Vitale: The word I’d probably use is leadership vigilance. In my 11 years at Genentech I can point to a couple of distinct times where there were signs that the culture might be under threat. During these times, we scanned all of our existing data sources, our annual engagement survey, the Great Place to Work survey, and employee comments on our company intranet site. We held conversations with employees and leaders and culled through all of that data to really understand what the employee experience was like.
We found some gaps that we brought to the executive committee, thinking it would be a quick conversation. It turned out to be a two-year conversation. One of the things we uncovered was that our 41-year history of being patient-centered, science-driven, and people-focused remained a fundamental strength of our culture. There was evidence, however, that some employees felt like we were becoming slower and more risk averse as we grew. In order to solve this, we had to call that out and align our efforts to reinforce this crack in our foundation. None of us are immune to culture challenges, so we have to be vigilant about staying on top of nurturing and evolving the culture we desire.
Carter: We have an annual culture survey where we specifically ask employees how they feel about our culture. But I want to encourage us all to think about how we collect data on culture in new ways. I think there will be a time when we’ll be able to collect data on email, other conversations, and social networks, and not have to rely solely on an annual survey. Like, “Hey, how are you feeling about the culture today at 1:26 p.m.?” I think we need to do more to meet employees in the work stream rather than pulling them away to do long surveys and pulses.
A member of the Board of Directors at Sears had a great saying about data: “One of the worst decisions we ever made was made by gut, and one of the worst decisions we ever made was made by data.” I think the right answer is a combination of those two things. Sometimes the best thing you can do to know what’s going on in your culture is to go have dinner with your employees and get away from your computer. Listening to both the human element and technology is how we should all aim to make decisions about culture.