Crafting a dynamic culture for business- Charlie Judy [Interview]

About Charlie Judy

Charlie Judy is the Chief People Officer at Intelligent Medical Objects and has forged a successful career over two decades as an HR Executive with some of the world’s most prominent professional services organizations. He has traversed the global economy while living and working in Chicago, New Orleans, New York, St. Louis, Brussels, Belgium, and Hyderabad, India. He’s a renowned blogger with a penchant for disrupting the management norms to which we’ve fallen prey. He’s also a sought-after expert on simplifying Human Resources. Charlie believes the future of work is not about better HR systems, technologies, or the next shiny object; it’s not about any one best practice, secret recipe, or magic formula.

Crafting a dynamic culture for business- Charlie Judy [Interview]

Aishwarya Jain

We have the pleasure of welcoming Charlie Judy today to our interview series. I’m Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team. Before we begin just a quick introduction of peopleHum; peopleHum is an end to end one view integrated Human Capital Management Automation Platform, the winner of the 2019 Global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employees experience and the future of work. We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around two interviews with well-known names globally every month.

Aishwarya

Welcome, Charlie, we are thrilled to have you.

Charlie

Thank you so much for having me, really glad to be here.

Aishwarya

It’s our pleasure, Charlie. So, Charlie, I want to begin by asking you that you have worked with multiple organizations both large and small across the globe. 

How do you think the concept of culture has evolved over the years?

Charlie

Yeah, First of all, it’s evolved considerably. Certainly in the last five years, definitely in the last 10 years. I think along that continuum we used to talk about culture as being just a word. It was kind of a fluffy, descriptor for things that I don’t think we really quite understood. It might have even been used as a catch-all to describe a kind of workplace. 

But I don’t know if we really took the time to understand it and to define it. In fact, I think until just recently organizations have been really talking about it in different ways and certainly defining it in different ways. 

So I think what’s changed maybe most drastically is that organizations have moved from a place where culture was an idea, to a place today and I’m not suggesting all organizations are there yet, but in fact, many are, and certainly many more understand why they should get to this point, where culture is actually an operating system.

It’s actually a central part, a critical part of how you do business and that operating system should be managed intentionally. Just as we do any other important operating system in our businesses, whether it’s a marketing system or sales system, that is something which needs tending to, and that requires investment, it requires attention, it requires dedication, it requires resources, it requires measurement, requires accountability, it requires data, all of the things that you would really ask for any other or ask from any other operating system in your business.

And so I think Organizations which have gone beyond kind of paying cultural lip service, as being something that is important and nobody would argue with, to actually getting really intentional about managing culture in your business. I think that’s where we’re really starting to see the biggest evolution in just the concept at large.

“Organizations which have gone beyond kind of paying cultural lip service, as being something that is important and nobody would argue with, to actually getting really intentional about managing culture in your business. I think that’s where we’re really starting to see the biggest evolution in just the concept at large.”

Aishwarya

Right, 

What do you think actually triggered this change from what it was before, which is probably, let’s say, a very command and controlled situation to a much more fluid, a much more dynamic culture. What triggered this change?

I think there were a number of things. I don’t think it happened by any one impetus necessarily. But I do think that one generally, I think human beings are constantly adapting and that’s no different in the workplace. 

You know, we’ve seen a hockey stick, and I don’t know if that reference will be relevant to all of your readers, but the rate of or the volume of change in the workplace has increased dramatically. For probably 100 years, the way that we managed people really didn’t change all that much. I mean, it was pretty well established that this is the way that we do business and this is the way that we treat our people.

Then organizations kind of started to catch on that there’s something not right with this. How do we do this differently? So I think, first of all, the world around us has changed. I think we have a much more diverse and talented workforce globally than we ever did before, which means that how an organization attracts the right talent to their business is becoming a much more complicated, dynamic aim.

It’s not as simple as offering a paycheck. Not as simple as even offering perks and benefits. It has to be about offering an experience, and that experience is generated largely by the culture that you’ve established and that you maintain, that you grow etcetera.

So I think newer entrants into the workforce have caused us to do this. I think the competitive space has caused us to do this. I think Organizations realize that they can no longer compete. Surely they can’t differentiate on programs and policies anymore. They have to offer something that’s deeper than that. And I think that’s where the attention to culture and the role that it plays in building a successful workforce is really coming in place.

“Organizations realize that they can no longer compete. Surely they can’t differentiate on programs and policies anymore. They have to offer something that’s deeper than that. And I think that’s where the attention to culture and the role that it plays in building a successful workforce is really coming in place.”

