Creating a Work Culture that Accelerates Performance with Jessica Kriegel

Creating a Work Culture that Accelerates Performance with Jessica Kriegel

Jenn DeWall:  Hi, everyone, it’s Jenn DeWall, and on this week’s episode of The Leadership Habit Podcast, I sat down with Jessica Kriegel to talk all about work culture. We talked about where people get it wrong, what’s maybe some language that we need to avoid, and how we can actually create the cultures that we want to work in. But before we dive into the conversation, let me tell you a little bit more about Dr. Jessica Kriegel.

Dr. Jessica Kriegel is the Chief Scientist of Workplace Culture for Culture Partners, a leading research and strategy in best practices for driving results through culture. She is a Fortune 100 thought leader and keynote speaker, as well as an author of Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace Can Benefit from Ditching Generational Stereotypes. Her upcoming book, The Culture Equation, will be published in 2023 and is based on her 15-plus years of guiding global and national organizations on the path to creating international workplace cultures that accelerate performance and put people first. I hope you enjoy our conversation. I did!

Full Transcript Below

Jenn DeWall:  Jessica Kriegel, I am so excited to have you here as a guest on the Leadership Habit! Wow, your experience, everything. I am so amazed I’m a fan and I also am looking forward to nerding out with you today as we talk about culture. But Jessica, our audience doesn’t know you yet, so if you could just tell us a little bit about yourself. I love a good origin story.

Meet Jessica Kriegel, Chief Scientist of Workplace Culture at Culture Partners

Jessica Kriegel: Yeah, with pleasure. I am currently the Chief Scientist of Workplace Culture at Culture Partners and got interested in workplace culture from a series of unfortunate cultural environments that I was exposed to in my own career. I just felt like if the culture in the places where we work isn’t positive, then I hate going to work every day, which means my mental health suffers, which means I suffer as a person. And so it was actually thanks to some pretty crappy bosses and some bad experiences myself that I said, we gotta figure this out. I’ve gotta help people love their jobs. And that became the mission that I had.

My origin story, the way I kind of originally, originally got into this, was after college. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and I went to Europe. I spent a year in London and then met a guy named Fabio who was an Italian that I was like, let’s go to Italy. You know, I was just following the winds as a 21-year-old or 22-year-old can do. And when I got to Italy, I was teaching English because I didn’t speak Italian. And my very first client was someone who had a leadership development training company and getting connected with him. He became my mentor. He hired me. I started to learn everything that I could from him. And it was just something that I absolutely loved doing.

But at 22 and 23, I pretty quickly realized that I had no idea what I was talking about as I never had really any leadership experience or even business experience. And so I decided I had to step away from that and go get my MBA. So I went and did an MBA, and after my MBA, I joined the world of Silicon Valley doing, um, training and development, learning and development at a startup called Taleo. It was a software company in the human capital management space.

Jenn DeWall:  I’ve heard of that!

Jessica Kriegel:  Yeah. Yeah. Well, it was acquired by Oracle. And so then that started my, you know, ten-ish years at Oracle doing culture transformation, which was really my playground to learn about the culture, and the rest is history.

Jenn DeWall:  Oh my gosh, I love it because you’re a Chief Scientist and even, let’s think about this 20 years ago I, or let’s, let’s go ahead and back up to like when we entered the workforce. I think that people still thought that culture was this kind of silly concept like, oh that’s right there with Cinderella. Why are we talking about that? Because it was at that, you know, that point where people were still like, you should just be grateful that you have a job. I don’t know if you know, looking at that and even thinking about how rapidly the expectation of actually creating a culture where where people want to work is now at the forefront.

How Did You Get Interested in Work Culture?

Jenn DeWall:  I would argue, and I’m not sure if you had that experience 15 years ago, I don’t think that the company that I went into, and actually it’s probably longer than that, almost 20 years ago, the company that I went into after undergrad, I don’t necessarily think that they, you know, culture for them was like, here’s your cookie here, we’ve got, you know, you get to wear jeans on Friday, this is culture. No, it has actually has nothing to do with leadership and how people talk to you. We don’t necessarily care about that. We’ll just give you the goodies. Was that your kind of experience when you, I don’t know if you’ve had that because I think we came about at a really cool time of seeing these big changes, but what was your first experience like in terms of observing culture?

