Culture by Design is Now ---- The Leader Factor

Where Great Culture Starts

On this week's episode of Culture by Design, Tim and Junior explain the theory behind the name of the podcast. Their claim? Culture is inevitable, and whether yours is a bad one or a good one is up to you. 

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Episode Show Notes

The culture dilemma (00:45). Many organizations tell us that they want to improve their culture, but often don’t know where to start. What does an unhealthy culture look like? What symptoms need to be identified and treated?

The definition of culture (02:30). Culture is the way we interact. It exists anywhere where there are humans. Parts of it are visible, while other parts of culture, not so much.  

How does culture work? (16:00) You don’t fix a culture at the top of an organization, but you can influence it at the team level. Teams need to improve their interactions by modeling and rewarding the vulnerabilities of their colleagues.

What’s the solution? (31:00) If you want good culture, you need high levels of psychological safety. Psychological safety solves for culture at the level of interaction.

Building great culture is a process (50:00). Just like fostering trust takes a certain level of consistency over time, psychological safety is delicate and dynamic. It requires consistent effort and deliberate action in order to build and maintain.

The Complete Guide to Psychological Safety

The Ladder of Vulnerability

The 4 Stages Behavior Guide

Episode Transcript

0:00:02.5 Producer: Welcome back, Culture by Design listeners. It's Freddy, one of the producers of the podcast. And today we have a great episode on where great culture starts. Many amazing organizations tell us they want to improve their cultures, but what does that mean exactly? And how do you figure out where to start? Tim and Junior dive deep into what culture is, how it works, and offer their unique perspective on how to create great culture by design. As always, you can find links to this episode's show notes at There are a few other resources that Junior will mention, including the book, the Ladder of Vulnerability ebook, the behavioral guide, all of which can be found at Thanks again for listening and thank you for your reviews. If you have not yet left a review, we would love for you to do so. Now enjoy today's episode on where great culture starts.

0:01:05.0 Junior: Welcome back everyone to another episode of Culture by Design, a Leader Factor podcast. My name is Junior. I'm here with Dr. Timothy Clark. Tim, how are you?

0:01:11.6 Tim: Hey, doing well, Junior. Good to be with you on this episode.

0:01:14.1 Junior: Good to be with you. I'm excited about this one. We've had a few good episodes leading up to this one talking about culture, and we're going to talk about culture again with a different lens, an ode to the podcast's name. We're going to talk about where great culture starts. Culture is something that's talked about a lot these days, and it's something that we have a pretty strong perspective on, dangling participle there. I apologize for that. The dilemma. The dilemma. The dilemma of culture. Often culture, the conversations that we're having are had through the lens of dilemma. Many organizations will come to us and say things like, we need to transform our culture, or our culture is unhealthy and we're not sure what to do about it, or we aspire to have a healthy culture, but we think we're lagging behind, or our culture is doing pretty well, but we know that we could tune it up.

0:02:13.2 Tim: Or Junior, precision terms like, we have a good culture, a bad culture, we have a strong culture, a weak culture. What does that mean? But people talk in those terms all the time, and that's okay. We understand why, but until we define terms and we come to a shared definition of these terms, then we're just talking about things that we really don't understand. It's very conceptual. I think this is really true when it comes to culture. If we set some context, we are in what we would say is the decade of culture. So culture is becoming more and more important to organizations, and yet we're struggling even to know what we're talking about. Isn't that ironic?

0:03:02.6 Junior: It is. And many of you that are tuning in today are interested in culture. That's one of the patterns of the listenership, probably obvious given the title of the podcast. But if you're one of them, stay tuned. Because we're talking about culture and how to affect it. You get culture, that's inevitable. Whether it's a good one or a bad one is up to you. So one of the questions that we will ask when people come to us and say, we want a good culture is, what's your culture like now? And if it's undesirable, how do you know that? And sometimes they'll start grasping at straws at the onset. Just, you know, I'm not quite sure. We just have this feeling. And then they'll point to some symptoms. They'll say, well, it's really quiet. We get a lot of silence. There's not a lot of activity that way, not a lot of conversation. We get some niceness, but it seems fake. It seems superficial. The performance of the organization is bad. We are slow. We're not as fast as we would like to be. There's some fear. They often don't say all of these things at once, but they usually point to one or two of these as one of the symptoms that has led them to believe that they have a culture that's underperforming, is not as healthy as it could be.

0:04:25.9 Tim: And if it's really bad junior, right, then they can point to the dysfunction and the toxicity. And that's pretty obvious.

0:04:34.7 Junior: Yeah. And sometimes they'll point to quantifiable metrics. They'll talk about their, even their customer turn all the way down to the customer level. They're like, wow, we think that that's symptomatic of part of our culture or they'll talk about employee turnover. That's right. They'll talk about those types of metrics that are again, indicators, they're symptoms of the problem that lies beneath. And the problem that lies beneath is what we try to unpack. That's what we try to uncover. And it's mysterious. So talking about defining terms, people come to us and say, we have an unhealthy culture and we will often ask back, what do you think culture is in your opinion? Tell us what culture is. And they will start to say any number of things because admittedly culture is somewhat amorphous. Sometimes it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is, but this is who we are and this is what we do. We spent some time in this area. Tim is an organizational anthropologist and doing work in this area for a very long time. So Tim, you could give us an academic definition, couldn't you? Well, I could, but let's just frame it up a little bit in a very simple way.

