On this week’s episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Tom Bradbury, author of The Culture Project: 30 Days to Reboot Your Organization. Tom and I talk about the changing role of technology in the workplace and how companies can better deliver value by aligning culture with technology decisions.
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Interview Transcript with Tom Bradbury, Author of The Culture Project
Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger and as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Tom Bradbury. He is author of a new book called The Culture Project: 30 Days to Reboot Your Organization. Welcome Tom.
Tom Bradbury: Hi Brian. Thanks for having me today.
Brian Ardinger: Hey, I’m excited to have you on board. Our friends at Sense and Respond, Josh and gang, connected us about your new book that’s coming out. You’re a two-time founder, a technology advisor, author of this new book.
You’ve spent about 20 years of your career focused on workplace technology assessments and how do people use that. What have you seen in the last 20 years in workplace technology and how did you decide to write a book about culture?
Tom Bradbury: Great question. Thank you. So, Brian, for a big chunk of my career, 18-19 years, I owned a business, Labrador technology, before selling it to a great competitor in that space. But what we did was help design and manage technology as part of workplace transformation projects. Mostly connected to real estate transactions. i.e., A lease comes up, we’re building out a new workplace and we would design all the connectivity and all the AV in the boardroom tech for these companies to leverage in their new spaces.
And for doing that for some of the biggest global brands out there, we ran into a lot of different scenarios and a lot of different approaches. But one thing was for sure, that the design and construction process had such a gravitational pull from a budget perspective, and a resourcing perspective, that the decisions around investing in technology weren’t as strategic as they should be or could be. Right.
So, I would see and hear these discussions about Pepsi, Unilever, BNP Paribas, Alliance Bernstein, Bridgewater Associates, where they were going and how they wanted to represent themselves with this new workplace. But some of the technology discussions or that thread of the project didn’t always match the same level of strategy as some of those other conversations.
So the final handful of years of me owning Labrador Technology, what I did was create a methodology to go in and understand an end-user’s reality of what it’s like to use technology at whatever organization they work for.
And I would overlay that with either a direct experience interviewing executives on where they were taking their business, right, or some material that was released in a board meeting or what was presented at the start of the mission of a new workplace. I’d get a sense for where the executives were trying to go and what they were trying to accomplish.
And then I would talk to it and in some cases, HR, to get their perspective on technology and its importance within a business. I’d lay those perspectives over each other. IT, HR, employee experience, and executive senior leadership’s perspective on where they were going. And there was a hundred percent of the time, there was always a mismatch in each one of those realities and what they were seeing.
So, I really started to set out and say, what’s driving how people invest and how they enable internally technology. It connected. And I mentioned HR, really, what I started to focus in on was the use of technology by talent, by the people in any organization. And seeing the influences of culture impact how they made tech investments, and how they were rolling them out and giving them to people to be productive.
Brian Ardinger: Well, I imagined 20 years ago when you first started, a lot of those technology decisions were probably, Hey, we just need a computer. Technology was not ubiquitous, as it is today. And culturally, it wasn’t as formative. How have you seen that trend evolve? And is that one of the reasons why you believe culture plays a more important role in those technology decisions and that?
Tom Bradbury: A lot of the organizations that I’ve worked with and many or all organizations have a culture. And that culture either pushes people, whether challenge their comfort zone, or constantly look for things, whether they’re policies, processes, tools, that match where they’re going next. And sometimes there can be tension between that attribute of a given culture and what a domain expert sees, knows, and how they run their domain, whether it be an IT or HR or any other finance, right.
An IT leader, as an example that you bring up, where technology used to be, give me a computer and I’ll plug it into the server or the switch plugs into the server. You know cloud, going to cloud. It sounds very easy today, right? And it’s much more common, right. But still not as common as we probably think, in you know, many organizations.
But that being said, operational experts knew how to not only understand, control, keep secure an environment that’s on prem and the cloud technology and making that transition, which might offer more flexibility, efficiencies, costs, productivity, can impact positively all those things but it’s out of their realm of experience, right? So, it was a challenge.