Aishwarya

Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense that, you know, it’s just not one factor that contributes to making a better culture. 

And you also mentioned that there is absolutely no secret recipe to this. And why is it that you say that? It’s very interesting.

Charlie

Yeah. I mean, the days of suggesting that, “a great place to work” is the same kind of place for every single person on this planet. You know, if you really stop and think about that for a second, that’s a really ridiculous notion. There was this craze for a while where you know, if you made it to a list of organizations that were considered best places to work, that’s where you really wanted to go work. 

I think those accolades are nice. I think those external sources of recognition are wonderful to have achieved even if nothing else validates what you already know. You’re doing well. But it is in no way an indicator that, that kind of an organization, has the culture, the behaviors, the actions, the values, the beliefs, the words even that are going to appeal to you that are going to, create an environment in which you can thrive.

And so what makes one place a great place to work for you is probably different than what makes one place a great place to work for me. And by the way, you know if you have 300 people in your organization, every individual in that organization has a unique set of maybe in some ways shared, but a unique set of aspirations, desires, interests, ambitions, working styles, personality. 

I mean, all of those things. And so the one size fits all approach to culture just doesn’t make sense anymore. We have got to get smarter about building a culture that is really adept and agile enough to speak almost at the individual level to the individual employee.

What’s important to you? How can our culture provide that to you? Now that, to some degree, is the hidden treasure of the Holy Grail of the workplace so customizing the experience down to the individual level is really, really challenging to do. But I think that is where we must head. 

“We must get to a place where we can create a different set of experiences to accommodate a different set of interests in different human beings within our own workforce.”

At least start doing that to a larger degree. So I think that’s all about, don’t look for a recipe. Don’t copy the cool kids. Don’t think you can go do what Google or Amazon or Zappos or, you know, pick your favorite organization. Don’t think that you could just learn what they’re doing and copy that.

It’s likely not to work for your own workforce. It’s also likely to confuse people so you know, how do you really get comfortable with who you are and what works for your organization and what drives your success. If you can get clear on that, then you’ll start to attract the kinds of people that are really gonna fit within that environment.

Aishwarya

Absolutely. So there is no point in copying the Silicon Valley companies out there, for some organization that’s not even based in Silicon Valley because there might be so many other factors that contribute to cultures and just do not make sense to copy. And you know, when you say that you need to kind of build a culture of let’s say XYZ  factors. What do you believe? 

There can be two ways one would be probably that you set the culture for your organization and say that ABC this is our culture or Do you go bottom-up where you ask, you look at the employees, then you derive culture, you know, kind of understand their behavior and therefore make a culture which is suitable for them. What should be the ideal approach?

Charlie

There is no one person, one entity, top, or bottom that owns culture in your business. Everybody owns culture in your business. There are obviously people who have a voice and who can certainly help to steer the direction, and can play a role in being a champion for whatever your organization has determined is best for your organization. 

But every individual has some responsibility for really being stewards to that culture. Understanding it, and understanding not only what it is but understanding why it is, why these things work for us, and then why therefore we need to preserve and manage and protect? 

That’s not the job of any one person. It’s the job of every person. Every time you hire somebody or bring someone new in your organization, your culture evolves a little bit. Every time somebody leaves, your culture evolves a little bit. Every time you spend another day in the office, your culture evolves a little bit. Your culture is constantly evolving, it’s an ecosystem, it’s living, it’s breathing, it’s adapting. 

“Your culture is constantly evolving, it’s an ecosystem, it’s living, it’s breathing, it’s adapting.” 

And the only way that you can make sure that happens in the way that’s going to drive success in your business is that if you’re all paying attention to it. You can’t visit it once a year. Okay, let’s see where we are, right?

It has got to become a natural extension of literally what you do every day. Now, that’s not to say that you just let it happen, right? I mean, you have to have some guard rails. You have to agree that, Hey, these things are important to us and how you identify those things. You could do that in any number of different ways. 

But I think you have to have some things that you hold out to be true no matter what’s going on in your world, and those things can be guideposts, they can be your true north. They can be whatever it is that you kind of go back to again and again and again but that’s something that you owe.

Aishwarya

Right. So it’s not about just one person guiding someone, who’s kind of like a supervisor of culture. So the notion of chief culture officers is that farcical?

Charlie

I think that’s great. I think it means that the organization is serious enough, I think it could mean the organization is serious enough to put culture front and center. You need somebody to facilitate.

You need somebody to hold the organization accountable to. You need somebody who’s going to give it the appropriate attention, but they can’t do that themselves. They have really got to do that collectively with the entire organization.