0:05:47.7 Junior: Let's distinguish between what we call visible and invisible culture. So there's the first distinction. Okay. So things that you can see, things that you can't see. On the visible side, let's make one more distinction between on the visible side, visible culture, we can divide that into material culture and behavioral culture. So the material culture would be the artifacts around you, the physical things, the bricks and mortar, the office environment, all of the things that we work with and live with every day, the clothes on our backs. That's material culture and it's filled with artifacts and the things that we need to survive. Then there's the behavioral side of material culture and that consists of obviously behavior. Behavioral patterns, behavioral patterns at the individual level, behavioral patterns that come up to the interpersonal level and we'll talk a little bit more about that. So that's the visible side. How about the invisible side? The invisible side of culture is very interesting because you can't see it, but we know it's there. So what is in there? What's in that box of invisible culture? Values, assumptions, beliefs, attitudes. Those things are not visible to the eye, but we know they're there and we know that they are the antecedents of the behavioral culture.

0:07:18.9 Junior: So there's a couple of distinctions to kind of help us get started, Junior, that might be helpful. Let's take all of that. That's still a lot and so why don't we ring that out and come up with a very focused definition of culture and that's what we've done. So the working definition of culture that we use with organizations around the world is four words. The way we interact. Think about that. It's the way we interact. Now some people might say, well, hang on, you just talked about visible versus invisible culture and then you further distinguish visible culture between material and behavioral culture and you're telling us now that it's the way we interact? Yes, because all of the other stuff that matters, all of the values and the assumptions and the customs and the traditions and the mores and all of those elements, they are manifest in the way we interact at the human interface. When humans get together and they start interacting, all those things come out. So what really matters in all of this is the way we interact. And so that's our working definition and so if we want to change culture, we come back to that working definition.

0:08:35.5 Tim: We're going to talk about changing what? We're going to talk about changing the way we interact. That's what we're talking about. So this gives us a focus. It concentrates our understanding and it helps us know what we're going to do and what we're going to focus on.

0:08:55.0 Junior: And inherent in that definition lies the assumption that there's this spectrum of the quality of interaction. We've spoken about this before and it ranges from healthy to unhealthy to productive and antagonistic or unproductive or toxic. So that's a very important thing to understand because it's the crux of the issue is that those interactions build the culture. We're going to be talking about culture, where it comes from, all of the roots, all of the things that build up to culture because culture is not an input. Culture is an outcome. So what do we need to do if we want to affect the outcome? The right side of the equal sign in the equation, we need to figure out what comes before the equal sign that we can manipulate. What are the levers that we can pull? Many organizations in their attempts to create great culture pull a multitude of levers and they start looking at different skills as an example to affect the culture. We need better accountability or we're not agile. So let's become more agile and that will bleed into culture. We need more inclusion. We need more diversity. We need whatever it is. And they'll train and they'll train and they'll send communications and they'll do these things, some of which we'll talk about today.

0:10:25.5 Junior: And their efforts usually aren't very fruitful and they'll come back and take a look at that culture and they haven't moved the needle very much. And so it's important to understand that those things have their place, but those are not the root of the cultural outcome. They're things that we need inside organizations. We need to build up those skill areas, but organizations that try to affect culture by going exclusively in that direction will almost always come up short.

0:10:55.2 Junior: So let's go back, Junior. Let's talk about the nature of this. So you said that the quality of interaction is so important and it goes back to our definition. If culture is the way we interact, then the quality of the interaction becomes a regulator. It becomes a release valve in doing the two things that we do in organizations, which is we do execution and we do innovation. We create value today and we create value tomorrow. So if you work backwards from those two activities, it goes back to the quality of the interaction as the regulator, as the release valve for doing those two things. Now let's go back to looking at culture just a little bit more. We do shape culture. And so in this case, culture becomes the dependent variable and we're able to shape it, but then it in turn shapes us and it becomes the independent variable. So that's so interesting because culture has reciprocal influence. That's what we call it in research. It's both a cause and an effect. It's both an independent and a dependent variable. Isn't that fascinating? But what we know is that we can purposely and intentionally design it.

0:12:09.8 Tim: We can design the kind of culture we want and we can get the kind of culture we want. But it's difficult if your working definition of culture is so broad and amorphous, you don't know where to start. You don't know what to do. You don't know how to proceed on your journey. That's where we find a lot of organizations.

0:12:33.8 Junior: And I suppose to my previous point, it's really the equation only works that way if culture lives on the right side of the equal sign, if you're starting from zero and you almost never are. That's an interesting point because where does culture exist? This is something that is probably not looked at as much as it should be. We're not talking exclusively about organizational culture, although that is the focus. Culture exists anywhere there are humans. You put two humans together and they interact, a culture emerges. So the principles that we're talking about today are applicable to a wide variety of social collectives, any social collective. The culture of those social collectives is dictated by the same mechanism.

0:13:22.4 Junior: So here's a preliminary exercise that you can do. Anyone can do, listeners out there and Junior, this is based on what you just said. Get a piece of paper out or you may be on a device, that's fine. Draw a line down the middle, vertical line, separates the left hand column from the right hand column. And at the top right, culture equals the way we interact. Chances are that wherever you are, whatever setting, if there is a social setting, then there is by definition, a legacy culture. It already exists. And so what you can do in this exercise is say, let's analyze the legacy culture and what is culture, the way we interact. We're going to use that working definition. And then on the left side, identify the assets of that legacy culture. What do you like about it? What's good about it? What do you want to keep? What do you want to take into the future? And then on the other side, on the right side, identify the liabilities. What's getting in the way in the culture in terms of the way we interact, right? We're focused with that definition. We have that working definition.

0:14:32.9 Tim: That is an incredibly powerful and yet simple exercise to get you started. So you create a cultural ledger of cultural assets and liabilities based on the legacy culture that you're beginning with right now.