So, it, wasn’t only how do they navigate the company there, and are they comfortable navigating out of their comfort zone? It also is a paradigm shift internally for IT on how they operate right, in a cloud environment versus an on-premises environment. That would be another challenge that they have to deal with to get the whole staff to buy into. We no longer have control over how we upgrade. We receive notices that there will be an upgrade and we need to understand what it’s going to do to our environment before we unleash it.
Brian Ardinger: I used to work at Gartner. And that was one of the challenges. The IT group were the gods. They had control of exactly what was on display and put out there into the organization. It seems to be much more collaborative environment now, where their power shifted.
And because technology is ubiquitous across different verticals, and it’s no longer a vertical in and of itself, per se. It has definitely impacted the way people act and move and do things within organizations. Let’s dive into the book. So, it’s called The Culture Project: 30 Days to Reboot Your Organization. Tell us a little bit of overview of it and what people can get out of it.
Tom Bradbury: So, when I wrote this book, it was informed by many workplace technology assessments that I performed either on my own, being invited by the client, or in conjunction with a partner, like a great partner of mine has been Cushman and Wakefield, the global real estate firm, their global workplace strategy team.
And we would go in and they would say, Tom, we’re doing space and people. Technology is really the third leg to this bar stool. And we need to go in and holistically assess this environment. So, I started to do a number of those, and I would see how each unique culture, despite there being common problems or situations that every client, the unique culture, really had an impact on how people were using technology or not.
And the other thing I noticed, and this is something that’s talked about widely is whenever there’s going to be a transformation or change, leadership needs to lead that change. They must get behind it and push for it. So, at the same time, we can’t expect leaders to spend too much of their time. They’re working on very big, important components of their own role, leading a very big ship.
So, I looked at writing this book, I set out to say, how can I help a corporation establish urgency? And help a leader spend a specific amount of time understanding the fundamental or foundational issues that culture is having an impact in and around that nexus of technology and talent. That’s where I choose to overlay my lens for culture.
How can we get them to spend time doing this, but not saddle them with all of the minutia and details? This is a way to get them behind it to say, Oh, I really do have to get behind this. We have some fundamental things that we have to change, and we need to address the culture around that nexus of talent and technology.
And so, I bring them through a number of activities and steps. That being said as much as I’m voicing this to the CEO or to an executive leader, I hoped as I wrote it, that I would also illustrate whether you’re the digital adoption expert or trainer or HR in, you know, learning and development, that you saw what your role would be in this, even down to any given employee.
Every employee is a significant component of a culture and contributing to it and having that culture reflect upon them and their productivity and their work styles. So, I hoped to write the book in such a way where again, it was voiced towards the leader, but illustrated how everyone had to be considered.
Brian Ardinger: What’s encompassed in that 30 days? What should people be looking at if they’re trying to adopt a better culture and trying to understand how technology plays a role in that?
Tom Bradbury: One is, as I said, getting leadership involved. So literally they can spend 30 days doing this activity for each day or over a longer period than 30 days, but you get the point of it. But it’s also that they need to empower some people to be able to think outside of the current, like a river’s current, think outside of the everyday current of the organization.
So I’m a proponent of using internal thinkers and innovators from various areas of the business and putting them together. I term them to be a strike force in this book where they literally work with, or for the senior leader, to get them behind it and find those really great people in the organization who are capable of living that dichotomy of I’m doing my day job, but I can think about something in a different way.
I can compartmentalize that for an hour, a few hours a week, so that I can come up with new ideas that are not just bulldozed by the current culture or around this thinking. So how can we develop this strike force to think outside the box a little bit and lead some new ideas, and then go back and present some of these ideas to the domain leaders, the CIO, the CHRO.
And that could be a very careful process too, but there’s a way a leader can get behind a Strikeforce and find the business drivers to say these options should be considered about where we take our business and how we deal with that culture around nexus of technology and talent.
Brian Ardinger: What are the biggest mistakes that most companies often run into when they’re trying to make big transformations like this?
Tom Bradbury: They focus on the specific solutions, first. Microsoft is a great solution. Cisco offers great solutions. Different training tools offer great solutions. But before we get into, does this solution work? We should map out what attributes do we need as part of our solutions that fit our business, our goals, our people, our culture.
