Ana White recently moved to F5 from Microsoft, where she led global HR teams for over 18 years across multiple business units. She joined us at TINYcon to share her best advice for driving real change and promoting positive behaviors at all levels of your organization.
"Culture eats strategy for breakfast"
During her time at Microsoft, White saw the phrase above come to life. When Satya Nadella succeeded Steve Ballmer as CEO, the business moved from a 'knower' culture to a 'learner' culture and with that change came a dramatic spike in innovation. Nadella often said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” and his actions matched his words. He put culture at the forefront of what he talked about and what he invested in. The result was a cultural evolution that helped spark a Microsoft renaissance.
White explains the difference between culture and strategy: "Strategy is what you do, and it’s important to be clear on your aspirational goals. But culture is how you do it - it's the behaviors you live every day".
Having transitioned to F5, White is embarking on a similar cultural and business transformation. She is now working alongside CEO François Locoh-Donou, where she is leading the company’s people practices, professional growth programs and employee advocacy initiatives.
"Culture – how you live and behave every day – is the feeling that employees understand. People will leave because of culture and how managers act."
How F5 Networks changed their culture
F5’s CEO had done a tremendous amount of thinking about what he wanted the culture to be with leadership. White wanted to engage with employees around the globe, not only in engagement surveys, but in global focus groups in a virtual manner to increase the two-way feedback on what they thought the culture could be. There were a lot of great things about the culture, but a few things needed to change to meet the business transformation they aspired to have. Locoh-Donou was open to that and met with employees from all levels, all functions, and reiterated on the thinking their team had about the behaviors they created. They co-created what the culture was.
Every culture is a dynamic ecosystem brought to life by choices and actions of its inhabitants. Because everything is connected, these choices and actions determine the integrity of the whole system and its ability to thrive. F5 considers themselves an ecosystem of diverse, yet interconnected individuals. And as they went deeper, they found that their wholeness, realness, and humanness was what kept them strong and healthy as an organization. These traits gave them structural integrity.
F5 landed on five behaviors that are intended to be simple. What F5 had before was a set of behaviors that evolved. Before, they had a set of eight values, and White found that while the values were all good, they were the values that almost every company already had.
People need to differentiate their values, culture, and behaviors to be true to themselves as a company. Most companies have values like integrity, customers, and collaboration. These are the common values. F5 consolidated these values into a simple set of five behaviors, and as they explained them, the values became evident.
- We are owners
White, Francois, the focus groups, and the leadership team felt like they wanted more accountability and empowerment for their broad base of employees around the globe. They wanted employees to feel like they were an owner in the company, like they could step into the CEO’s shoes and go beyond their functional organization and think about what’s best for F5.
- We choose speed
You can think about it in a variety of ways – marketing perspective, agile engineering, moving to the cloud – but F5 wanted to iterate and learn, fail fast and learn, and move on. Take some risks.
- We create a more diverse and inclusive F5
Diversity and inclusion can make a huge difference in performance and energy. Unfortunately, companies often focus on one side of this equation, looking only at diversity. You need inclusion too.
- We obsess over customer’s needs
White recently had a customer briefing and talked about how important customers are to F5, and how F5 is evolving to serve more customers in the cloud. They were a hardware company for more than 20 years, and now they’re much more of a software company in the virtual cloud.
- We help each other thrive
People at F5 take time to give each other feedback that’s two-way, positive, and constructive, helping each other grow. It’s important that their leaders live to thrive every day.
Building a culture and community
To build a community you need champions, conduits, and carriers. Champions are the people who are passionate about culture. They’re the eyes and ears, listening and learning. Champions are the folks who are evangelizing the culture, listening for moments and feedback to share with leadership.
Conduits are the people who live the culture every day as part of their job, like IT support or those who do employee onboarding. Conduits interact with employees every day.
Carriers are the leaders of your organization. What White loves about Microsoft and F5 is that leaders at the very top are living and breathing these behaviors in a great way. What she’s seen with other companies that try to roll out a new culture is that they have new PowerPoint slides, pull some HR levers, and change the system. But if the carriers (leaders) aren’t living it every day, it’s a joke. You must hold leaders accountable for living the attributes that you define as most important to your culture.
Listen to employees
There are so many ways to listen to employees. Ideally, you want to hear from everyone, and there are several modalities where you can learn:
- Pulse surveys
- Focus groups
- Two-way dialogues
In those listening tours you'll find moments of culture or a symbolic aspect of culture that you don’t want to change. For example, F5 has beer Fridays where you’d bring in a nonprofit and the employees would visit over beer, wine, juice, and get to know each other. This is something they’ll never change, according to White. It’s important to find those special things in your culture and refrain from changing. Look at the new things you want to drive.
First-time manager or just want to brush up on your leadership skills?
Nothing is more frustrating for employees than to continually give feedback in a pulse survey and not seeing changes based on that feedback. Leadership needs to celebrate the wins, say that people have been heard, and continue that two-way dialogue.
If you want to know what a person values, look at their checkbook
As a company, be sure to align what you’ve spent based on received feedback so that you ensure you take action. Often when we think culture change, we think of the typical things like performance reviews, formal/informal recognition, the hiring process, and questions to ask employees.
Based on these changes, are people changing their behaviors? Let’s assume a hiring manager conducts an interview and the candidate is a rock star from a technical perspective. But once the manager hears behavior issues based on referrals, are they going to care about the culture and make an inclusive company? What decision will they make? This is the moment when you can tell if your culture is making a difference, based on the decisions leadership makes.
Ana White spoke at this year's TINYcon 2018. To reserve your tickets to next year's TINYcon, and make sure that you're keeping up to date with the latest in employee engagement and company culture, get your early bird tickets now! If you're looking for more tips or info on improving company culture, you can also read our culture report.
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