Aishwarya

Right, that makes sense. And also, you know, when you talk about culture, 

There are so many types of people in the culture, now the working style of the older generation would be very different as compared to that of the youths today. So how do you think organizations can work towards bridging those differences to create a healthy work environment?

Charlie

This is an interesting debate that I think is really still being waged across the world of work. I think there’s some that argue that the working style of the older generations is really not all that different than the younger generation. I think I’m probably one of the people that would make that argument.

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I don’t know that I’m right. I would again remind everybody that those differences and working styles may have something to do with age, but they can have those differences show up in lots of different ways, you know, and for me to suggest that the gap is big between the boomers and the Gen Y, Z’s in the organizations and the world is really much bigger than any of the others like…I don’t really know if that’s true.

Keeping in mind that the older generation has a lot, has a lot more experience in the workforce, and they grew up in that environment where the workforce hadn’t really changed in 100 years in the way we manage people hadn’t really changed. I’m one of those people by the way, you know. 

When I entered the workforce 25 plus years ago, it was extremely traditional, and so we have that ingrained in our thinking a lot more than others do. Now that we’ve started to see the realm of possibility, I think everybody’s kind of starting to gravitate towards a new norm so to speak. 

I think the boomers are as attracted to the new way of working as the Gen Y’s and Z’s are and making sure that that stuff exists. So we’re seeing all ships rise on the tide, right? That’s right. But like, that’s kind of where we’re headed.

That whether we’re talking about generations, whether we’re talking about gender, whether we’re talking about race, whether we’re talking about socio-economic background, about geography, you need to pick your favorite demographic. 

“The importance is to understand that cultural those differences could exist and our organization should be as smart as possible at first identifying those differences, understanding them and then responding to them to the extent.”

Aishwarya

Absolutely. I think maybe that perspective really opens up a lot of doors in a lot of people’s minds as to really, that there’s a gap between how generations work and thank you for that insightful answer. 

You also believe that management practices should be banished for organizations to truly excel in the future work. So do you think you know there is some specific practice out here, one must follow to understand your insight? Can you elaborate on that?

Charlie

Yeah. I want to clarify, I don’t know that I believe that management practices as a tool in the workplace need to be banished. But I do believe that the traditional management practices must be banished.

And there are certain things about the traditional practices which I think, they’re not only disruptive, but they’re potentially really damaging to society’s evolution, not just the workplace’s evolution. 

And those are things like the traditional command and control, the traditional hierarchies, the extent to which management cannot get out of the way. Managers need to get out of the way. I think that that could be an interview, a podcast in and of itself. There are lots of challenges to doing that, and there are certainly lots of ways to deal with it. 

I think that the single biggest issue traditional workplaces face is allowing people who are kind of closest to the problem to solve it. We need to get to a place where knowledge and expertise are more important than title and the tenure, and that management is there to remove obstacles.   

“We need to get to a place where knowledge and expertise are more important than title and the tenure, and that management is there to remove obstacles.” 

Management is there to focus on creating an environment in which their individuals, not just their teams but the individuals on those teams can really thrive. Making sure each and every individual in the organization is performing at the top of their capabilities, that they are productive, that they are challenged, that they are engaged, they are learning, that they are advancing, that they are energetic and passionate and connected and affiliated in all of those things. That’s the manager’s job.

The manager’s job is no longer about approving, requisitioning, solving problems necessarily, you know, reviewing stuff. It’s about enabling a team, and I think in order for that to happen, the manager needs to learn to get the heck out of the way.

Aishwarya

Absolutely. That makes so much sense.

And, you know, in all of this, in building a great employee experience of great culture, what is the role of technology and to what extent is technology enabler?

Charlie

Well, first and foremost. I mean Technology is our lives today. It is at our fingertips. It is literally at our fingertips. It has become so pervasive and so crucial to everything that we do in the workplace. It has to be a facilitator. It cannot be an inhibitor. We cannot implement technology for the sake of technology. 

We cannot make the mistake of going to technology as a solution and not thinking about the behaviors that are still really crucial from human beings and the employees that will be using that technology.

For example, if your organization feels like you’re struggling with providing meaningful feedback to your employees, that your performance management cycle is less than desirable. Going out and finding a performance management system, the new flashy, shiny thing, and plugging it in and turning it on is not going to fix feedback in your organization.

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You still need to empower your people, to train them, to equip them, to get better at delivering feedback. That tool may help. It may facilitate, but it will not solve. I think that’s the same for any technology we talk about in the workplace.

The other thing that I think technology is really important for is that they should eliminate distractions, they should automate as much as possible as much as we possibly can in the workplace, not to eliminate the human being, but so that the human being can be a human being and so that we can focus more on developing and paving the path for that human being. 