And how do we adapt our culture to nurture those attributes so that when we do invest in a specific solution that embody those attributes, that we’re going to get the ROI and the productivity that we’re thinking about. So too often, I think certain firms lead with the technical solution rather than understanding the kind of problem statement and what would solve that problem.
Brian Ardinger: Yeah. It’s a very similar to what entrepreneurs, they’ve developed a technology and try to find a market for it versus the other way around, you know, find the problem in the market and then build a solution around that. Right. I imagine it’s similar.
Are companies, when they approach technology, are they looking far enough ahead or are oftentimes when you see/hear, these transformations, they put a new technology solution in and it’s immediately out of date within the next year or two. That kind of stuff. How are people approaching the use of technology and developing for a changing world that’s rapidly changing faster and faster?
Tom Bradbury: Yeah. Well, first I’d say the cloud obviously is helping us, right. We’re not investing in our own hardware and in charge of our own data, 24/7. Right? So, we’re putting it somewhere else, whether it be in Amazon’s Cloud or Microsoft’s Cloud or Google’s Cloud or some other form of a cloud. So, it allows us to be a little bit more nimble, right.
And move on from a specific application. If it proves not to be a great fit. That being said, what I talked about a couple of minutes ago, which is understanding what we’re trying to solve for before prescribing a technical fix, is the key to that.
So just the other day, myself and my friend at Cushman, my colleague at Cushman, we’ve done a lot of these assessments. We were talking with a mutual client that we both did an assessment for. It’s a very large corporation. That’s for a couple of few years planning a move, and they’re still not going to move for another couple to a few years.
And they recognize that they can’t select every component for the audio-visual setups in conference rooms. Right? Because to your point, it could change. But, you know, you have experts in the architectural world. And in this case, I designed a construction project that will help you map out the milestones or trigger dates for when you have to start committing to specific applications.
So, it’s really, and this particular client, and maybe this is a better approach to answering your question is. They’re focused on how they need to change culturally, to embody all the things that they’re saying they want to embody. And they’re spending time coming up with this is how we need to do things. These are the things we need to consider. This is how we need to work with our employees to marry what we’re doing with what we say we are.
And the technical pieces will come in at the right time. And many IT folks, highly technical folks, experts in their field. They get the hives sometimes when they have to make a big decision and they say, well, is this going to last, right? Right. Because things can change. Right. You’re talking Teams and Microsoft. And then the next day, Slack is acquired by salesforce.com. Right? Like that’s a big change to consider how you, your people are going to talk and collaborate, and message.
Brian Ardinger: Well, and that leads us right to, you know, we’re in a midst of a pandemic and obviously everybody’s talking about remote work and how that’s going to change facilities. That entire industry has been in disruption as well. I’ve been working with a couple different startups in the facilities space. They’ve had to pivot their particular software and focus it on optimization for example of a office space.
We know that we can’t put as many people in a particular space because of spatial distancing, or we’re not going to need as much, but because half the workforce is going to remote, what are the tools and technology tools that we can use to actually map out that space more effectively? What are you seeing when it comes to these particular trends and how is this going to map out and change the world?
Tom Bradbury: Yeah. So, I’d first say that when I wrote the culture project, it was the idea and a bulk of the writing and my perspective was formed pre COVID, but I don’t back off the importance of all of this, including COVID and beyond.
What I’ll say is that COVID provided cover for a lot of leaders to do what I think leaders should be doing. What I offer up in the book, right, is add some urgency and address transformation. Some have done that. Some have gone deep to understand how they need to think differently and approach things differently.
So COVID offered them this opportunity, this cover to push ineffective people or policies out of the way with some anxiety around how are we going to survive through this period of the pandemic getting right to it. And that’s really what I pushed for my book to be doing. You know, where as an entrepreneur, how do I bring that urgency to a corporate mindset and help them change? COVID has provided that for many.
Some felt as though the zoom subscription was enough, right? So, we’re going through this now and to your question. What does it lead to? The pandemic is going to have some short-term, maybe midterm impact on people staying six feet apart and taking temperatures, going in and out of buildings, but knock-on wood, we get to a place where the pandemic is more than the rear-view mirror, and we still have shaped the workplace or reshaped the workplace.
