We recently had the chance to sit down with Lorie Corcuera, Co-Founder & CEO of SPARK Creations, a Vancouver-based training and development consultancy that inspires people and companies to create meaningful cultures and workplaces. Lorie’s passion and practical experience are inspiring, and she was kind enough to tell us a little bit more about how companies build great cultures.
From your perspective, what is the difference between culture and values, and how do the two relate?
We define culture at SPARK as, “the heart and energy of a shared human experience.” When we did our design thinking on what is “culture,” we realized that we used to say that it’s about elevating the “workplace” experience. However, this definition has changed so much because it’s not just about work, or people coming and separating themselves. They feel more psychologically safe thanks to the fact that they can be themselves, and with all of that comes innovation, creativity and other positive things. At that point, they start to create a life experience at work, which is what people today want from the workplace.
When we think about culture as a collection of human beings, the values are then defined by the individuals. I believe we have a culture within ourselves, as well as a set of values and purpose, and hopefully a vision. Some people haven’t defined it, but they can still create it. We all have a purpose as well as values, and then, when we add other people to the mix, it starts to change as now we are integrating into each other into a collective human experience of shared values that we have as a group, which is why it can get so complicated!
What are some of the problems that you see in your work to define culture and values?
One of the themes that came out of our culture research was that the companies that have a good culture and that are thriving because of it were the ones that were intentional about it. When companies decide to go beyond the product they sell and take measures to figure out what their culture is, they’ll be setting themselves up for having better intention and purpose, and will be able to attract the right people to their ranks.
The challenge is that people don’t focus on putting intention on their culture until they really need to. And I totally understand! When you’re a founder trying to make money, you don’t think about that; you think about hiring someone to create the product and someone to sell it. You don’t really have money so you’re somewhat desperate. The same thing happens with people looking for a new career or looking to better themselves as individuals; they need to start with introspection and learning more about themselves. Once they figure out who they are and what they stand for, then they can build upon it.
The other challenge for companies is that—and maybe this is the way it’s supposed to be—companies and team members think it’s the company’s responsibility to mark the goals and tasks, and that the employees have to follow them no matter what they may entail. We try to encourage this facet as a partnership: there’s responsibility on both sides to pitch ideas and create what is the best workplace experience. Nowadays, it’s still too one-sided; we’re trying to integrate all the members in this process, but it’s tough.
Right now, what we’re doing is helping individuals to find their own values. So there are times when I’m sitting with a bunch of CEOs and they say that they want “values.” What they don’t realize is that everyone has their own values, so I always ask them about how many of them have actually sat down to think about the personal values of everyone that works with them, and none of them have.
How do you suggest approaching the task of defining the culture of a company?
Every culture is different; different groups of people have different values, and the way they connect those values is going to lead to creating different companies. The beauty is that, even if the culture doesn’t work for other companies, it’ll fit like a glove to the organization in question. However, they need to first define what is the ideal culture for their group.
This is one of the first questions that we ask, and we get all the people attending to answer it individually. The response is quite similar each time: It’s either a different definition for some people, while others outright don’t have an idea. How can you be intentional about your values and culture when you haven’t even talked about what is ideal for you? Until you have a collective agreement on this matter, then they’re just empty goals. If you don’t have a vision, everyone will just be working on different things.
Considering that values are things that can be defined by the company, and then forgotten about entirely, how do you translate values into behaviors?
We do an exercise where, once we have the values, we work on the behaviors and principles as the framework to bring said values to life. It’s not very clear to say that our value is about “being more creative, or sharing your voice, or challenging the status quo,” because these are abstract concepts commonly used to vaguely describe a goal.
However, it gets more tangible when we phrase these values as behavioral statements instead of just vague phrases. So, on the one hand, we have the value itself, and on the other, we have the behavioral statement that will define what those values look like in action. That way everyone has a clear roadmap for how they’re actually supposed to act.
Does it ever happen that the defined values contradict either each other or the individual values of the team members?
When I was working around the corporate world, before SPARK, we hired this amazing facilitator who was with us for about three full days. The way he helped us define our values was by looking for different words and try to wordsmith and make it sound nice and pretty. We even did a full launch on these values by putting them on T-shirts, mugs, and so on.
Afterwards, a team leader did something that was completely misaligned with our values. And the reason why this happened, in hindsight and considering everything I’ve learned since then, was because we didn’t consider our individual values. It was tough for them to understand at the time, but these defined company values didn’t actually come from them, genuinely; it was like we created these aspirational values without truly connecting with them.
These contradictions happen and are part of the process. We always need to define what the values mean to each person and if they’re in sync with each person’s individual values. In this regard, feedback and constant conversation are paramount, and quarterly follow-ups on the defined values is also essential. After all, words are just words; you’re quite literally creating your own company language. It’s going to take a while for everyone to learn and understand it, but it has to start with them connecting with the words before they become day-to-day behaviors.
How do you track progress in this journey of cultural development?
We actually give our clients a Google sheet or use their own project management tools to track progress on initiatives and roles.
We also hold quarterly sessions with the group and hold each person accountable to the cultural part of the process. It’s like developing a new habit: You have all these individuals, and you want to measure their progress, but you also want to ensure that they’re actually doing it; it’s almost like you need a coach.
What is the business value of culture?
Ah, the ROI; my favorite question.
We give them lots of data to show the impact that the process would have on their business, and then we start to gather our own numbers during the process itself.
During the discovery session, we always set aside some time to discuss the value of the process, because there’s always someone adamant on the ROI of the entire commitment. They want to be assured that the process is going to be a success, but it’s always a tricky question because every company is different. It’s hard to measure the intangible; it’s difficult to measure love, happiness, or connection. These are things that you either feel, and then there are others that you can actually see like retention, applications, or your eNPS.
There are definitely lots of things you can use, so I definitely look to honor the analytical mindsets that feel the need to have some certainty that this is going to have a positive impact. We just take the data that’s out there, and use it to support our methods.
You’re working on a major culture research project right now. What can you tell us about it?
Yes! We’re working with over 30 companies in BC plus hundreds more within our community through various surveys to gather a collective definition of culture, and offer key insights into why it matters. We’re going to share stats and trends, and explore some culture stories and innovations. We want to showcase Vancouver as this city that has companies with amazing cultures that are forward-thinking and progressive.
We’re going to release the report in early 2020, so keep an eye out!
Thank you so much for the great insights, Lorie!
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