Jessica Kriegel:  Yeah, I mean I would push it even to three years ago. I think that culture, even today for many, many organizations, still feels like this touchy-feely kind of intangible, nice-to-have thing. They think of it as like ping pong tables and Hawaiian shirt Fridays and water cooler talk. And that’s why everyone feels like, oh, we can’t do culture because we’re all working from home now in the post-pandemic world. And that’s just not the case.

It’s just a really simplistic way of viewing culture and the leaders who think about culture that way are failing to leverage culture to drive results. So my first job was miserable. I mean I was a recruiter, basically a sales recruiter headhunter in London going into the office working 10 hour days. My boss was looking over my shoulder. It was just the worst. It’s why I didn’t last very long at all.

Jenn DeWall:  Yeah, who would want that? So let’s level-set. In today, 22. How do you think that leaders should be approaching and looking at culture?

Jessica Kriegel:  Yeah, great question. So culture is not the perks that you get at work, it is not the environment vibe that there is at work. That’s what makes it feel so intangible and impossible to cultivate because we don’t have a real definition. People define culture. If you ask, I mean we’re talking to CEOs every single day and if we ask them what they think culture is, we get a different answer from every single person. Which this, the number one issue that you have in creating a culture that is intentional is that people don’t have a shared definition of it.

So our definition and the definition that we hope everyone will adopt is that culture is the experiences that we share, which shape our beliefs, the cultural beliefs that we hold about work about each other, about our bosses, about what we’re doing. And those beliefs drive our actions and get results. So culture gets results, it’s through the experiences and the beliefs and the actions that we get results, but those are all things that you can be intentional about in order to craft the culture that you want. And that most importantly, most, most, most importantly aligns with your strategy because I’m culture agnostic.

I mean we don’t have an opinion about you need to be like Zappos or you need to be like Oracle or you need to be like that’s all cultures that work for them or don’t work for them. That depend on the strategy. And every organization needs to do the hard work of identifying here’s our strategic plan, here’s what our purpose is and this is the culture that will allow us to get that purpose achieved and to get our strategic goals.

Where do Leaders Get Work Culture Wrong ?

Jenn DeWall:  I mean everything. I love the term cultural or cultural agnostic knowing because I think if we talk about where organizations get it wrong and maybe we can dive into where or some of the like basic missteps that they might be looking at. And I also wanna hit the hybrid piece that you talked about too is that that myth that you can’t create or preserve culture in a hybrid world. But let’s talk about just at a high level, and you’ve touched on a lot already, where do people, leaders, organizations, executive leadership teams get culture wrong?

Jessica Kriegel:  Where do they get it wrong? Oh yeah. So they get culture wrong in simplifying it and thinking that it has to do with the things that they read about the Google’s doing. Remember, 20 years ago, there were those Google articles like oh, they have ping pong tables and volleyball courts and free food at the campus and bring your dog to work day. And they see those things and they’re like, that probably makes things fun. And that’s where they go wrong because they think culture is about feelings.

And when you think culture is about feelings, you’re trying to do things to change people’s feelings and that only lasts, you know, I mean a ping pong game will make you feel a certain way for 20 minutes and then you go back to your job and everything is still the same way that it was the lack of communication, the lack of accountability, the lack of resorts, results, orientation, whatever it is, a ping pong table doesn’t solve that.

And then you get the more elevated leaders who are thinking, you know what we need to do is a team building retreat where we’re gonna get everyone together for two days and we’re gonna learn about our Myers Briggs profiles and then we’re gonna have this retreat high that changes people’s feelings certainly for like three days, right? You get that vibe but then you go back to your job and everything is still the same. So they get culture wrong when they think that culture is about your feelings. Feelings are not facts.

What culture is is the experiences that we co-create. There’s a shared creation that’s a shared responsibility and accountability to culture. It’s not just the CEO saying this is our value and now all of you are gonna go do that. It’s something that we have to constantly intentionally craft. And that experience that we have over and over and over again, multiple experiences, leads to beliefs that will hold, you know, that will drive our actions and then determine the results that we get.

Cause you’re gonna get results whether you like it or not. They may be good, they may be bad, you’re trying to get good results, right? And that means you have to reverse engineer that definition to see, well if these are the results we want, what action would we need to take? And so what beliefs would we need to hold? And so what experiences would we need to create to get there?

Jenn DeWall:  I mean I love the methodology of looking at that. Because even in the background as a coach, you know, helping people understand like your thoughts, your emotions, your actions are all connected in terms of the outcomes that you see. And I feel like it’s an easy way of understanding why situations are the way that they are, and then coming back to say what piece do I own in this?