0:14:49.5 Junior: I love that idea. It reminds me of Marie Kondo's book about cleaning your house. What sparks joy about your culture? If it doesn't spark joy, throw it out like the old t-shirt that you got rid of five years ago.

0:15:00.8 Tim: Yeah. What do you want to take into your future? Do you want to take this into your future or not? It's the same analysis. But isn't this interesting because when Kondo does that, what does she address is material culture. Her entire discipline is about addressing material culture. Well, we do the same thing, but we address the behavioral culture and the invisible part of the behavioral culture as well. But isn't that fascinating the corollary?

0:15:30.9 Junior: I really like that perspective. What do you want to take into your future? Because there's something there already. Chances are you've got that legacy culture. Very, very cool. So let's talk for a second about one of the failure patterns that we see in some organizations, which is they attempt to affect culture at the very, very top as if the culture of the organization is a single entity to be influenced. That's something that I've seen recently that obviously has shown up as a pattern over time, but it's become more pronounced for me, probably just based on a few interactions that I've had recently. But you'll have organizations that look at culture as an organizational asset that's singular, that doesn't have sub components, that's not built up of parts, but rather is a single thing. And that's very dangerous because if you try to affect culture at the highest level possible as a single entity and you try to improve it holistically, it's almost impossible. And so it sparks the conversation where does culture really live? Where does culture become healthy? Where does it become unhealthy? And it's not something that's done at the highest level as a single thing that we're trying to move.

0:17:00.6 Junior: It breaks down into sub components all the way down to these micro cultures. So let's talk about that for a moment. The difference between that macro level organizational culture all the way down to the micro.

0:17:16.2 Junior: That's the anatomy of culture. Now at the highest level, we can sit down and we can say this is what we want in our culture and we can identify goals and objectives. And at the top of the organization, that's part of your responsibility. And in fact, you are the chief cultural architects at the top of the organization. So you should do that. But the way that we actually engineer a cultural change or reformation or transformation, it actually happens lower down in the organization. So if we look at the anatomy, as you said, Junior, we have the macro culture at the institutional level. And if we ask you, could you tell us what your culture is like institutionally, you could probably give us three or four patterns that you see. And that would be true. These are patterns that permeate the entire organization, but then you drop down to a subculture and the subculture could exist at the level of a division, a functional unit, a geography, a line of business, something like that. And the subculture will share some of those institutional attributes that cut across the entire organization, but it will have some of its own characteristics and attributes.

0:18:32.1 Junior: Then you keep going down and you may have another layer, who knows, but you've got to go all the way down to the team level before you encounter the fundamental unit of culture, which at the team level we call the micro culture. The micro culture is the indivisible most basic unit of culture. And it's the most important because the micro culture at a team level has the biggest impact on the behavior and the performance of the individual. So if you think about the anatomy of culture, if you want to change it, you have to go down to the team level, to the micro culture, and you have to change it there. Now, as I said, you can figure out what you want at a higher level. Where do we want to go? Where's the current state? What is the future state? How do we get there? What's the journey? Fine. But where do you actually do it? You do it at that team level, at the micro culture level. If you don't think that's true, we can show you data that will blow your mind. We can take one organization, just junior, right? We could take like a hundred teams from one of our client organizations.

0:19:47.0 Tim: We can show you the results of our survey instrument, and we can show you unbelievable variants from team to team to team, proving the reality of the micro culture. It's incredible. When you look at it, isn't it amazing to look at those data?

0:20:07.4 Junior: Yeah. The spread inside some organizations is massive. It would blow your mind. And so part of the reason I bring this up is because at the top of the organization, we're usually using that singular term culture as it applies to the organization in its entirety. It's important to introduce more specificity when we're talking about the health of our culture and go down to that next layer and the layer after that, because subcultures exist inside. Even if you're a massive multinational, we'll see this. They'll come and say, we have an unhealthy culture, just as a blanket statement. Okay, what does that mean? And I'm sure that the cultural health isn't the same across the organization. We know it's almost inevitably not. So let's talk for a moment about the subcultures and we'll start to poke a little bit and prod, try and get some of that information. Tell us about the way that you're organized. Let's talk about different geographies. Let's talk about different divisions or business units. And pretty soon it'll emerge that, oh yeah, this part of the organization, fantastic, doing phenomenally well. I think it's very healthy. This pocket over here, however, it might be a different unit or geography.

0:21:24.0 Junior: Yeah, they're really, really struggling. It is dangerous to group those two units together and talk about them as if they are the same thing and as if they share the same culture. They're influenced in part by that macro level designed culture that we need to do and we need to inform. So there's that top layer, right Junior?

0:21:45.7 Tim: There's that top layer that maybe we share to a certain extent.

0:21:49.6 Junior: Exactly. The point being, if you use the same exact inputs for both of those units that are at drastically different places in their journey, it's unlikely to be as effective as it would be if you had a little bit more specificity. Now we can't go to every single team in the organization and come up with the perfect path forward, but it does warrant breaking down a little bit more into some of those subcultures and attacking them potentially separately or with different angles, especially cross culturally. That's also something that we've seen is different parts of the world view different types of patterns and interactions differently than other parts of the world, other parts of the organization. And just acknowledging that and understanding that upfront, I think is an advantage. The greater specificity we have, even in the language we use, the better chance we have of affecting the right pieces of the organization the right way. So Junior, let's just make one more comment about measuring culture. If you measure culture at the institutional level and you aggregate the data, right? So for example, let's say we're using our four stages of psychological safety survey and you do it at the institutional level, you don't have actionable data.

