Her approach blends emotional intelligence, organisational psychology, behavioural change and business success into a formula that she has proven time and again to make positive successful change for her clients.
Culture Labs and the OD Shaman
The philosophy of the culture lab is that each team has their essential intent, which is something that sits between the mission and quarterly goals. That’s all about what we are, what do we need to accomplish. With that as their core focus, the teams talk about what helps and what hinders them, and their ability to achieve that. The outcomes and the outputs of culture labs is they have the ability to make changes and redesign the way they work to remove the obstacles.
My philosophy is that when it comes to culture, going back again to what makes us human and how we work, each tribe needs a chief, and the chief in organisations is the CEO, but they also need a shaman from time to time.
“For us consultants, we are a little bit like the shaman who connects them to the other realities, that they wouldn’t be able to connect to themselves without a guide.”
Organisations can’t necessarily do all this work alone, because maybe they lack capacity, knowledge, or experience, but having a third party take an objective look at you and see the blind spots that you might have is important. However, afterward, I think it’s really important for the shaman to leave people to do the work themselves. I want to enable our clients to be self-reliant and be able to be doing this work all the time, because culture work never stops.
It’s why it’s so important to have those culture labs; we need a space and time when we can talk about these things. When you institutionalise it, it’s saying you recognise it’s important, and we have created this space to talk about these things explicitly, and no one is going to be excluded. If you are the CEO, you should be doing your culture lab with your executive team. And if you are not doing your culture lab with your executive team, that’s a problem, because no one else is going to do it.
Practical methodology in action with clients
I generally work on two axes with my clients. So, imagine the traditional 4 box model with two axes we’re so good at using as consultants. The horizontal line for me is knowing, and when I say knowing what I mean is do we know what we stand for, do we know what our values are, do we know how they translate or how they are supposed to translate into daily behaviours. Do we know what emotional impact we want to have on our employees and customers and other stakeholders?
The knowing part is creating clarity and discovering and uncovering what makes you unique as an organisation – what is your cultural DNA. So when we do this type of project, which is creating what I call in my methodology your ‘culture playbook’. This consists of 5 elements, and these elements are your mission, your vision, your philosophy, your core values, and your core desired feelings. So for this process to take place it does happen in a few stages. I’m not of the school of thought that you should be designing those things. I know that designing culture is a very popular term, in the consulting world, and it’s a very popular practice, but I think it over-simplifies the whole process.
So in my process what we do first is we do some desk work. We review written materials, marketing materials – anything really that indicates who the client is and what they stand for. We analyse this information and use AI to identify themes and trends in what is being said and how it’s being said.
We conduct interviews with people, especially the founders and the founding team. We look for the story of origin, so why did this company come to life, what were the aspirations of the founders, what was the initial vision, and how has it evolved. The first phase generally is data gathering, through desk work, surveys, and a series of interviews. This is usually around two weeks if we work quite intensely.
After those two weeks, we present the findings to our client and validate findings with them. It always really surprises me because when people see the findings and what we have been able to deduce from what’s already there, they are usually really surprised, and shocked, and can’t believe that it’s so accurate.
Then we really push for areas that have been our blind spots as well, because we want to have really good fodder for the next stage, which is actually uncovering all five elements of the culture playbook. We find a way to craft and articulate them in a way that is going to resonate, that is going to be memorable, and also that is going to be user friendly. Especially when it comes to mission, vision, values, philosophy, those are the sort of things that ideally you should be using continuously, and you are going to build all your processes and policies around, so they really need to be designed well.
After the discovery process and co-creation with our client, then, and only then, do we proceed to the stage of co-design. We usually do it in a workshop setting – with coronavirus, we do this virtually. This works in quite an interesting way because normally we would have a two-day workshop to get this done after inputs from the whole team as well. These days, we do a series of sessions, usually 7 two-hour sessions with the wider leadership team, to articulate and identify all these elements and put the playbook together. Part of this process is also creating a one-liner for the company, and a one-liner is a little bit of a branding side of things, and helping clients articulate what they have to offer to their clients because brand and culture are really intertwined very closely, so we help them figure out what it is they offer in terms of transformation and shift for their clients.
At the end of this process, we submit the deliverable of the culture playbook. This is the blueprint and the second stage of the project can be the second axis of the model that I was talking about – this is the knowing and articulating what we stand for.
To find out more about how Aga Bajer creates tangible outputs and success for her clients, explore our other interviews in this series or visit her website.