Updated: May 12
Most companies rely on top-down cultural approaches to transform a company into a people-centric workplace, however establishing cross-departmental and cross-level peer groups can be one of the easiest and best thing to do!
1. Top-down approaches to cultural transformation and what they lack
I was attending recently a panel discussion of C-Level, HR and Transformation Leaders arguing that the best way to influence a culture is giving the best examples on top management and middle management level to display an open, friendly, result-oriented and rewarding culture. In Asia one of the important culture dimensions and values is "family" and "to fee to be a part of family". They mentioned that the CEOs open door policy, talking with everyone in his company rounds and dedicated coaching and cultural workshops for middle management is crucial to implement a great culture top-down. While I fully agree with this approach, it also implies that the cultural wisdom and good examples is mainly at management level, which is probably too short-sighted. Have a look at our blog: What is Experience Management?
2. What are company peer groups and how they help for employee experience?
Peer groups are ideally environment in which people are invited by recognition (e.g. a talent pool group), by dedication (e.g. a side project) or by common cause (e.g. hobby, sport or interest groups). The common characteristic is that people can mix in these groups from different departments, backgrounds, company levels, etc. and are regarding equals in the group.
In my previous job as Customer Experience Manager, I was in an international talent pool and we meet every 2 months in a different country and got trainings, team exercises and real company projects assigned. Personally it was an amazing recognition and motivation boost to be part of this group while the company could invest in their top talents, receive valuable project results and observe how to group performs. Beside fostering and binding several future top leaders to the company, one outcome was also a simple but effective Knowledgement Sharing Process which was implemented across 12 countries, as everybody in the talent pool had the same issue to work locally on the similar projects without any input from other regions.
Sport & Hobby Group:
A lot of organisations do offer Badminton, Chess, Yoga or excursion groups to bring all kind of employees together to have fun and exchange. Strangely I still see companies arguing if there should be a budget for these groups. They normally meet in their spare time and while having a lot of fun together which could ease any tensions at work, they also make valuable cross-organisation connections and can support to have a more informal network between the departments. As Project Manager of a bank, I was part of the weekly Saturday morning badminton group, and I often met and builded fun and trustful relations with other team members. In the mid- and long-run it helped me often to go to this informal network I build to solve project issues, roadblockers and misunderstandings more easily.
Common cause groups:
I think everybody agrees that social groups which gather volunteers to help others or the community have a great impact on the company atmosphere and culture. In Deloitte Consulting we had once a year a full working day in which we could volunteer to e.g. repair a public playing ground, cook at a homeless shelter or similar activities. Companies tend to support and encourage these groups as it gives also a great PR. However I came across a powerful example from California where a female COO joint the companies "Mother group". This group met as an exchange group of future and current mothers to support each other and exchange experiences and advices. When she took part of the group, she actually was not the powerful COO anymore but a mother-to-be with less experience than other mothers from a team or middle-management level and she acknowledged that. Her humble approach and the common interest as mother gave her direct access to listen to the situation of workers and employees and develop a further interest in their overall well-being of peers she would normally not have met.
3. The power of peer groups for employee engagement & alignment
Given the example above from different forms a peer groups which can be endlessly adapted to the preferences of the teams and employees, we also need to recognize that peer groups are a part of Employee Experience practices to give autonomy and to allow bottom-up or sideway engagement, communication and alignment.
Surely you cannot control the peer groups as in a top-down approach, but this autonomy is a great chance to have and allow a growing culture rather than a top-down implemented one. This approach is similar like agile management and OKRs (Objectives & Key Results) goal-setting in which we encourage autonomy, self-organisation and bottom-up initiatives besides management directives and initiatives.
Furthermore peer groups are ideal to connect the right people in the company and trigger engagement and enthusiasm. Staff who cares about their health, having fun, a social cause or a specific topic are the ones you find in peer groups and are attracting by example also more introvert and shyer ones, especially if the company enables people equally to take part in these groups. Peer groups can bring the company and people more together and foster a common understanding, trust and a culture of care, which is essential for employee experience.