Canadian Underwriter

Here’s how to hack your culture

June 17, 2019   by Adam Malik

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Keep it simple. Take small bites. Don’t put your career at risk.

With that as a starting point, insurance companies can start to hack their culture, said Richard Natale, senior director analyst at research and advisory firm Gartner during its recent IT Symposium/XPO in Toronto.

People are creatures of habit, especially when it comes to the insurance industry, which is known for its slow-footedness. That’s what makes a culture change so difficult. It can’t happen with the snap of your fingers either, which is why it needs to be approached strategically, Natale said.

Make smaller changes so that people can get used to doing things differently. Think of it as rolling a snowball that turns into an avalanche – start with small changes that grow quickly. So pick a thing here and pick another there to plant the seeds of change in your staff, Natale explained.

“If you do this a lot of times, and you get people used to change, pretty soon it becomes muscle memory, like riding a bike,” he said. “Get people used to change in small bites, small increments, that people can wrap their heads around. It’s clear, less nebulous and you’re doing it on a regular basis.”

A culture hack can follow a simple acronym: Make it LIVE – low effort, immediate, visible and emotional.

To qualify as low effort, it has to be done in 48 hours or less. Any more than that and it’s too complex and no longer considered a hack. But it still has to make an impact. Let’s say you’re a company that has seemingly endless meetings. Start cancelling them.

“A lot of the hacks you do will be meaningful to people. You’re changing their culture. They feel it. If you start cancelling meetings because you don’t feel they’re as effective as they ought to be, and you’re in a culture of endless meetings, that’s going to be impactful to people and they’re going to feel that change,” Natale said. “It takes courage.”

So make it happen immediately. “Not next week, not next year — it has to be today or tomorrow,” Natale said.

People notice when their meetings are being cancelled – that makes your hack visible. It creates a signal that things are going to be different.

“What you’re essentially doing is telling people something has changed. And as such, a behaviour is going to have to change,” Natale said.

When people feel that change, it becomes emotional. Natale repeated the famous Maya Angelou quote, “People will always forget what you say. People will always forget what you’ve done. But they will never forget how you made them feel.”

This is not a thinking exercise. Make people want to change “because they feel they need to,” Natale said.

Before throwing down a hack, make sure what you’re doing isn’t career suicide. Natale advised hackers to ensure they have leadership buy-in, find allies who will back you up, make sure it’s legal and ethical, consistent with your company’s values and not a selfish play.

“Culture hacking is not meant to move forward your personal agenda,” he said. “It is not meant to be an end-run around policy. It is meant to help people do better in their day-to-day work lives.”