions you know, typically that’s an organization that is slow to move. One that can’t react very well to environmental threats, or competition. But let’s, let’s talk about [00:21:00] the term transformation because I intentionally named this research study in the book, renovation instead of transformation. The term culture transformation was one that we were using right from the start because it’s a common term. If you Google that you’ll get millions of hits. As we got into the research and looked at the 15% that were having success, it was very, very clear, that none of those companies were transforming themselves. They weren’t trying to become something completely different. Instead, they were very purposefully trying to hang on to what made them unique, to begin with, or what was hard to replace, and much like an old house, if you’re going to go renovate an old house, you want to keep what makes that house unique, but simply renovated for the future to increase its value. And the same thing holds true for corporations. So when we came up with the blueprint, if you will, of 18 action steps, we divided it into three phases using that renovation theme.

And those [00:22:00] phases were the plan, build and maintain. And just like an old house, you wouldn’t run into that house without a plan and start knocking down walls. Cause you’re eventually going to take down a load-bearing wall and bring the whole thing down. The same metaphor holds true in organizations. Yet a lot of companies skip that planning stage. They are so excited about changing the culture, that they kind of leap into it and into the build phase, before really understanding what the culture is, to begin with. I’ll give you an example of the understanding part. Many senior executive teams think they know what the cultural issues are. I guarantee they don’t. And the worst thing they can do is lock themselves in a conference room and decide amongst themselves, you know, what needs to change, what needs to be kept.

The smarter companies and I profile many in the book like T mobile and AbbVie and others. They spend a lot of time gathering employees’ sentiments and listening to the workforce. And they did it through multiple [00:23:00] channels and over time so that they can really understand from all levels within the company, what are the cultural issues? And that goes, that’s the first step in the planning phase, and in the book that’s chapter one. That companies need to undertake. But the other phase that often gets ignored is maintenance and just like an old house, once you’ve renovated it if you don’t maintain it, then it’s going to start to fall back to the disrepair was in, to begin with. Companies do the same thing. They sometimes have a lot of hoopla around culture, but then they tend to drift back to the way things were unless they maintain it. And then I outlined a number of talent practices that organizations can, can do to maintain that culture going forward.

So, yeah, back to your question, Maria, around a flat organization or more hierarchical. You know, I think there it’s hard sometimes to talk ubiquitously about all companies in all industries. You know, some companies are the size of small cities. And some companies are very small. And so it’s [00:24:00] easier in a smaller organization, right, to eliminate the hierarchy and some of those larger organizations you need a little bit more, obviously. So that you can execute accordingly. But in general, yeah, I think the more autonomy you can push down, we’re seeing this with flexible work right now. The more autonomy you can push to managers and to employees, the more nimble you’re going to be.

Jocelyn Allen: Interesting to me that you say that leaders can think that they know their culture, but you can say, no, you don’t. Right. You, mentioned in your book that often organizational leaders assume they know what their culture represents, but they’re dead wrong. So like, why does this happen so often? Why is that so common, that there’s an incorrect assumption about what’s actually going on in an organization by their leaders?

Kevin Oakes: By the time things get to the top, they are heavily filtered. I’ve had this happen many times in my career when I joke that the sun always shines up. And[00:25:00] I’ve had individuals in my company say all the right things and give me all the right information. But they individually are a hurricane to others down below them. Or they’re masking, you know, the real issues that are happening throughout the company. Putin is being accused of this right now. Where his leaders aren’t telling him the full story, because he’s such a command and control leader. They’re giving him a much rosier picture about what’s happening in Ukraine versus what’s actually happening on the ground. And that happens in a lot of organizations. And I think that’s why those leaders have to recognize that I’m probably not getting the full story. And I want to make sure that I understand all the issues. So let’s give a psychologically safe way for employees to share their, true opinions, and their experiences. So we can be a better company going forward.

