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Culture hacks; the new engagement tool

Simon Corcoran

Sep 18, 2017

Hackathons have been widely used in the tech industry to find new solutions by bringing diverse opinions and experiences to the table in an uplifting, creative, sometimes frustrating, yet highly engaging way.  It got me thinking. If the tech industry brings diverse people together to solve common problems, why can’t we apply the same logic to culture?

Culture is often seen as, “the way things are done around here” but rarely do leaders fully understand why. The chasm between what gets said and what gets done can be so damaging that leaders don’t know where to begin.

Culture Hacking


Left unresolved, many cultures become toxic, creating self-preservation, siloed teams, a lack of innovation, lower productivity, higher turnover, higher operating costs, and ultimately complacency. And then one day, a major incident occurs and all fingers point directly to the leaders for answers and accountability. Heaven forbid once the board gets involved.

The bigger question is, why didn’t the leaders do something about the culture when they had the chance? Too often we see organisations running engagement surveys once, maybe twice per year with data that doesn’t get the core of the cultural issues of siloed teams, lack of innovation, or complacency. So, every time the company rolls out another engagement survey, a collective groan is made because people know that nothing will change.

This brings me back to hackathons. They’re fast, focused and fun. A hackathon can dive in to the un-discussed culture and begin focusing on why people believe it is the way it is, how they can change it and what ought to happen to create change. Hacks are not about complaining, they’re about identifying the problem, understanding where it happens and designing new ways to deal with it. The fast-paced nature of a hackathon allows everyone to participate and provide their thoughts on how to solve the challenge.

With a culture hack, it’s about making it safe to talk about the un-discussable cultural moments so that, everyone can move through it together while obtaining consensus along the way. This isn’t about leaders standing at the front of the room coming up with their way forward, hacks bring people together in the most unlikely situations and creates engagement.

Too often, HR comes up with the plan following on from engagement survey results. They advise the leaders on how to change the score and lift overall engagement and participation. Hacks don’t work like that. Hacks work best when you invite a sizable sample group from the business to participate in chunky problems to solve. As they work through a process, they get to understand the problem more clearly, challenge its logic before designing ways to overcome it.

Engaging staff in this way empowers them to be part of the solution and not just the problem. They can become an active member of the solution by working together after the hack as change agents to lead, implement and sustain change. Engagement on this level ignites a great sense of pride and commitment to the outcome and the organisation, for giving them the chance to make a difference. Provided that leaders assist, support and guide their evolution, there are tremendous opportunities to bring different groups of people together to solve many other business problems. Once you have this down pat, rinse and repeat.

To really make a splash, run a culture hack each quarter focusing on an area needing attention at the time. They don’t require a lot of lead time and can be done very quickly. They’re a great way to engage people and deal with the cultural nasties now, as opposed to waiting for a nasty incident to happen.

We’ve designed a way to approach culture differently so that any sized business can reap the rewards from high performance. Whether it’s about giving you the basics of a cultural assessment, to running an internal culture hack or, aligning your employee (EX) and customer experiences (CX) to give seamless cultural integration.

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Topics: culture-change culture-hackathon culture-hacks workplace-culture

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