0:23:10.1 Tim: Your data only becomes actionable when you go down to the team level. So what does the data look like when you roll it up? Bell curve. What are you going to do? It's not actionable. You have just taken away the actionability of the data because you've removed the variance. It's not actionable anymore. So it's not any good throw it out.

0:23:30.1 Junior: So you've got to collect it at the team level and then you have actionable data. The variance comes into very sharp relief and you can get to work. Part of the reason that we do that in the measurement is for line of sight between your inputs and the cultural outcomes. This is particularly true in leadership positions. If you're just looking at the bell curve, it's being presented to you. This is the data for the organization. You can very easily disassociate yourself from those results and say, I don't affect that average. You know, I'm over here on the right side of the curve. Yeah, I'm an outlier.

0:24:08.1 Tim: I'm two standard deviations from the mean on the good side.

0:24:11.2 Junior: On the good side. That's right.

0:24:12.9 Tim: I'm a pocket of high performance. I'm not a pocket of toxicity.

0:24:17.7 Junior: Exactly. That's borne out in the survey methodology and the approach that we take with organizations is we will always measure at the level of the intact team. And so there are some aggregate data and things of that nature that are important. We can spot patterns and things like that. But to keep it most actionable, it's necessary that we measure at the level of the team. So let's break this down even farther. We've talked about culture as having different levels, macro sub micro. Now let's open up culture inside of each of those areas. And you can think about this like concentric circles. So picture this in your mind's eye. The outermost circle we have culture. We have the outcome. And you can think about this in the context of the organization, the department or the team. Inside that next layer, another circle, we have norms. What's a norm? Tim, how would you explain that?

0:25:20.0 Tim: A norm is a shared behavior.

0:25:23.8 Junior: So more volume. It's a shared behavior in a social unit, in an organization, on a team. We share it. We do it. We model it together. There's a pattern. So cultures are built of norms. Inside norms, we have another circle. We have behaviors. The behaviors, as Tim said, in aggregate, once they're patternized and once they're aggregated, they affect the norms. But those norms are broken out into individual behaviors. Then we have one final circle inside behaviors because there are an array of behaviors that can turn into norms. But we have this fundamental mechanism that lies inside that circle. And that's the crux of the issue and the answer to the question at the beginning. Where does great culture start? Starts here. Can you guess what's inside that innermost circle? What is the fundamental unit of culture? What's the basic mechanism that affects everything else outside? It's modeling and rewarding vulnerability. That is the behavior inside the innermost circle. That's the function. That's the mechanism that affects everything outside of it. It affects the other behaviors we engage in, which in turn affect the norms of the organization, which in turn affect its culture. And all of this can live, again, at the level of the organization, the subculture, the microculture of a team.

0:27:00.2 Junior: All it takes is two people for this to apply all of these circles. So Tim, why is that the fundamental mechanism? Any thoughts on this?

0:27:11.7 Junior: Well, culture only exists when there is more than one human. Culture refers to the way we interact. So it's based on interaction, not a person just all alone. And so when those humans interact, they're engaging in a vulnerable activity. Human interaction by definition is a vulnerable activity. And so the question becomes, as we interact and we engage in this vulnerable activity, are we going to reward or punish each other's vulnerable behavior? That's always a question and it never goes away. And so if you can establish a pattern of rewarding vulnerability, you reward my vulnerability, I will reward your vulnerability, then that becomes the central mechanism for creating a healthy, strong, vibrant culture. That is the mechanism. So it begins with behavior, but more specifically with the behavior of, first of all, modeling vulnerability and then rewarding vulnerability. If you don't do those two things, it's impossible to have a strong, healthy culture. You can't do it. Nor can you really perform or do the things that you need to do. Because if you can't model and reward vulnerability, think about the implications, think about the consequences. You can't be yourself. It's expensive. So you can't be yourself.

0:28:40.7 Tim: You can't learn and grow the way you want to. You can't contribute at capacity according to your potential, nor can you make things better and innovate. You can't do any of those things unless you are modeling and rewarding vulnerability.

0:28:56.3 Junior: I'd like to make the connection here between culture and psychological safety. Because you've probably caught some of the undercurrents already in this conversation, relating them back to conversations we've had previously more on the nose of psychological safety. Remember our definition of psychological safety, a culture of rewarded vulnerability. So if culture at the heart is this mechanism of modeling and rewarding vulnerability, and psychological safety is also affected by this same mechanism, you see that culture and psychological safety are so tightly knit, they're almost synonymous. But culture is an outcome, it's health at least of that mechanism and psychological safety. So if you want a healthy culture, we need high psychological safety, which is an environment or culture of rewarded vulnerability. So that ties very interesting to me. And if you walk through the logic this way, it becomes undeniable that it's at the level of interaction, there's vulnerability, we have the choice to reward or punish that. And that's what it's built on every single day is whether or not those interactions, those vulnerable acts are rewarded or punished. You start there. So where does great culture start? It starts when your teammate asks a question that's a vulnerable question.

0:30:35.3 Junior: And you say, fantastic question, thanks for asking, instead of don't ask that ever again. That's the fundamental mechanism. And you do those types of things enough times. And you have a healthy or an unhealthy culture depending on how you responded to that act of vulnerability. And then it's done in aggregate. And you ask a question in our organization more often than not as vulnerability, rewarded or punished. There's your culture. And Junior, as we've talked about before, we have cataloged numerous acts of vulnerability, numerous in our ladder of vulnerability. And it's very clear that you simply cannot even have productive human interaction if you're not engaging in those acts of vulnerability. It's not possible.

