A new collaborative book by members of the “Great Work Cultures” (GWC) movement aims to transform organizations and create more humanistic environments for employees to work in. Joan Blades, a prominent activist for positive change who launched the movement, praises the contributors to the book as “brilliant innovators and leaders who know how to structure workplaces that sing.”
Statistics show that the average worker is disengaged and that most workplace productivity is a fraction of what it could be. Members of the GWC movement believe, however, those workplace environments which are deeply respectful of all workers will be productive and experience very low turnover. This book is an outcome of their intention to accelerate positive change at work.
In this interview, book contributor, Josh Levine, discusses his chapter, “The Trouble with Scale: How to Keep Company Culture from Going Wrong in Times of Rapid Growth”. Josh Levine is an educator, designer, and author, but above all, he is on a mission to help organizations design a culture advantage. Even though his day job is Principal of Great Monday, a ten-year-old culture design company, Josh is most known as a co-founder of the international non-profit Culture LabX in 2013. His book Great Mondays: How to Design a Company Culture Employees Love will be published this December and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.
Josh Levine, could you state your company and title?
Josh Levine: My company is Great Mondays and I’m the president. I also have a nonprofit called CULTURE LABx of which I’m the co-founder and executive director.
What would you like to achieve from the collaboration of this work?
Josh Levine: Everything that I do revolves around this idea of getting more people to understand that company culture is a powerful business tool—it can not only help organizations with their bottom lines but the people who work for those businesses, too. Being able to contribute to an anthology like this with other thought leaders helps me learn and amplify my voice alongside some very influential thinkers in this space.
What would you say your expertise is?
Josh Levine: Designing company culture for technology and social enterprise organizations.
There are many statistics about how disengaged the average worker is. Briefly, why do you think the average worker is disengaged?
Josh Levine: You know, to me it’s about not being aligned with the purpose of the organization. The big problem in the work world is that many organizations aren’t able to say why they’re in business beyond making money. One symptom of that is people can’t find the organizations that they align with to join. With the evolution of our economy, and employment at record lows, many more people today have the opportunity to simply make money, but my feeling is life’s too short for a job that isn’t fulfilling and meaningful. I think in order to become engaged, fully engaged, people need to care about what they do and that needs to align with their own personal values and their personal goals.
It is said that workplace productivity is a fraction of what it could be. What do you believe will increase workplace productivity?
Josh Levine: To me, it’s the very essence of culture and what we just talked about. If you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, what the goal is, and are empowered to do that work, then there’s no reason that you shouldn’t feel absolutely on fire every day; to do everything you can to achieve that if you believe in that purpose. If you’re not living in a way that is aligned with who you are, then of course you’re not going to be motivated. In the future, it’s not just cars that are going to be self-driven—it needs to be the people at work and they need to know what they’re doing. It’s no longer relevant to just say, “Oh, I’m going to go to work and someone’s going to tell me what to do and I’m just going to do it.” People need to be empowered. They need to be treated well. They need to learn. They need to grow. They need to do something that they care about.
So, Josh Levine, your chapter is “The Trouble with Scale: How to Keep Company Culture from Going Wrong in Times of Rapid Growth”. Can you speak to how scaling can negatively affect a company during a growth period and why?
Josh Levine: Before I figured out that I wanted to write about this particular topic, I would get this question a lot, which is: How do I scale company culture? I saw there was a problem because at a certain point leadership would say, “Hey, our culture’s not the same anymore. It’s not what it used to be and it’s not serving us well.” So, I did some research and discovered that the problem has to do with relationships— once organizations grow past a certain number of people, they degrade. In fact, there is research by Robin Dunbar who observed that primates would gather in groups of up to one hundred and fifty. He discovered that’s the ideal number to be able to survive. If the group was any larger it was going to take too much energy to maintain those relationships. I extrapolated that concept and hypothesized that inside organizations after fifty to one hundred people, people no longer want to or have the energy to actually continue to have effective relationships with one another. When you don’t have those relationships, culture degrades. There is no pervasive culture anymore and you’re going to get these subgroups. And that’s the problem – the problem with scaling. If the relationships are no longer strong, we don’t really know who is around anymore and we don’t know what they’re doing, and we don’t know how they might be able to help us. And when that happens, the organization becomes fractured. It’s an organization’s job to create the rituals that actually motivate individuals to build and strengthen relationships.