illustration of light bulb with wings

In April, members of the Verb team attended this year’s Culturati Summit, a virtual event focused on corporate culture for people leaders and their teams. This summit brought together a diverse group of leaders from every industry to discuss and address some of the most challenging issues facing our organizations. The three themes of this year’s event were: Mental Health & Wellbeing, Manager Empowerment, and Diversity and Inclusion.

Over the course of three days, we attended many insightful and inspiring sessions related to these themes. We’ve emerged with some key insights and ideas for putting these takeaways into action.

1. Crisis doesn’t create culture, it reveals culture.

The past year’s crises have brought many, already existing, societal problems to the forefront for most organizations- often revealing workplace cultures that perpetuate burnout, stigma about mental health, inequities, disconnection. 

Remote and hybrid work environments have extended work hours and drastically changed the way we communicate at work. This shift impacts employees differently depending on their gender, family structure, housing situation, etc. One Culturati speaker, Kimberly Strong, Founder of Strong Connexion, shared a story about a manager who first became aware that one of their team members was experiencing homelessness when they were asked to work remotely. There are many stories like this one that prompt us to question how authentic people really feel like they can be at work? How connected are we, really? And while video conferencing has offered a new kind of intimacy and connection via kid cameos and pets in the background – it’s not working for everyone.

The reveal? Many organizational cultures need improvements, if not overhauls, if they want their people and therefore their organization to thrive. 

Organizational culture is experienced in the everyday. The way people, especially leaders, communicate, make decisions, and behave, creates ‘culture’. Culturati’s theme, Manager Empowerment, pointed toward a key lever for changing organizational culture: managers and leaders. 

Most managers are not equipped to support the people and teams they lead in ways that enable them to thrive today. They need leadership skills like empathy, compassion, authenticity, and courage. These ‘human skills’ are now the most important ingredients for employee productivity and retention because they foster belonging, connection, and culture.

Build these skills with Verb content collections: 

  • Purpose Vision and Mission
  • Questioning Assumptions
  • Take Care of Others

2. Progress requires long-term strategies.

The problems that leaders and organizations face today do not have simple solutions. One-off webinars can be great for acknowledging issues like systemic racism and stigma related to mental health, but in order to effect real change, we need long-term strategies. 

Organizations must recognize that workplaces themselves impact employees’ sense of belonging and mental health. Similarly, both belonging and mental health impact employees’ ability to contribute to their full potential at work and outside of work. Building inclusive environments and supporting mental health and wellbeing are no longer ‘nice to haves,’ they need to be embedded into core business strategies.

Jennifer Porter from Mind Share summarized the needed shift as it relates to addressing mental health and well-being, but it can also apply to building inclusive and equitable systems: 

What’s not working is:

  • Just talking about the issues – i.e. one-off webinars
  • Delegating HR to be solely responsible for solving the problem
  • Telling employees they can and should do x, y, z without tangible support and leaders who model recommended behaviors x, y, and z

What’s working better:

  • Leaders demonstrating and modeling authenticity and vulnerability
  • Assessing organization culture and processes – changing the way we work
  • Providing managers with development and training to better support their people and teams
  • Building long-term business strategies to make progress over time by impacting systems, policies, and daily practices at all levels 

Build these skills with Verb content collections:

  • Active Listening
  • Managing Vision and Purpose
  • Strategic Planning (coming soon)

3. We must strive towards equitable re-design.

The past year has exposed many cultural issues that already existed, especially various inequities. In order to make real progress toward more inclusivity so that everyone can feel like they belong, organizations must re-design processes and strategies to be more equitable.

Aubrey Blanche, the Director of Equitable Design, Product & People at Culture Amp, led a session about design principles for equitable design. These principles included:

  • Full and informed consent: Make sure that employees who volunteer for additional responsibilities related to DEI are also afforded resources and/or fewer work responsibilities.
  • Designing for the margin: Design processes like hiring, performance reviews, etc. with members of marginalized groups in mind. Prioritize their experience first, in order to improve for all.
  • Engaging the community: Engage in co-design. Ensure that people impacted by the  design have a voice in the process.
  • Progression: Find practical ways to move equitable design forward in real, tangible ways.

Aubrey argues that one of the most practical areas of focus are teams — the unit that managers have the greatest ability to influence and impact with more equitable design. Also, “practical” is targeting processes that managers and teams engage in regularly like meetings. She shared several strategies for making 1:1 and team meetings more equitable. Here’s a few of her suggestions:

  • Send meeting agendas in advance and let people know why they’re there. People can prepare and be more likely to contribute if the value they bring is expressed explicitly.
  • Rotate meeting ‘housework’ like scribing and scheduling so the burden is shared.
  • Ask for feedback and accept that trust takes time. Example, Aubrey shared that she periodically asks her team members: “What have I done recently that made you feel included? Excluded?”

Build these skills with Verb content collections:

  • Breaking Down Bias
  • Bring Global Perspective
  • Challenge People to Help Them Grow

4. It is crucial to build connection through authenticity.

Right now, the need for connection is absolutely crucial. One aspect of connection is feeling a sense of belonging within your team and organization. Belonging has two-sides: on one side people need to show up as their unique selves, and on the flipside, people are more likely to do so if they feel it’s safe to do so – when they feel that their whole selves will be valued and respected. One of the best ways leaders can help is by showing up as their authentic selves first, paving the way for others to do the same. 

Jennifer Porter, COO & Principal of Mind Share Partners, discussed how helpful it can be for leaders to share their own stories about living with mental illness or burnout. Because social stigma about mental health is ever-present, leaders who share personal stories, and the organizations they represent, are more likely to be trusted to support employees living with similar challenges. 

Maria Yap, VP of Digital Imaging at Adobe, shared how important it was for her as a leader to spend time figuring out her unique leadership style rather than emulating others. It allowed her to leverage her own strengths and recognize different strengths in others. She emphasized that great ideas come from everyone – but not everyone feels included or like they belong – making them less like to share ideas. This is both a human problem and a business problem. Maria said that she makes a point to share openly with others when she’s struggling because she’s learned it’s a great avenue for connection and belonging. When she shares, people want to share with her – whether it be struggles or ideas.

It’s important for leaders to be the first people to talk about these important issues. And, at the same time, humility is a must. Leaders need to communicate that they don’t have all the answers. 

Build these skills with Verb content collections:

  • Create Belonging
  • Cultivate Humility
  • Storytelling

Final thoughts

Tackling the current challenges facing our workplaces means finding new ways to empower and care for our teams. It starts with strong leadership, and the bright-side is that everyone has the capacity to develop leadership skills. Leadership development focused on human skills enables leaders to communicate and behave in ways that create cultures where people feel like they belong and empowered to prioritize their wellbeing. 

At Verb, we help people leaders develop themselves and support the growth of everyone they lead. Our bite-sized content gives learners the tools they need to grow skills in the areas brought up at Culturati. 

To learn more about how Verb can help your company develop the skills needed for the workplace of today, schedule a demo.