Work Culture is More Than Cool Office Décor

Jenn DeWall:  But I also love just what you said about the frills because I can think of, I had a friend right after college that went and worked at a large company in Madison. And you might know it because you and I both went to UW, a large company in Madison. They had all of the aesthetically pleasing, I mean you would walk into their campus and they had one whole building that was devoted to like the New York subway. So you had subway seats that looked really pretty, they had every building had its own theme. And so they had these cool working spaces and I remember being young and being like, oh my gosh, I wish that I had that. That’s so cool that you could walk through a subway. I don’t know if you know the company that I’m thinking of.

Jessica Kriegel:  Is it a software company?

Jenn DeWall:  Yes. Yeah. So they had all of the things and I remember thinking it was so cool because I worked for a different large organization, but they definitely didn’t have that stuff. And I remember thinking that was so cool. But on the flip side of that, my friend didn’t even make it to her five years. Which the big appeal there was that you make it for five years, you get your 30 day sabbatical paid for you and a friend to go anywhere in the world. That was their big perk. But she didn’t last that long because her life was not worth that. She was like, you know what? I made it. And she actually quit at her I think like four and a half year mark. She was like, I don’t even care about getting to the sabbatical. I just went out of this. Because on the flip side of that, it was a very like turn and burn work culture.

Like go, go, go, go, go work, work, work, work, work. All these crazy hours. They were compensated for it but it was extremely stressful. And I know some people that still work there and love it because there’s a lot of money, there’s a lot of that. But then there are also other people that are like, I don’t care about the subway building, I just want a regular schedule. And then she left and she actually ended up starting her own consulting company. But it’s, I just, I love talking about that because it’s not enough because yes, it doesn’t veil the fact that you might have a really bad leader that’s awful at feedback. You might have a really toxic work environment.

So when you were talking about, you know, culture creating this long, like creating a culture that lasts, where do you even start with creating sustainable culture? Because I feel like how do you, how does your organization even come into work with companies? Because I can already feel that resistance, right? That tension in terms of we don’t need to do this, I don’t wanna change my ways, this is how things are done around here. So how do you even come in to get everyone on the same dang page? How do you do that?

Workplace Culture Can’t Be Built By HR Alone

Jessica Kriegel:  Well first of all, yeah, the number one failure point, point for culture transformation projects is that they’re not leader led. If they’re not leader led, if the CEO isn’t the champion for the project, it’s very hard to actually enact change. A lot of leaders out there think that culture is an HR issue. Or they delegate it to their COO or they delegate it to one of their executives who feels particularly passionate about people and those are the ones that are gonna fail.

So number one is we work directly with the leader of the organization who has in bought into the fact that they are about to embark on a journey with us. We do three year culture journeys because culture doesn’t change after a workshop. It doesn’t change after six months. You can get short term results after six months and after one year. But if you want sustained behavioral change, it’s a journey that we have to go on over the course of many years and the leaders who engage with us understand that and they’re excited about it.

And then when we actually get started, once we sign the contract, we start with purpose. That is the number one thing that we need to understand with any organization that we work with, which is what is your purpose? What is the thing that will be possible because this company existed? And what is that personal prime movers? One of the questions that we always ask the CEO or the leader of the organization, what is that unspoken motivating factor that drives your decision making to help you determine what that purpose is? It’s, it’s really a question that happens before the purpose. What moves you to care about this purpose? What is your decision making metric that you use in your mind and your heart and your soul?

And then how can we make sure that everyone in the organization feels passionately about that purpose, understands that purpose? And we have some tips and tricks to make that happen. Once we understand the purpose, then we move on to strategy. We don’t even talk about culture in the beginning of our engagements. We talk about purpose and strategy. We need to understand where we’re headed and why we exist because your purpose is your why. Your strategy is your how and then your culture is the way to get results. And so we need to figure out the why and the how first.

The Why’s and How’s of Work Culture

Jenn DeWall:  I love that. So the why, that one seems pretty, I mean I know that there’s more to it. I can say it’s straightforward, but I know I’m not doing that justice as it relates to then the how of the strategy. What are some of the ways that they then infuse that or actually execute on that? Is it, you know, cause it’s not, hey we put that ping pong table in there, you’re gonna be so happy. So when we think about strategically about the how and we take out those frills that we’ve been admiring maybe, you know, 10, 15 years ago from Google, what are some of the, how’s that like that you’ve kind of worked with, not that you’re spilling all of your trips and or tricks and tips, but what are some of the how’s?

