Your Workplace is Like a Box of Chocolates…

Borrowing from Forrest Gump’s often quoted “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get came to mind when I was reading a recent HBR article targeting support for those ‘onboarding’ into new organisations. Allan Church and Jay Conger suggest some key cultural signals in their article “When You Start a New Job, Pay Attention to these 5 Aspects of Company Culture” . The five aspects are: how people collaborate and build relationships; the style and mode of communication; the style and mode of how decisions are made; individual vs group biases and finally the culture for change. Different organisations send different cultural signals about “how things get done around here”, that you won’t find in any company process manuals.   

The paper strongly identifies with the idea that organisations have their own unique cultures and sub-cultures that to a newcomer can be both bewildering and time consuming to penetrate. On the surface, an organisation can appear just like that box of chocolates, but until you attempt to dig a little deeper, you really don’t know what you are going to get. And the formal organisation chart stops well short of providing help on cultural matters. Which brings us to SWOOP and how SWOOP’s analytics might help not just new starters but also executives and existing employees gain a stronger appreciation of the cultures and sub-cultures that exist within their respective workplaces.  

Unwrapping with AI Sentiment Analytics and Social Networking Analytics  

To our box of chocolates analogy, how many of you have discovered how groups’ or departments’ interaction amongst themselves is sometimes substantially different to how they interact externally? Think of the soft centred chocolate – warm and chummy on the inside but hard or stand-offish externally. This is the classic departmental silo, where the ‘enemy’ is outside. What about the soft on the inside but hard in the centre?  Perhaps you have seen departments assign ‘agents’ to ‘manage’ the communications with external parties to present a friendly and unified front, while all the while they are fighting like cats and dogs internally. Departments that are low in internal and external sentiment (hard inside and out) are just miserable to be around; a potentially toxic culture to be avoided. Departments that are high in both internal and external sentiment (soft inside and out) are fun to be around and therefore a good place to work. Then we have the plain chocolate departments. They are the same on the inside as the outside. It’s likely that their operations are highly automated and transparent. What you see is what you get; plain chocolate. What we are talking about here is how departments interact with each other and what we can learn about company sub-cultures from such interactions. So how can SWOOP-style analytics unwrap these departments for what they really are?   

We extracted some departmental sentiment results from a typical organisation of some 6,000 staff using Workplace by Facebook as their Enterprise Social Network, over a period of about 12 months. We looked at the average sentiment expressed between members of their own department and plotted this against the average sentiment expressed externally to other departments: 

While we didn’t get any extreme cases, we didn’t get plain milk chocolate either. So be assured that your workplace is more like a variety pack than the block of plain chocolate that the formal organisation chart might infer. While we have shown here that workplaces are far from homogenous, some might suggest that workplaces should be process driven to the point where machines could do all the work. In today’s modern workplaces, this type of work is no longer appealing. Also, it is the variety of subcultures that can lead to real innovation and creativity, and can be much of what we enjoy about coming to work. The trick is to have an organisational culture that can be influenced to maximise outcomes, both financial and non-financial.    

Implications for Your Business  

Influencing organisational culture is becoming the catch cry for large organisations challenged by regulatory authorities for questionable business practices. The current Royal Commission regulatory investigations onto the Banking sector in Australia has already claimed two CEO scalps and one chairperson for indiscretions that these executives claim little or no knowledge of; but had to accept that in the end they were accountable. We have seen the same effects recently at Nike, where six male senior executives have stepped down in the face of a developing culture of gender discrimination, that their CEO appeared blissfully unaware of. But culture is a slippery concept and problematic to measure. Yet organisations must have some means of assessing when organisational behaviours move toward the ‘grey’ areas in terms of laws and regulations. Strong departmental silos can astutely provide a ‘clean’ exterior while evolving practices internally that can be rationalized as appropriate, when free of scrutiny from outside. And when these behaviours and practices are exposed for what they are, the damage can be catastrophic. 

No doubt the financial institutions in Australia will be exposed to a plethora of cultural surveys and assessments as a consequence of the current investigations. These will be one-off snapshots. What we are proposing here is the use of AI sentiment analysis, together with social networking analytics, as a tool for assessing cultural signals when applied to online dialogue, within and between the formal lines of business. Senior executives can be provided with a simple oversight or ‘cultural map’ showing the sub-cultural profiles of their internal business units, updated in real time. If departments were to stray toward siloed behaviours (low external sentiment), then interventions can be had well before they start to do any major harm to the organisation as a whole. At the same time, those departments exhibiting positive and constructive cultures can be highlighted by the executive as the preferred cultural model for the organisation. 

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