So, I think I heard recently that on average, they feel like digital transformation for many businesses with sped up to six years, right, due to COVID. Now people are coming back to the office. So, I believe that it’s not crazy to say 25-50-25.
25% of the workforce will be full-time in the office. 50% will be flexible and another 25% might be paralegals, accounting assistants, or whatever. And they have roles that can be full-time remote, walking into any business. You have that. So, we have to think about that. And we have to think about from a cultural perspective, we just pushed everyone out real fast.
So, everyone’s in their home. Their culture is more about the cat that runs across the zoom screen and dealing with kids while you’re trying to do calls. And how do I do work? Right. All of those things have impacted what we’re looking at. So, in the future, that’s going to settle down a little bit. Some of the activism of no more workplace for anybody is going to dissipate.
And we’re going to find how we right-size the future of the workplace that’s going to be configured specific to each proprietary need of any given organization. But going forward, one of the things that I’ve seen, which is amazing, is that yes, we’ve come to terms with people working remotely more so over the last year, but the profound impact is what they were thinking of on the employee’s behalf in the workplace.
So, there’s the technology and there’s the ability to collaborate and communicate and be productive. But there’s also health wellness, ergonomics, sustainability. And what we’re seeing now is businesses and their culture they’re trying to adapt.
Hey, we have to include all of these people that are decentralized either on a fixed basis or flexible basis. How do we establish a culture around that? And one of the areas they’re looking at is saying let’s take those same things, those attributes that an employee experience, those attributes that we looked at in the physical workplace, and make sure we’re accounting for them at everyone’s remote working spot.
Brian Ardinger: Well, and I think it’s accelerated the employees, both access to technology and their understanding and the need and importance of it. Again, everybody had to accelerate if you hadn’t been on zoom before, you obviously were quickly indoctrinated into it. And I think that’s across the board.
So, my premise is that more and more folks are now more technology savvy. They’re not the greatest per se, always, but that’s going to change the way the next technology tool is going to be adopted or used. And how does that play out?
And I don’t think I’ve talked to anybody that said, we’re all going to go back a hundred percent the way it was in the past. So, by default, we are living in a new world. And just like you said, how do we create the culture to adapt in this new world that we’re living in?
Tom Bradbury: Yeah, getting leaders to invest in that. So, on one hand we might go down from 200,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet just to make a point, right? What are we doing with that savings? Let’s invest in the technology or sending everyone the best chair, you know, as a very tactical example to help them.
And I talked to someone earlier today who has a very good friend that works at a big furniture manufacturing company, where everyone went remote. What they do is, they send someone to everyone’s house, and do an assessment of their workspace and their work area. And then they have a, like a standard, and then they go back, and they accommodate for those standards within everyone’s work area.
So that’s a cultural thing, but it also Brian, this thing has many tentacles. COVID and accelerating the push. Cybersecurity. How are we thinking about that?
On one hand to think of cybersecurity and culture together might seem like I don’t get it, but on the other hand, how people work and how people think about how they communicate and collaborate is intertwined with cybersecurity and a corporation or organization’s ability to maintain cyber hygiene and protect their data and their people.
For More Information
Brian Ardinger: Yeah, absolutely. So, this has been a fantastic topic. Thank you for coming on Inside Outside Innovation, to talk a little bit more about it. If people want to find out more about your book or more about yourself, what’s the best way to do that.
Tom Bradbury: Well, they can go on Amazon and look for The Culture Project, of course, 30 Days to Reboot Your Organization. They can also check me out on LinkedIn, Tom Bradbury. My consultancy is Helix2.us, is the website, or they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to exchange thoughts and ideas with anyone who’s interested in this subject.
Brian Ardinger: Awesome. Well, Tom, again, thanks for being on Inside Outside Innovation and helping us navigate this new world that we’re living in. Look forward to staying connected and hearing about the future as well. So, thanks very much.
Tom Bradbury: Thank you, Brian. I really enjoyed the conversation.
Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.
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