0:31:22.1 Tim: That's right. And that's how fundamental it is. So psychological safety is, it is a form of culture that you can choose to have based on that central mechanism that we talked about of modeling and rewarding vulnerability. It all comes down to that. Now, what's interesting is you may ask the question, well, isn't there another way? Isn't there an alternative route? There's got to be some options here. What are the other options? Is there some other shortcut or work around or backdoor or alternative? And we're here to tell you there isn't, there's no other way because human interaction is a vulnerable activity and we can't interact unless we are engaging in a vulnerable activity. So it really comes back to, are you going to reward that or punish that? There's no other way. So if you go back down all the way, right, we're doing root cause analysis and we're going all the way down to the ground to understand where we change culture. This is where we have hit bedrock. We have come to the irreducible minimum. This is the mechanism where we reform or transform culture. We have to go all the way down to this behavioral level and look at that mechanism.

0:32:56.0 Junior: If you were to look at culture and the outcome of culture through first principles, and if you were to say that there is another way, one of the things that you would have to disprove at the layer of bedrock is that human interaction is not a vulnerable activity. That would have to be true.

0:33:17.1 Tim: That would have to be true. That would have to be the premise.

0:33:19.6 Junior: Exactly. That would be the premise of the argument. And for me, that would be a very difficult argument to make. That's why I love this line of thinking, breaking it all the way down. And this can be just a light bulb for organizations and individuals to think about culture. And I would encourage everyone to think about their own organizations and the cultures of which they're a part, because it's not just professional culture, but the cultures that are around you. Think about them in terms of rewarded or punished vulnerability and ask yourself, what's the ratio in this particular social collective, this particular culture? Could be a family, could be a group of friends, could be any sort of population. And pretty quickly, you'll find those patterns. The organizations that you would likely call healthy are probably going to be the ones that you feel have the highest ratio of rewarded to punished vulnerability. And the opposite is also true. Those cultures of which you're a part that you would call unhealthy are almost inevitably the ones that punish vulnerability more often than not. And that's also something that you can use to test this assumption. If there's high correlation between those two things, the cultures you would call healthy and how they treat vulnerability, you'll see the pattern.

0:34:50.5 Junior: It will become unmistakable to you.

0:34:52.9 Junior: So, Junior, let's give everybody an exercise on this. This is a day in the life exercise. And what you do is you document your day. You go through a day and you document your day as you move from social situation to social situation. And to Junior's point, you ask yourself, in every social situation that you go into during that day, you ask yourself what the ratio is of rewarded to punished vulnerability and you put it down as a percentage. So for example, you may wake up in the morning and you're with your family and you have breakfast, you get out of bed, you shower, you get dressed, you have breakfast, you interact with your family and you say, wow, this was pretty good. This was 90%, 90% rewarded vulnerability. And then you go to work and you have your first meeting. And this first meeting is a cross-functional meeting. This is not an intact team meeting. You're meeting with people from other parts of the organization. And it's a hybrid meeting. Some people are face-to-face, some people are virtual and you participate in this meeting and you're watching and you're listening and you're observing very carefully to see acts of vulnerability and then what happens next.

0:36:08.1 Junior: Acts of vulnerability and then what happens next. What's going on? And then you come to a conclusion, you come out of that meeting after an hour and you say, oh, I'm going to give that one like a 40%. So it's a 40-60 ratio. 40% of the time it was rewarded vulnerability, but 60% of the time it was punished vulnerability. So then you go back to your office and maybe you have a couple of calls and you talk to people. If you have a one-on-one interaction, that counts. That counts. That is human interaction. And so what is the nature of that interaction with that individual? You have your first call and you feel the chemistry, you feel the momentum, you're in flow. You are engaged in some pretty amazing critical thinking and divergent thinking with your colleague. And you come away from the call and you say, man, that was actually a little bit invigorating and exhilarating. It was only a 15-minute call. I'm going to give that a 95. I mean, that was incredible. Then you go into another call with another stakeholder and it's the opposite. It's like the polar opposite experience where the person is rude, the person is abrasive, the person doesn't let you speak, the person interrupts you, the person is giving you non-verbal cues that aren't very nice, all kinds of things.

0:37:35.1 Tim: The person doesn't know how or is choosing not to interact in a very productive way. And so your acts of vulnerability are consistently punished and you come away and you say, oh, I'm going to give that a 10. And then you keep going and you document your day. After work, where do you go? Maybe you go to the gym. I don't know. Maybe you go out to eat. Maybe you go to a kid's ball game. But you document every social situation during that day until the day is finished and you go to bed. You have a day in the life and you sit back and you look at your ratios from the day and you'll see variance. And it will be so amazing and so intriguing. Well, what is it that allows you to measure each of those situations? It goes back to the mechanism of rewarded versus punished vulnerability. Everything hangs on that simple mechanism. So I just throw that out there to you as an opportunity to assess and become familiar and sensitize yourself at a higher level to this mechanism.

0:38:49.0 Junior: I appreciate that invitation. I've done this before. It's very effective. And what you'll probably also find is that if you had a line graph for your day and it was measuring satisfaction and meaning, it would be tightly correlated to the outcomes of punished and rewarded vulnerability that you also document. So you'll find that you are most engaged, you're most satisfied, you're giving the most discretionary effort in those interactions and meetings and engagements where psychological safety is high because of that rewarded vulnerability. It's an interesting way to look at your organization as well. Why are people exiting your organization? Why are you bleeding out your top talent? Because if they were to do a day in the life and document, the majority of interactions they have inside your organization show punished vulnerability. That happens over a long enough time period. They will leave and not just anyone in your organization, your highest performers, because they can leave. They can find other opportunities inside cultures that are healthier, that would have a different line graph at the end of the day if they plotted the lines across the interactions and looked at rewarded vulnerability. So again, that is the central mechanism.