As opposed to them having to deal with these obstacles, these frustrations, these distractions, etcetera. If you can use technology to get rid of stuff that doesn’t add a lot of value but still needs to get done, then you’re using it the right way, and it allows you then to focus on you.

“If you can use technology to get rid of stuff that doesn’t add a lot of value but still needs to get done, then you’re using it the right way, and it allows you then to focus on you.”

Aishwarya

Yes, completely agree with you Charlie. I think you know, that’s where the future of work is going. 

We’ve seen a lot of remote working, and a lot of people who might actually work from home even after this whole situation of the pandemic is over. So do you think that’s going to be a challenge with respect to maintaining the organization sculpture? Is there something that leaders and managers take care of?

Charlie

Yeah, it’s an interesting question. I mean it is clear that this pandemic will change all aspects of our lives and in the workplace, of course, is maybe one of the most significant.

I still believe pretty strongly that this change will be for the better. I think that this is forcing us to confront some challenges that have existed for a long time. But we’ve been unwilling or unable or just reticent to confront. I mean, even just stuff as simple as working remotely.

Any discomfort or a lot of the discomfort that existed before all of this around whether or not we can be successful working remotely and obviously I’m not talking about every industry, but many industries. I think all of that’s going to be eliminated or certainly mitigated.

People now can say “OK, now I get it. I see how it works.” I think that’s gonna be a lot more natural for us. That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to manage it, and we’re not gonna be thinking about it. But culture still exists. You’re just looking at it through a different lens, right? 

You have to consider some different things. It’s interesting. We have, what we call a culture council, which is a group of cross-functional people in our organization, all levels of about 10 people in total who are kind of collectively charged with being stewards for the culture and IMO’s of business.

And that’s all about understanding what things are important to us and which things need attention and kind of making sure that the right things are getting focused on.

We were having a meeting earlier this week or maybe late last week. But anyway, we were talking about all of the things that we kind of had on our list before all of this happened, and we were revisiting that list and we were kind of all saying, “You know what these things all are still really relevant. We just have to think about them a little bit differently. We just have to change the way we respond or we’re gonna evaluate the challenge around. But the cultural dynamic is still important.”

I think the real challenge for organizations will be to start with. This is not about having a different culture. This is not about having to blow stuff up and start from scratch. It’s about how you adapt to a new way of working. It’s not necessarily about becoming something different. It’s about applying who you are, wherever you are, to a new environment.

“It’s about how you adapt to the new way of working. It’s not necessarily about becoming something different. It’s about applying who you are, wherever you are, to a new environment.”

Aishwarya

That would be an interesting challenge to solve I think and it will be interesting how this infers. You’re absolutely right it’s about being dynamic rather than starting from scratch, because that would just be really, really complex to do and does not even make that much sense. Thank you for that. 

To wrap the interview, the last question, which is, if you have any other important soundbites that you’d like to share with our viewers with?

Charlie

You know, the other thing that I would say is, I think HR leaders, people leaders, talent leaders should increasingly pay attention to data.

We historically are not great at getting kind of meaningful, empirical, reliable data on our people. And I don’t mean data like the stuff that would go into your HRIS, all of that stuff is really important or your HCM, all of that stuff is extremely important. 

But data around what people are really experiencing. I think we all too often make assumptions or we listen to the one or two people that seem to have the loudest voice or we way apply what our gut tells us and what we’re not gonna at doing is really paying attention to the signals as the culture evolves.

I mean, even, just think about the evolution of employee surveys. You know, there used to be this point where you did a survey once a year. Well, great. There were 365 days between those two bookends. What happened each of those days? What were you doing about it? How are you paying attention to it? How are you getting out in front of it? And I think those are questions that most organizations really struggle with answering.

We have to get better at paying attention to the signals, signs, the data as it materializes so that we can get out in front of it. We ought to spend more time thinking about what’s next, as opposed to talking about what’s already happened. And I think data can help us do that. I would really empower and encourage everybody who’s thinking about things that they can do in their own HR practice. 

“Get smarter about data, get analytical, start running some numbers, start tuning some analysis, start creating some predictive trends, pay attention to stuff daily.”  

That’s much easier for me to say than it is for anybody to do. But I do encourage people to think about it.

Aishwarya

Absolutely. You know, data helps you connect the dots.  rather than being intuitive it;s better to rely on something which is robust and solid and I think data can do that.

Thank you so much for that and I had a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for sharing your views with us, I really appreciate it. 

Charlie

I really enjoyed it.

Thanks so much for having me, appreciate it.