Jessica Kriegel:  Yeah, I mean number one is you have to have the big goal that North Star the thing that’s, let’s say three years down the line, the timing of it can shift based on the organization. But you know, our organization, for example, culture Partners has a 2025 big North Star metric. It’s a number. And that’s actually really important is that the goal that we have is something that is measurable, it’s also meaningful and it’s memorable. It’s something that everyone can remember, everyone cares about and everyone knows how to count to it. And once we have those three things in place for the long term, we create shorter term metrics. We call them key results for the year and the quarter. So we have yearly key results that we are tracking to. And we pick three big ones, three big metrics that are meaningful, they’re measurable and they’re memorable.

And everyone in the company, if you call any culture partners employee right now and say, what are the 20, 22 key results that we’re trying to achieve? They’ll be able to say them because everyone in the organization speaks the language of our strategic plan and our culture. And culture is about achieving the strategy in a way that people are happy about it and that they are actually engaged in the work. And so they know the key results and they know them for the year and they know them for the quarter.

Those results, those numbers, they’re not just arbitrary numbers, they’re also attached to what we call strategic anchors, which are the the strategic bets that you make that affect every department of an organization on how we are going to achieve our purpose. And so these are cross-functional in nature. A lot of organizations, when they put their strategic plan together, they’ll pick priorities that are basically the functions of an organization. They’ll be like marketing, sales and product development. But that’s how the team is structured. These strategic anchors span the entire organization. So everyone feels like they’re touching those anchors and they can see how they affect the measurable results that we’re trying to achieve.

Measuring Culture Beyond Employee Engagement Scores

Jenn DeWall:  So when you think about like metrics, because I think that that would be what, how do you measure culture, right? And whether or not, I know it’s not directly that it’s more tied to the how of the strategy Yeah. But metrics people might feel like that’s too conceptual to attach to culture. So if, if you bring that down to metrics, is that something as simple as, you know, our turnover and retention or what are some of those examples of maybe metrics?

Jessica Kriegel:  Yeah, I mean, it depends on the organization and what they’re most passionate about. So the metrics that we’re talking about in the strategic element are usually things like revenue bookings. It can be client NPS scores. It can be, you know, we were working with a large automotive organization, and they had a long-term metric of zero emissions, zero traffic. I mean they were looking at the big picture that they could affect and those were the key results that they wanted to achieve. It can be anything at the strategic level, it could be, an employee engagement score for example, would be one of the top three strategic metrics. But these are metrics about strategy. It’s not really metrics about culture. I think one of the most powerful ways to quantify your culture is whether you’re able to achieve your strategic goals. Most people out there are doing employee engagement scores. There are so many things wrong with employee engagement surveys that happen.

Jenn DeWall:  Let’s talk about that. Because I love your point of view on that, let’s go into it. So employee engagement scores, we are looking at that, that is a big thing, right? Oh, people are happy. Like what’s the problem with that approach? I love the point of view because I, I think I, I absolutely agree with you. What’s your point of view on that?

Jessica Kriegel:  Employee engagement was a term created in the 1990s by a bunch of smart management consultants who thought, let’s talk to these CEOs about how we can make their people more productive. And CEOs ate it up because engagement is defined. I mean if you actually look up the word engagement, it’s the extent to which one’s focus and attention is on the work at hand. So we’re trying to find out are you focused on work? Are you paying attention to work?

And that theoretically is also going to make them happy because they’re focused on work because they’re into it, right? They’re engaged with it. But here’s what employee engagement focus has done over the last two decades. It’s just created incredible burnout. And we see that amplified by the pandemic and the great resignation was people saying, I’m out. I’m no longer interested in giving my life and my mental health to this company in the interest of productivity and engagement.

So when we talk to our organizations about measuring the softer side of organizational effectiveness, we like to up level and elevate the way we talk about it to employee fulfillment and employee fulfillment. If you look up fulfillment is the extent to which one is fully developed in their character and their abilities. So it’s not asking questions like, you know, are you engaged at work? To what extent are you, you know, passionate about the work you’re doing?