Maria Melfa: Love hearing that. I know I have weekly one-on-ones with my managers, but I often feel like I am missing out [00:26:00] because I don’t meet enough regularly with everybody else. And I know we do have a pretty open culture and people do share a lot of information, but that is definitely one thing that I feel like I’m missing.

Kevin Oakes: Yeah, and oftentimes sharing face-to-face you’re not getting the full story. You know, a lot of people are nervous to tell, you know, tell the CEO what they really feel or tell their manager what they really feel. And that’s where the more anonymous surveys can bring some of that out. Even bringing in a third party sometimes can help cause they feel like it’s, you know, a little bit more confidential from that perspective. So I think that’s where you want to have multiple channels to gather that employee sentiment.

Maria Melfa: Yes. We have applied and we’ve won three years in a row for aware Boston top places to work, and it’s all anonymous feedback. And I was so thankful to see that we had 97.3% of our employees in the highly engaged column. So that’s great. I [00:27:00] know it’s, it’s certainly as taken time and you know, I’ve been in, I started this company almost 29 years ago, but it was not always that way. It took a lot of deliberate work and really trying to find the right people. I think a lot of times people underestimate how much one person can affect the entire organization. I know you mentioned one of the examples where culture change and culture work is needed. When you work with organizations is when they hire a new CEO, but I noticed and, you know, in our company that even when we hire just a senior person in the organization because we are a relatively smaller company, people tend to get nervous because they’re not sure, like as much as you articulate what the person’s role is. I realized that I probably had to do it a lot more because you have this new person you hired, and you tell everybody what their role is going to be. You have meetings and then, I just stopped. I wasn’t [00:28:00] communicating that change enough. So some of my employees that have been here for a long time would wonder, okay, well, what is this person going to do? Is this person going to take over my job? Even though I feel that people have, are pretty comfortable here, I mean, we have a lot of longevity, but it’s, it’s interesting. And a lot of times people are bringing their own insecurities. You know, with them. So they just assume a lot of different things, but it really, the whole culture thing is just, it really, there’s so many different. layers to it.

Jocelyn Allen: Yes. I agree. To your point, I think that when culture fits you so well, that that almost can create maybe those nerves when those moments come, come along, because you’re like, no, like I, keep me, what did I do? Right. When you’re just automatically assuming something, it could be coming from like a genuinely good place because of what’s been created for them here [00:29:00] and it fits so well and kind of a piggyback off of that, I also think that when things don’t work out from a culture perspective, that it needs to be okay, that culture exists because there’s a right place for you. There’s like the wrong place for you. You know, you shouldn’t be here, you should be working at this type of company. Right. So if you’re in an organization and culturally, it just doesn’t seem like the right fit. It doesn’t necessarily mean an organization, or you were doing anything wrong. It’s just, that there could be a better place there. I think that there needs to be some acceptance of, you know what? That just wasn’t the right fit, but you know what more power to you. Like keep going. I support you. I’m just going to go do it somewhere else. Do you know?

Kevin Oakes: Right. Yeah, you’re very right.

Jocelyn Allen: Recent studies showed that 62% of consumers want a company’s brand to stand for something, have a calling or represent a value that is [00:30:00] important to them. I find this really interesting, especially now, because I think a lot of companies more than ever are making changes to their marketing, their branding, and what they represent. Has this led to more brands, kind of taking a stand and making a, like making purpose? A part of their culture?

Kevin Oakes: Yeah there’s no question. It’s continuing to increase at a very rapid pace. I think particularly in this time period that we’re in right now, where unemployment is at 50-year lows and we’ve had a quit rate at 25-year highs. More and more companies are recognizing their employer brand is something they have to be in more control of. And employees do want to feel like their personal values fit with the corporate values of a company that they are, they are potentially joining, or that they’re in right now.