0:40:13.6 Tim: So Junior, we could say it this way. People may not be using the language and they may not understand and may not be able to articulate the mechanism of psychological safety. But when they go to interview into organizations today, they're going to say, hey, tell me about your culture. What's it like to work there? What's the environment? What's the vibe? How do you do what you do? That's the shorthand way of saying, what is the ratio of rewarded to punish vulnerability? They're not going to say it in those words, but essentially that's what they're getting at.

0:40:56.2 Junior: That's a good point. I would like to make a follow-up invitation for another type of inventory, which is equally powerful, which is to document the interactions that involve you personally and look at all of your behaviors throughout a given day across any sort of interaction and document the acts of vulnerability that happened in front of you. If it's a one-on-one interaction, it's the person in front of you that you're engaging with. And did you punish and did you reward?

0:41:30.1 Junior: This is where it gets close to home, right Junior? This is where it gets close to home. And this is where we start to talk about the solution to this dilemma of culture. If you want to affect culture as a leader, this would be one of our invitations to you is to do this exercise because you're on the receiving end of those acts of vulnerability constantly. People are asking you questions. They're asserting themselves. They're putting themselves out there. And some of these could be very subtle, which is why it's important to do this exercise to sensitize yourself to be able to identify where the vulnerability lies because it's happening all around you. And if you say that it's not, just try this. Every one of us, we each have our own ratio at a personal level. The number of times that we're rewarding the vulnerability in front of us to the times that we're punishing it. And sometimes it's not overt. More often than not, it's not overt in either case. It's subtle. It could be just to the right of positive, could be just to the left of negative. And a lot of those interactions fall in the center line, but they're not neutral.

0:42:41.7 Junior: The assumption is that no interaction is neutral, that there's some level of reward or some level of punishment. And if you're honest with yourself and you sit down after those interactions and say, what were the acts of vulnerability in front of me? And what did I do about them? That if you can do that honestly over a long enough timeline, you will become an absolute force for culture and your ability to influence other people will go through the roof. This is probably the one thing, and that's a big statement, but it's probably the one thing that I would recommend that leaders do because it affects everything. It affects every interaction you have with any human. You're checking out at the grocery store, the interaction that you have with the cashier is dictated by this same mechanism. If you have a romantic partner, if you have a friend, if you have a family member, if you have a colleague, if you have a supervisor, a director report, every single one of those relationships is dictated by the same mechanism. And the health of that relationship in large measure is affected by the same thing.

0:43:55.3 Tim: And Junior, when someone starts to do this and look through that lens and take personal inventory that way and maybe document a day, their powers of observation and their level of self-awareness go to a different order of magnitude. So if you want to increase self-awareness, do this exercise because what you're doing is you're paying attention real time to the way that you are responding to the acts of vulnerability from other people. And if you can pay attention, if you can develop that metacognition and pay attention in the moment to what you're doing as you respond both verbally and non-verbally to other people, as you go through your string of interactions during the day, you won't be the same. You won't be the same person. Because as you said, that sensitization begins to happen. So the sensibility, the sensitivity, the awareness climb to a new level and you become so much more effective in human interactions. It's amazing.

0:45:05.9 Junior: I would also add to kind of close up this point that maybe your self-awareness isn't 100%. Actually, it's not. It might be close. And for some of us, it may be farther away from 100%. But you need feedback from others. So another thing that you can do is ask others, ask a trusted advisor or a peer after an interaction that they were a part of too. Hey, quick question for you. How do you think I was perceived in that meeting? How do you feel like I showed up in that meeting? And see what they have to say. Hopefully, you have some people from whom you can get some honest, unvarnished feedback that will help you on your journey is to solicit some third party feedback. Because there are other pairs of eyes that are seeing things that you are not. And sometimes you get so caught up in whatever it is in front of you, I'm guilty of this too, that you lose that awareness, you put the blinders on and you're just working on the task, you're trying to solve the problem. And maybe many of us find ourselves in that situation. And it's an opportunity to get some feedback from other people.

0:46:18.7 Junior: And I think that that's an important thing to incorporate because we're never going to be completely objective and pragmatic about the way that we see ourselves and our own development. That willingness has to be there. And that self-awareness has to be there. And we can develop that.

0:46:33.8 Junior: And to your point, Junior, I think what the operating assumption has to be that we all have blind spots. We all have both conscious and unconscious biases. Now bias is just a preference, right? It's a cognitive shortcut by which we make sense of the world. A bias is a preference. Some biases are very good. For example, I like Korean barbecue. I have a really strong bias for Korean barbecue and kimchi. Others don't share that bias, but that's not a bad bias. That's a good bias. But there are negative biases that are destructive. And not only are they destructive, they're actually false. They're not based on truth or reality. So we all have blind spots. The last thing we need is an echo chamber. There's a built-in confirmation bias within us where we struggle against disconfirming evidence. We don't want to hear what we don't like to hear. And we want to be right because being right feels good. But this is where humility comes in. And we have to realize that two things are true. First of all, we don't know everything and we need help. So we do live life with some degree of ignorance.

0:47:56.9 Tim: And we do live life with actually a pretty high degree of dependency. And so if we know that, then there's an unresented willingness to listen to that feedback more than before. But it takes practice and it's not easy. It's not always easy, but the rewards are great. So that's the solution is to reward vulnerability inside that circle of behaviors that affects the norms, that affects the culture. The last topic that I think is worth talking about is how long should this take and what's realistic about cultural transformation? Some organizations will come to us and say, we'd like to transform our organization. And we'll say, what's your timeline? And they'll say Tuesday. And we'll say, okay, let's take a step back.

