We are thrilled to share the following featured guest blog article with you. Rich Taylor is the Senior Vice President, People Experience at Nasdaq.

So much has been written about the value of organizational culture, for instance here, here, and here. But it’s much harder to find good information about how to actually go about shaping culture. And this is important because sometimes the ‘legacy’ culture we have isn’t what will best serve the organization going forward.

We first need to acknowledge that an organization’s culture has grown over time to solve problems and accomplish results, and it’s been perfectly adapted to meet the needs the organization has encountered to date.

But if the future will look different—for instance changing business challenges, changing products, changing markets, changing customers, changing technology and/or changing competition—the culture of yesterday may not be “fit for purpose” for the next horizon.

What makes culture so hard to shape is that it’s not easily made visible. Culture is implicit: deep-rooted beliefs, behaviors, and expectations that we can only glimpse in the physical environment, the tools and processes, and the vocabulary we use. So, shaping culture is less about changing visible things (look, we have a new culture poster on the conference room wall!) and more about shaping the mindset of employees—including senior leaders.

A case study

At Nasdaq, the premier platform for global capital markets, we realized our ‘legacy’ culture of high integrity, process orientation, and lean budgets, served us well in the last few decades as we emerged from a regulatory agency into a profitable public company. But a laser-focus on execution and controlling costs—alone—would not enable the company’s ‘strategic pivot’ toward organic growth (not just M&A). We needed fresh energy around innovation, inspiring leadership, and empowerment. Frankly, we needed to prioritize people.

So, we began by revisiting our values. We conducted a listening tour: we solicited input from not only senior leaders, but also our 50 site leaders around the world, managers, and employees across 30 countries. We crowd-sourced what was working and not working with our legacy values, and then a small group crystalized these insights into 6 short, actionable sentences, like Act As An Owner, Fuel Client Success, and Drive Innovation.

Rather than simply ‘inform’ our employees in a corporate email, we ran a sustained two-year change management campaign. We created PowerPoint presentations for our 900 managers to share with their teams; we mailed out stickers for employees to put on their desks, or laptops if they wished. We organized a global “Culture Club” of high-potential but junior employees, to learn how our efforts were being received in our local offices, and we refined our approach based on their feedback. The HR team baked the new values into our performance management system and our recognition program. Our CEO discussed them at our All Hands meetings. We created Zoom background with our values, and we changed our laptop lock-screens to show an image of the 6 new values. When we announced senior leadership promotions, we shared not only the results they had achieved, but how they demonstrated the company’s values, encouraging others to follow these role models. In short: we blanketed the company with the new values everywhere, all the time.

Besides updating our values, we introduced a company Purpose. Beyond being profitable, we decided we wanted to make a positive, tangible impact on the world. Realizing that our business put us in the middle of the world’s financial markets, we settled on a purpose: “To champion inclusive growth and prosperity. We power stronger economies, create more equitable opportunities and contribute to a more sustainable world to help our communities, clients, employees and people of all backgrounds reach their full potential.”

To make this come alive, we appointed a Chief Purpose Officer, and she created a team around her to help employees get engaged in volunteer efforts and charitable giving around financial literacy, technical inclusion, education, and bringing more people (and more diverse people) into the capital markets as entrepreneurs and/or investors (even very small dollar investors).

Nasdaq’s Entrepreneurial Center, based in San Francisco, has supported over 20,000 entrepreneurs to date, including a very high percentage of female, minority, and LGBT entrepreneurs, through training programs, networking, and organizational support.

Another effort in building our culture was to refine our Employee Value Proposition. We decided it was important to tell candidates for hire exactly what to expect if they joined Nasdaq, and rather than glossy marketing, we chose to be frank and specific. For instance, “you’re going to work really hard here, but we compensate really well” and “this isn’t a place for big egos; collaboration is super important.” We called this our People Promise, summed up as Good People, Big Impact.

Finally, we revamped our Employee and Leadership L&D programs, with home-grown modules delivered by in-house facilitators to explain what success will look like at Nasdaq. For the leadership programs, we developed a series of 2-hour modules to teach our managers and senior leaders a raft of people skills, from Conscious Inclusion to Delegating and Empowering.

How Will You Know It’s Working?

Culture shaping is not only an effort comprised of inputs, like the examples above. It has to show up in the day-to-day ways of working, the vocabulary people use, and how they are evaluated. Creating a series of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) is essential to track your progress, refine efforts as needed, and keep your stakeholders like the executive leadership team and the Board up to date.

Metrics that Nasdaq has chosen to focus on include our overall engagement scores (which we measure multiple times a year), and some break-out engagement indexes we designed including our Leadership Index, our Management Index, and our Culture Index, each comprised of related questions. We track our attrition, of course, but we’ve implemented exit surveys so we can systematically understand why people leave the company, and we can slice this exit data by business unit, office, country, gender, age, tenure, etc. and see the patterns. We are also measuring ourselves on our external employer brand, as it shows up on Glassdoor scores as well as career sites specifically for female professionals (In Her Sight, Fairy Godboss) and minority professionals (Comparably). Finally, we are seeking and winning awards for our culture and leadership – which not only helps attract excellent new talent, it helps make our employees proud of what they’ve built.

Shaping culture is not easy and it’s not quick. The legacy culture grew as it did for a reason, so trying to shape it challenges years (decades) of existing behaviors and beliefs. But shaping culture is essential when the organization needs to achieve changing objectives; as Peter Drucker is supposed to have said, “Culture eats Strategy for breakfast.” If you can shape the right culture, it will greatly help the organization achieve its strategic goals.

Rich Taylor, Senior Vice President, People Experience – Nasdaq

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