And it’s a little bit tricky for corporations to take stances on everything, but you can see the ramifications. Just recently Disney has been under great fire because they [00:31:00] didn’t talk quickly enough about the, you know, quote unquote, Don’t Say Gay bill in Florida, and they received a lot of feedback from their employees around that. And they’ve now taken a much stronger stance. It was a little bit, too little too late, but you know, they, you know, I think they’ve, they’re starting to recover from that. Just around the, you know, the Russian invasion of Ukraine that one’s a little bit easier, but you’ve seen a lot of organizations pull out of Russia of course as a result of the war, but not all.

And there are some organizations where it is tricky. I was interviewing the CEO of Fortune a week ago and Alan Murray and I were talking about this phenomenon, he was talking to the CEOs of some large hotel chains, you know, like a Hyatt or Hilton or Marriott. And they were on the surface getting some feedback that and criticism that they didn’t pull out of Russia.

But until they made people [00:32:00] realize, look, we’re housing reporters, we’re housing refugees. I mean, there’s, there’s a lot of people that we’re helping as part of this process, and us pulling out, isn’t going to help. And so that’s yeah. I think some of these issues do get a little bit tricky depending on the type of company that you are. But by and large, more CEOs are becoming comfortable in talking about how they feel about a particular social issue or something that’s happening in the environment. And taking a stance around that. You know, whether it’s gun control, whether it’s, yeah, you’ve more controversial issues. Even political issues and some companies have paved the way for this. I profile Patagonia in the book, Patagonia has always taken strong stances you know, against a number of things, but their goal as an organization is to is, is climate change to improve the world. Now they have the luxury of being able to take some strong stances because they’re a [00:33:00] privately owned company and largely owned, by their founder.

Where public companies with shareholders have you know, a little bit more to think through around these, you know, around their stances. But Nike is another one that took some early stances and saw the benefits from it. You know, typically when you do take a stance, you, you know who your consumers are and, and, you know, your consumers that support that stands widely applauded. As do the employees. So we’ll see more and more of this going forward, but I think we have to recognize it’s not always black and white. It’s a, there’s a lot of nuance to stances that people want companies to take.

Maria Melfa: Larger companies do have the luxury of not having to worry as much about the impact as the small companies.

Jocelyn Allen: Yeah, I agree. There’s a lot to be said. Even when you talk about the level of engagement of a certain employee or an organization Marie, when you were talking about the better business the best places to work, it’s like the smaller you are, the [00:34:00] more of a percentage you take up right, an individual person. So I think that, yeah, it’s, you know, depending on small and large, it can be a little bit harder to kind of get the point across.

Maria Melfa: Kevin, how do leaders determine what desired behaviors will best support the company’s purpose?

Kevin Oakes: I, yeah, I devote a whole chapter to this and profile some companies that did a great job at making sure that leaders understood their behaviors. And what was going to be aligned with the organization going forward? Yeah, because let’s face it employees aren’t going to do what’s framed on a wall or what’s written in a PowerPoint.

They’re going to do what leaders do. And so the behaviors of those leaders are, is very important. And typically those behaviors are agreed to from the very top down. One company I profile, there was F5, which is a networking public company that has done a great job from the CEO and CHRO perspective at defining leadership [00:35:00] behaviors, they expect to see. And they do a lot to train leaders, not at the senior level, certainly, they do it there, but also at the mid-level and frontline level. To make sure all leaders understand what are our values and what behaviors we want to see from leaders going forward.

When you’re trying to change culture, one of the first things that can derail it. Is as if the leaders are saying one thing, but doing another. Right. And it’s old, you know, walk the talk analogy and it’s something that, that the successful companies really paid a lot of attention to and they, and they put a lot of time and effort and budget into training leaders to make sure they understood those behaviors.

Jocelyn Allen: I love the segue you gave me Kevin. When you’re talking about the CEO and CHRO relationship we’ve seen more recently that high-performance organizations are showcasing this relationship. So what makes this such a critical partnership and how, if at all, has it changed during the pandemic?

