Company culture is a hot button issue at the moment. Organizations with toxic cultures find themselves under close scrutiny, while those with strong cultures are inundated with hundreds of job applications for every posted role. IDEO falls into the latter category: they’re famous for the great work they do globally, but also for the creative and innovative culture they’ve designed. But, surprisingly, they only formalized these cultural values a few years ago. IDEO's values include: Sally Sosa, IDEO’s Global Talent Director of Culture and Communications, discusses the process of articulating these values. The outcomes are far reaching:
“There’s a shared understanding of what connects people across the organization...what can anchor the way they work together and the way they treat each other.”
IDEO’s approach differs from so many other organizations that pay lip service to values but don’t actually live them. This disconnect is dangerous: it keeps a company from performing at its best, and it can feel jarring to employees. Instead, IDEO seeks to live their values in everything they do. But how did they gain consensus around these values, decades into the tenure of their company? Sally shares the story of how they published the The Little Book of IDEO and then leveraged their collaboration and ownership values by inviting participation from around the globe. They asked the entire team, across all offices, to give feedback.
“We invite the community along in that process. I really think things resonate more when people feel like they were a part of what was created or they have have co-authorship.”
This global initiative uncovered some inconsistencies that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. A few offices even created their own take on the values, to ensure they resonated in their specific countries and cultures. The outcome was better and more innovative, precisely because they’d lived their values throughout the process. And yet, there are no shortcuts when it comes to cultural values. Sally is quick to distinguish between culture and the perks that are so often touted in Silicon Valley:
“There’s culture, and then there’s amenities...things like having your dry cleaning picked up, a bus take you to and from work, having five meals a day with ten types of kale...this doesn’t necessarily create culture. Culture comes down to how people treat each other, the permission people feel to be themselves and take risks, and the environment that’s created around people and the work that we do.”
For companies looking to define or uphold their own values, Sally underscores the importance of communication. The way you roll something out matters nearly as much as what you roll out. They design their communication strategy with intention and passion, in order to create a great employee experience that truly empowers people. She shares guidance on how to live your values every day. Sally describes fostering a mix of big initiatives (like “IDEO Stories,” a coaching series on how to tell a great story) and everyday practices (like “flights” or mid-project check-ins.) This daily participation from everyone is key. The focus on making others successful is good for the individuals and good for the business. She’s also benefited from strong internal advocacy: people who believe in the work and in doing the work in a way that aligns with IDEO’s values. This is especially important when there’s no top-down management culture. As Sally puts it, people become invested when you’re “bringing them along the journey.” Participation from everyone is key to the success of IDEO’s business and the strength of their culture.