It’s asking questions like how are you fully developed in your character and your abilities? Do you feel whole? Do you feel like you are able to live your personal purpose at this organization? And can you feel whole here? If so, great, we’ve gotta match. And that fulfillment goes multiple directions. It goes towards the employee themselves and it goes towards the organizational fulfillment as well.

So we think it’s time to kill employee engagement. I mean on top of that you get these surveys once a year and leaders don’t even like the results because they feel like, well that happened right after Thanksgiving and everyone was stressed out after coming back from a long break. Or they say, you know, that was right before we had the org structure. So these results don’t matter anymore and you get good results. If it was a good day for the employee and bad results, if it was a bad day.

I mean we like to do more frequent pulse checks where we’re checking in with employees personally and on a shorter timeframe, not once a year, but what if we checked in with them weekly or monthly? I mean that is much more powerful data over the long term than the once a year. Oh we got 76%, whatever that means. You know, is 76 good? Is it bad? I mean it’s all relative.

Jenn DeWall:  Well, and there’s so many people that A, either don’t fill them out B are like, I’m not going to be transparent with you because of X. Because as much as so many organizations say that they’re anonymous, they’re not necessarily depending on the size of the team. You could very quickly like figure out who’s saying what. I’ve heard this before. And so then why would I share this if I know and I can figure out that you’re gonna know that, then I can’t be honest. And so how how, yeah, there’s so much fundamental flaw data within the those surveys.

Jessica Kriegel:  Oh totally. Yeah. And I would even add, I mean mo more often than not, those surveys are actually anonymous even though employees feel like they can’t trust it. But here’s why they feel like they can’t trust it and they’re probably right. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve sat in with executives who are looking at employee results and comments and saying, I bet I know who said that? I know who said that. Let’s not even engage because that person hasn’t been a good culture fit since the beginning. And so there’s that leader tendency to try and find the bad apples in the feedback. And that defensiveness, that ego blow that happens. So I think it’s right that employees don’t trust the employee engagement scores. That makes perfect sense to me.

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Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging are Essential to Culture

Jenn DeWall:  I want to ask, because I’m curious if you have a point of view on this, you know, going into and talking about the need, right? That we can’t just do this annual performance review where we’re talking to them, it needs to be, you know, continuous ongoing happen weekly or monthly. So what’s your take on the nine-box grid tool for assessing employees?

Jessica Kriegel:  That’s a great question. Yeah, no, I love that question. I have a lot of experience facilitating conversations using the nine-box grid tool. There are pros and cons to it. I’m not gonna say good or bad, right? I mean, what I find is that most often it is misused to the point where it’s not helpful because leaders see the nine box grid as their opportunity to either advocate for promotion or raises for people on their team that they end up pushing into that box. Or they use criteria that isn’t exactly how it’s supposed to be used.

And so then it doesn’t necessarily facilitate the depth and profound conversations that you really want to be having, which is about potential, nurturing that potential and then driving performance within the organizations. When used appropriately, it’s fantastic. But you need a really solid facilitator to keep executives on track. Because I facilitated nine box grade conversations where we’re going through everyone in top talent, which is the people in the upper right hand corner of that box, the people who have high potential and they’re top performers.

And you go through and you know, this was at a particular technology company that I was at, shocker, most of the people in top talent were men, were white men. And all of the people in the room on the executive team were white men. And they’re going through and they’re talking about each individual and they’re saying, you know, oh this person’s fantastic because he’s very analytical, he gets deadlines done on time, blah, blah, blah, whatever it is.

And then they get to someone in the nine-box grid who isn’t a white male. This is a true story. It was a black woman that was in the top talent category. And the executive presented this person saying, so this is a black female starting the conversation by introducing the race and the gender of the person. Not the skillset, not the reason that this person was in the top talent because of what they contribute to the organization and the outcomes that they’ve achieved. But let’s just start by defining this person’s race and gender. And then they started talking about, and she had a child and she was still working despite the fact that she was a new mom. I mean, how many of the men, first of all were new parents that they hadn’t even mentioned because they had these different expectations of the men.

Why was this woman’s race and her gender the focus of the conversation? It was so there is a lot of room for unconscious bias and that systemic racism to play out in the nine box grid, especially when you’re not doing calibration across the organization. So I think when done well, it can be positive, but more often than not is not done. Well

When the Nine-Box Tool Goes Wrong

Jenn DeWall:  I, and that’s, I agree with you and it’s that it’s the bias component because I think a lot of companies, and it’s what you said, if you don’t have an effective facilitator and you don’t necessarily know where your blind spots are. I mean, at least when I’ve delivered it, no one had done a previous bias training to understand what their own constraints were of maybe you just like them because they went to the same school as you and you have an affinity towards them. You know, I don’t think people truly understood some of the barriers that we’re gonna have that make those decisions and observations wrong.