Kevin Oakes: It’s changed quite a bit in the pandemic. The [00:36:00] pandemic certainly escalated and elevated the importance, of the HR team and the strategic nature of the leadership in HR. And I think we’ve seen this in many organizations that had strong HR leadership. They were able to manage through the pandemic, just fine, even thrive during it versus companies that did not.

And this is even true at the board level. I’ve talked to a lot of chairs of boards and board directors of public companies. They recognize that if you look around the board table they probably over architected on financial acumen and they had very little human capital acumen sitting at that board table. So we’re seeing even CHROs, both sitting CHROs and retired CHROs be in great demand for director seats. In, particularly in public companies. But I can always tell a healthy company when the CHRO is in that inner circle of three or four, you know, key executives to that CEO. You can be pretty assured that [00:37:00] that’s going to be a company that that is a very healthy one.

When that head of HR is reporting to finance or legal, or, you know, somebody other than the CEO, you can usually predict that’s probably not a very people-friendly company. And I think the progressive CEOs that I’ve talked with, understand that most of the value of a company is made up of the assets of the people, not other assets. So I need that human capital professional, that leadership by my side so that we can change things like culture going forward. And most of the companies that I profiled that had great culture change, that CHRO was right in the middle of it and was you know, the right-hand person to, to the CEO and helping to make that happen. So we’ll see this partnership blossom even more going forward as, as companies have recognized during the pandemic, how important it was, but also look at examples like I profile in the book of how those companies have really leveraged the human [00:38:00] capital function.

Maria Melfa: So when you’re working with organizations, who are you working with? Are you mainly working with the CHRO or the CEO, who’s your first point of contact? And I assume the CEO would get involved in something like this.

Kevin Oakes: Well, yeah, for us as an organization, we’re an HR research company and we do more HR research than anyone on the planet. And as a result, our point of contact is the CHRO in the organizations that we work with. But it’s been fun getting involved with more and more CEOs as part of this process, particularly around the topic of culture renovation. I was brought in recently by the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Because he’s using this entire year to change the culture of the company and using the book, as the blueprint of how they’re going to do this. And it was enlightening. It was great to see the CEO talk about the importance of learning in their culture. Talk about some of the [00:39:00] things that he wanted to see as a result of this culture renovation effort and what the outcomes would be at the end of the year. And embraced the HR function and helped him make this happen.

Maria Melfa: So for organizations that are listening to this podcast and want to do something to renovate their culture. How do you go about working with them Kevin? Explain the process.

Kevin Oakes: Well, first and foremost, we’re not a consulting company. So we are a research organization. And with those organizations were able to lend not only a lot of data and everything we’re doing we do is, is backed by data. And its, evidence-based opinions and evidence-based advice. But also by case studies and examples, and I think for any organization and particularly for senior leaders, that combination of data with examples, particularly from companies that they respect, or maybe even fear, can really help a company decide how they want to move forward and, [00:40:00] and some of the things that they need to do. So as an organization, we run a community of tens of thousands of human capital and business experts. And it’s all under the umbrella of not having any vendors or consultants in the mix. So it’s just a safe haven for those practitioners to leverage each other to share what works share strategies, to share tools. And we augment that with the research that we conduct so that companies can, can choose the right path, and typically it’s a path that somebody else has already paved the way for them down the road. That’s really how we work with organizations overall.

Jocelyn Allen: Thank you. This has been so informative, Kevin, like. I love what you guys are doing over there at i4cp Culture Renovation. I also love the term. I totally get it my house is 120 years old. So I vibe with that. Like you’re talking about. This has been really, really great. We, we look forward to you know, getting your information out, into our, out to our listeners.

Kevin Oakes: [00:41:00] Well, thanks for having me on it’s a fun conversation and just a really important topic that I think is only going to increase. You know, in visibility going forward. So hopefully we’ll continue this conversation in the future.