0:48:54.6 Junior: You're half right. And the reason that this is funny and that we're chuckling is because two things are true. It takes time and longitudinal data for those norms to really gain hold and to permeate the organization and to become more solid. At the same time, you can accelerate and make change very quickly. So on the one hand, changing a legacy culture, it depends at the level at which you do this is like turning an ocean liner. You can turn that rudder, but it's going to take a second for that to turn. And you're going to turn in degrees, one, two, three, four degrees at a time. And it might take some distance and some time for you to get headed in the direction that you'd like to go. But that can be discouraging news. And so the great thing about this is that there are accelerators. There are things that we can change in the moment, day to day, that will give us a boost, that will give us leverage, that will get us moving in the right direction faster. So tell us a little bit more about that, Tim. We have this dichotomy in front of us, this paradox.

0:50:18.9 Junior: It's pretty interesting.

0:50:20.4 Junior: Yeah, it is. And the distinction is, so first of all, let's go back to changing culture. Changing culture means that we're going to go down to the behavioral level and we're going to change patterns of shared behavior, which we call norms. That's where we change culture. Now, how fast does it take to change culture? It takes 24 hours. Now, I'm half joking, but the other half is I'm not joking at all. So I want to give you an example. I'm going to tell you a personal story. When I was in college and playing college football, we had an old weight room and it had been used for many years. The norm was that you would finish practice, you'd be outside on the practice field and you'd come into the weight room. You wouldn't take your cleats off. You just take your shoulder pads off. You'd leave your shoulder pads and your helmet on the ground and you just go in, in all of your sweaty clothes and with your dirty cleats. It didn't matter. You'd go in and you do your weightlifting and then you'd go shower, go into the locker room and go shower. That was the routine and that was the norm.

0:51:43.5 Junior: It was a shared norm. But here's what happened. This is an unbelievable case study. They built a new weight room, took them a while and then the day finally came where they commissioned the new weight room. They opened it up for business and so we finished practice one day. I'll never forget this. They told us before practice this was the day we were going to be able to use the new facility. We were very excited about that. We finished our practice and we went over to the new weight room and we carried our old norm with us until we got to the door. The strength and conditioning coach met us at the door. He guarded the door and he said, where are you going? We said, well, coach, we're coming in to lift weights the way that we always do. He said, you're not going anywhere. Look at what you're wearing. You got your cleats on, you've got your dirty practice gear on. No one comes in here unless you got to go change your clothes, you've got to have clean shoes, you've got to have official university issue clothing. You can't have any, all of this other stuff that you guys wear.

0:53:00.4 Junior: None of that. Well, how do you think people reacted? Oh, it was an uproar. Initially there was wailing and gnashing of teeth. It was terrible. It was amazing. It was like a mutiny. But the strength and conditioning coach, he held his ground. He said, you're not going anywhere. Go change and then you can come in and use the facility. So we all did and we weren't happy about it. But how fast did the norm change, Junior? The norm changed in the course of a few minutes. But was the norm consolidated? Was it rooted into the thinking and the psyche and the values and the attitudes of the players? No, not yet. But the behavioral norm had changed on the surface. So the visible culture had changed. The invisible culture was still the same. It took about a week to consolidate the norm, to get it to calcify. Right. But it happened. So the reason I say 24 hours or less is because you can actually change a behavioral norm very quickly if the modeling is there, the support is there and the accountability is there. But that's only the first part of the job. You have to then go consolidate that norm or collection of norms.

0:54:29.9 Tim: So I hope that gives people hope and understanding that you can accelerate cultural transformation. You can do it very, very quickly at the front end to change the norms. But the back end is going to take time. It's got to be rooted into the invisible culture, the attitudes, beliefs, values, and assumptions of people. That takes a little longer. So isn't it interesting though that you start with behavior. You behave until you believe. The behavior has to come first. The behavior, the new norm is the lead indicator of cultural change. The belief is the lag indicator of cultural change. But that's how we do it.

0:55:17.5 Junior: Tell me if I'm wrong, Tim, but it would seem that if they're clamoring for the old norm at the beginning, you know, we want to bring our cleats in, we want to wear all this other stuff. After a week or two, they probably said, this is kind of nice. It's clean in here. It's orderly. Now there's a tendency, Junior, there's a tendency, even after we consolidated the new norm, there's still a tendency to regress to the mean, to backslide, to snap back, to revert to the old pattern.

0:55:52.5 Tim: So the accountability has to be there until the accountability becomes peer-based accountability, until we hold each other accountable. Once it gets to that point, now we have a new status quo and we preserve that status quo through peer-based accountability, not hierarchy-based accountability, although you will still need that from time to time to ensure the norm. But that's the journey.

0:56:24.3 Junior: I wanted to click on that piece because one of the things that changed in your example is the tolerance. So the strength and conditioning coach no longer tolerated the old behavior. One of the things that we find in organizational culture is that you get what you tolerate and that's true almost everywhere. And so if there's tolerance for the dirty cleats one day of the week, that will change the norm. And so that accountability needs to be there and the tolerance must not change. The following day, that tolerance needs to be exactly the same. You are not setting foot in this weight room until these requirements are met. I really like that piece.

0:57:10.7 Tim: Yeah, that's right. If you make an exception, you destroy your efforts to establish the new norm. What you condone, what you tolerate becomes the norm again. And so you're going to have a regression to the mean very, very quickly. So we all need to understand that. You've got to uphold that. You've got to be very consistent in holding people accountable to that.

