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Book Review - Culture Shock

CULTURE SHOCK: An unstoppable force has changed how we work and live. Gallup's solution to the biggest leadership issue of our time. Jim Clifton and Jim Harter. (2023, Kindle Edition)

In this new book aptly named, Culture Shock, Gallup experts Jim Clifton and Jim Harter delve into the findings from Gallup’s breakthrough research on the shifts occurring in post-pandemic workplace culture and offer data-informed insights on how to navigate what they deem to be “the biggest leadership challenge of our time” in order for organizations to survive and thrive in the future. Specifically, the authors argue that COVID-19 delivered an awakening that has shocked the world — a structural change in how and where people work and live. In their view, “Nothing is going back to [pre-pandemic] normal. This is a moment of evolutionary change.” Thus, throughout the book’s 30 relatively short chapters, Clifton and Harter draw on Gallup research on the post-COVID-19 workplace in the U.S. and beyond to predict the “next normal” workplace, and offer insights for organizations and leaders on how to navigate associated challenges to succeed in the new environment.

Gallup’s post-pandemic research to the time of writing this book indicates that U.S. employee engagement has reached a seven-year low. A staggering 90% of U.S. employees with desk and office jobs aren’t longing for the old workplace and commute to return. U.S. workers now want work to fit into life versus forcing life to fit into work. The “new will of the worker” is to work mostly from home because: #1) no more commuting, #2) higher wellbeing, and #3) works better for their family. Gallup experts Clifton and Harter contend that how organizations adapt to this culture shock of the new will of the worker will determine whether U.S. and global productivity will go up or down. The coming danger, they argue, is that while leaders continue to struggle with the issue of how to bring employees back to the office, the greater leadership challenge is that of deteriorating customer relationships, as fast declining employee engagement puts customer retention at risk.

The book is structured into five parts as follows.

  • In Part 1, Clifton and Harter present Gallup research-based findings and observations about the evolutionary nature of the workplace culture shift that is occurring, along with their predictions about the associated business problems/challenges for the workplace of the future. Specifically, they present the following:

  • evidence-based findings on the culture shock occurring in the workplace and related issues (i.e., declining employee engagement),

  • their predictions pertaining to the ensuing business problem and related leadership challenges the shift in culture creates (i.e., deteriorating customer relationships),

  • a description of the behavioral economics that underlie their prescription for the solution to the leadership challenges (i.e., increasing employee engagement),

  • the crucial role of managers in creating the conditions for success (i.e., fitting employee strengths to workplace role), and

  • the need for a new culture dashboard for measuring employee engagement and manager effectiveness (i.e., Gallup’s Q12+).

In regard to the dashboard, the authors note that since the pandemic, Gallup researchers have re-engineered the original Q12 for the new hybrid world. The new survey and tool, called Q12+, includes the addition of 4 new items to the original 12 that have been identified as the most powerful in their studies on the evolving workplace. These include: Respect (diversity, equity and inclusion), Wellbeing (burnout/mental health), Coaching habit (one conversation per week) and Customer (promises).

  • In Part 2, the authors delve into Gallop’s pre- and post-pandemic research to build more depth of understanding of the workplace culture shift that is occurring (i.e., the need and expectations for employee autonomy and freedom to choose), as well as insights on key aspects of the cultural shifts occurring such as: whether commuting still makes sense, the different effects of virtual and in-person experiences, how to decide the right mix, the Great Resignation and why employees leave, the decline in employee engagement and why it matters, and key steps in building a culture of engagement in the new environment.

  • In Part 3, Clifton and Harter focus on the evolutionary background of people management systems that gave rise to the development of the concept of strengths-based leadership. In addition, they review the utility of the 34 Clifton Strengths Themes as a coaching tool for fitting employee strengths to their workplace role, why a strengths-based culture is crucial in the future hybrid workplace, and the steps for building it.

  • Then in Part 4, the critical role of managers in building an “engaged” workplace culture is explored, along with the associated skills they need for leading meaningful employer-employee conversations and practical strategies for their application.

  • Finally, in Part 5, a CEO playbook is outlined for developing strengths-based managers who are effective in creating an environment for employee success in the new hybrid workplace. The playbook consists of seven recommendations including:

  1. Commit to hybrid work for your remote-ready employees.

  2. Establish Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as on-site days.

  3. Make sure your managers hold one meaningful conversation per week with each employee.

  4. Conduct a Gallup culture audit.

  5. Select the right dashboard.

  6. Certify all your team leaders as strengths-based managers.

  7. Aim every hybrid and remote workplace decision at customer retention.

Gallup is a global analytics and advisory firm for organizations and leaders in addressing workplace problems and in building human potential. This is a timely and valuable book that provides an evidence-based perspective on the evolving post-pandemic workplace culture shifts that are occurring, predictions of the impact on organizational outcomes, research informed insights on how organizations and leaders might adapt to and navigate the changing landscape, as well as a description of some of Gallup’s proprietary tools and resources that may be of value in the process. The authors note upfront that this book was written “for our clients, thought leaders and friends in high places”. Accordingly, the book concludes with a “CEO playbook” for winning in the new workplace. The recommendations are notably strategically-oriented (versus a practical “how-to” guide to implementation) and, accordingly, are intended for leaders at high levels. That said, from this reviewers perspective, the insights and perspectives presented throughout the book chapters are relevant to leaders at all levels who seek to understand the growing disconnect between the needs and expectations of employers and employees in the evolving hybrid workplace, and directional strategies for bridging the gap.


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