Maria Melfa: Yeah, absolutely. We would love to have you back and even host a webinar for a lot of our clients too.

Kevin Oakes: Excellent.

Jocelyn Allen: Yes. Awesome. Well, we are at the part of our episode, Kevin, where we put a little pressure on you and ask you some fun questions. It’s the TTA 10.

David Yas: It’s the TTA 10. 10 final questions for our guests.

Jocelyn Allen: All right, Kevin. So as I said, this is just a fun little segment where I’m going to ask you some playful questions and we’re going to bring a little, I don’t know, maybe sass. I feel like I’m sassy. I don’t know how you’d describe yourself, but let’s do it.

Kevin Oakes: Usually not sassy, but. I’ll do my best.

Jocelyn Allen: Sounds good. Are you ready? [00:42:00]

Kevin Oakes: Go for it.

Jocelyn Allen: All right. Which of the seven dwarves do you most relate to?

Kevin Oakes: Sleepy. Cause I don’t get enough.

Jocelyn Allen: What is 19 minus six?

Jocelyn Allen: Who would you cast to play you in a movie about your life?

Kevin Oakes: You know, it’s funny. I have people tell me sometimes, complete strangers that I look like either Steven Spielberg or Seth Rogen, neither of which I think is very flattering, but yeah, I’ll have to go with one of those two.

Jocelyn Allen: We’ll say Seth Rogan will star and Steven Spielberg will direct it.

Garden gnomes, cute or creepy?

Kevin Oakes: Oh, I think cute.

Jocelyn Allen: Beachfront or mountainside?

Kevin Oakes: Oh I like both, honestly, but I’m headed to Hawaii. I’ll go with beach front.

Jocelyn Allen: If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?

Kevin Oakes: Well, I always thought anybody would want to be Superman because he’s sort of almost invincible, but yeah, I would love to be able to fly. That would be [00:43:00] really fun.

Jocelyn Allen: If you could learn a brand new skill today, what would it be?

Kevin Oakes: I would love to learn a different language. I don’t know any other languages and I always felt like I should have over the, over my time.

Jocelyn Allen: If you could eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

Kevin Oakes: Risotto.

Jocelyn Allen: Your favorite place that you’ve ever traveled to?

Kevin Oakes: Ireland and I’m going back there in a month and I can’t wait.

Jocelyn Allen: Hawaii and Ireland, come on. Which zoo animal would you most like to have as a pet?

Kevin Oakes: Wow. I have no idea. Oh, look. Let’s go As long as he was tamed, let’s go with a monkey. Cause it. You know, they, they seem like they could be really fun.

Jocelyn Allen: All right. There are our 10 questions. Fantastic answers Kevin, let’s go to David for the results.

David Yas: It was close, but just under the wire, Kevin has completed the TTA 10 within the allotted time. Congratulations.

Kevin Oakes: I feel. I feel [00:44:00] so honored. Thank you.

David Yas: Yes, Kevin, you are a TGA. Jeff, you may shelter this news from the rooftops, amaze your friends, and include it on your resume. Now that you have achieved this covenant honor, you will be respected and loved by captains of industry heads of state, and Tik TOK influencers. The sun will shine brighter for you. Food will taste better and life will have new meaning. Congratulations, Kevin, you are a TTA 10. Champion.

Maria Melfa: Excellent. Thank you so much, Kevin. True pleasure.

Kevin Oakes: Yeah, thank you. I appreciate it. It was fun. Fun being on the podcast and thanks for making a fun, Jocelyn and Maria. I really appreciate it.

Jocelyn Allen: You were fantastic, Kevin. Seriously, thank you so much. We look forward to reconnecting.

Kevin Oakes: All right. Take care of let’s do good things.

Jocelyn Allen: Yes, you too. Thank you. Bye-bye.

Kevin Oakes: See ya.

Jocelyn Allen: To learn more visit us at We’ll see you later.