0:57:35.7 Junior: One of the last things that I want to talk about before we wrap up is that there are certain events or things inside organizations and at the macro level, at the world level sometimes that can liquefy the status quo, as we like to say, and put us into a fluid state where this culture that we're talking about becomes easier to change. The reason I point this out is because we're coming out of one of those liquid moments of the pandemic. And it seems that we may be on the cusp of another liquid moment. Let's just call it that because we don't know what to call it yet.

0:58:16.0 Tim: Yeah, that we don't know where we're going.

0:58:17.7 Junior: We don't. And we're not sure where we're headed, but it does seem that many organizations have been knocked out of equilibrium. That seems fair enough.

0:58:26.4 Tim: Junior, even in just the last couple of weeks. Exactly. There's more uncertainty. There's more anxiety. There's more turmoil. There's more angst about where we're headed. Yeah.

0:58:37.3 Junior: When that type of uncertainty exists in organizations and they've been jostled by the environment, there's a unique opportunity for us to reestablish certain norms, get rid of old ones, and as we said in the beginning, take a certain set of things into our future that we choose and leave some things that are outdated, old and undesirable behind. So just a quick note on that. Take a look at your organization. Take a look at your team. If you've been jostled, we use that word, then there may be an opportunity for you to expedite this process of shoring up your culture or transforming it if it's really in need of repair. That's a unique opportunity that we don't get all the time. But if it's there, we would encourage you to take advantage of that.

0:59:29.5 Tim: And just to support what you've said, sometimes the environment is our friend in that it has a very disruptive impact. And as you say, it liquefies the status quo. Cultures on their own, cultures fossilize. They get hard. They calcify. The status quo becomes extremely entrenched over time. We get very grooved in our thinking and our patterns of behavior. And so if the environment is helping you by disrupting that status quo and liquefying it, then take advantage, as you said, take advantage of that opportunity, exploit that opportunity because if you didn't have the help of a turbulent environment, dislocation in the environment, the unforgiving nature of the environment, whatever it is, well, take advantage of it. Because if you didn't have that, you'd have to do the whole job yourself. You'd have to go figure out how you are going to change a fossilized culture, which is an incredibly hard thing to do. So look at the benefits of the liquid moment that you may have in front of you. So let's go ahead and summarize and wrap up today.

1:00:49.0 Junior: We've been talking about where great culture starts. People ask that question, where should I begin if I want to change my culture? If it's unhealthy, I'm seeing silence, I'm seeing some fear. It may be outright toxic. You can change it. There are certain things that you can do that will be futile that we've seen over and over again. There's one thing you can do that will work every time. If you want to change culture, change behavior. That's where the mechanism lies is inside of the behavior of everyone in that organization. And the mechanism is rewarding vulnerability. When we're met with an act of vulnerability, we should reward it. If it's productive, reward it and you'll find that your culture will change. We talked a little bit about taking inventory, looking at our days, looking at the environments and the ratios of rewarded to punished vulnerability, both those that we experience as participant and those that we experience as the producer of the experience. We want to make sure that we're monitoring our own behavior, that we're increasing our self-awareness and that we're changing that ratio. We're trying to peg it all the way out to 10 out of 10 times we're responding the appropriate way.

1:02:06.0 Junior: Now, the fun thing about that is we are not going to be 10 out of 10 every single day. Sometimes we'll be nine and sometimes we might be three, but we want to push that ratio up as high as possible. And that is something that we will do in an ideal world every day for the rest of our lives. It is certainly a big task, but it's something that we can strive for. And that is what will change our culture. Great culture takes time, but it's something that we can accelerate by changing some of those norms, even in a 24 hour period. So there are a couple of resources that we want to point out to you. And then Tim, I'll give you a second to say anything else that you'd like. We have the ladder of vulnerability ebook. That's a long list. Tim alluded to it in the middle of the podcast, a long list of behaviors of vulnerable behaviors, what we call acts of vulnerability. We would recommend that you download that it's for free on the site. We'll link to it in the show notes. Take a look at that. That will help you identify the acts of vulnerability around you.

1:03:13.4 Junior: And also call out the behavioral guide, because that will talk also about modeling vulnerability and some of the things that we can do. It's one of our most popular resources. So that's available on the site. We'll link to it in the show notes. So Tim, any last thoughts?

1:03:29.7 Tim: Well, I would just come back to our definition, our working definition of culture that we began our conversation with Junior, which is the way we interact. With that working definition of culture, we can make great gains in our efforts to transform cultures. So I would just bring that up again and remind everyone to focus on that. And then the mechanism Junior that you already mentioned of rewarding or modeling and then rewarding acts of vulnerability.

1:03:57.2 Junior: Tim, thank you for your time today. For all you listeners, if you found value in today's podcast, we'd invite you to share it. Share it on LinkedIn, whatever platform you'd like, tag us, tag a friend. If you think that there are people in your network that would find value from this, we would love if you shared it. That's one of the best ways to support us to enable us to continue to create this type of content. And there is a lot more where this came from. We're looking forward to the future episodes. If you haven't listened to last week's episode, we would highly recommend that as well. Go ahead and give us a like on whatever platform you are on. Subscribe. And if you have not read the book, the four stages of psychological safety, please do. We would invite you to do that. OK, with that, we will see you next episode. Thank you, everyone.

1:04:40.0 Tim: Thanks, Junior.

1:04:41.0 Producer: Hey, Culture by Design listeners, you made it to the end of today's episode. Thank you again for listening and for making culture something that you do by design and not by default. If you've enjoyed today's episode, please be so kind to leave us a review.It helps us reach a wider audience and accomplish our mission of influencing the world for good at scale. Today's episode show notes and other relevant resources related to today's topic can be found at forward slash resources. And with that, we'll see you next episode.

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