And then for all of the examples that you shared that are so inappropriate in terms of how to look at it, but I just, it’s a, it’s a tool that, yeah, I can see by design what it could look like and what it could do and how it could be helpful to planning and structuring. But yeah, it’s often not something that is that reliable if we don’t do foundational training before that to help them understand how to actually use the tool. Many people, especially when you’re promoted, it’s like, let’s come and do the nine box, now you’re invited to that meeting and they’re like, okay.

Jessica Kriegel:  Yeah. And, and you know, it can actually help combat bias. If you take that nine box exercise and you say, all right, let’s look at all the data by gender. Let’s look at all the data by race. Let’s look at all the data by age. And you actually use that as a filter to see how those different demographics are being placed in the organization. And that’s a great conversation to have. But more often than not, I’ve seen executives be really afraid of having that conversation and they feel like, oh no, no, no, we shouldn’t filter by gender. And it’s partly because they haven’t been given the tools to be able to have those conversations and also because they’re just afraid that they might say the wrong thing and then be viewed as a racist or something.

And so then those conversations get avoided when those are the conversations that we should be having before we have a conversation about talent, right? I mean, number one is do you have diversity, equity and inclusion in your organization that’s gonna drive your results way more than if you’re making sure you promote the people who are doing really well. Because oftentimes the people who are doing really well are doing really well because they’ve been given extra mentorship and attention from people who are already at the top who are just like them.

Jenn DeWall:  Yes, yes, yes, yes. All to that. So in wrapping up our conversation, I mean, gosh, I wanna have you back and have all of these conversations. I mean, I’m trying to think of, you know, if we’re thinking about what’s a small, like there’s two questions that are going through my brain. What are some, you know, small tips that they can do to start those conversations? How do you deal with someone for lack of a better description that you know is just, you know, not a cultural fit, not getting on board with like these strategic initiatives and the how, because I think a lot of companies are also reluctant, right? This person might have tenure, they might have produced a lot of value, they don’t want to let them go, but if their attitude is not in alignment, any tips on how to even, you know, work and manage through that?

Because I think they might feel a little reluctant to want to, you know, alienate them or make them feel that if they’re not on board or I just see this where they’re like, well that’s just Jim, that’s just them. So like we just have to deal with it. But no, we can’t let the Jims continue to do that or the Jenns, like whoever that is. So what’s your take on how you can approach and manage a situation where people aren’t getting on board with this new kind of way that we’re going to be working together?

Create an Intentional Culture at Work

Jessica Kriegel:  Yeah, I mean the three most powerful experiences, going back to the definition of culture, cultures, experiences that shape our beliefs which determine our actions which get us results. So let’s start with experiences to create intentional culture. The three most powerful experiences that you can create are around storytelling, recognition and feedback. Using storytelling, recognition and feedback as ways to amplify and demonstrate when people are exhibiting the cultural beliefs that will help us achieve our results.

And when they’re not is how you start to change the way that people, their hearts and minds are interacting with these cultural beliefs we’re trying to nurture and getting these results. So the hard part of this is the feedback one, including when we give people constructive feedback. And the way that you can do that is first of all you don’t have to say, you know, you’re not doing a good job, your attitude sucks.

You can say things like, you know, one way that I think that you could exhibit the cultural belief of team-first, for example, even more than you already do is by blah blah blah. And then you give that constructive feedback and then you tie it to results, which is super key. You can’t just give feedback and not have it tied to the cultural beliefs or the key results. You say, and if you do that, that will help us achieve our goal of getting a plus 50 customer NPS score or whatever it is that your key result is. So that feedback is really critical.

And at Oracle, we called it the courage to lead because so many leaders are afraid to give constructive feedback and so they avoid those conversations because it makes them uncomfortable, which is a really selfish way of leading, right? And then your people are in the dark about where they are or are not performing because they haven’t been given those candid conversations and then they get to the performance review time, which is typically once a year and it’s like, oh I’m shocked, I didn’t know that you thought that I wasn’t a team player this whole time.

Frequent Feedback is Great for Work Culture

Jessica Kriegel:  And so it’s the frequent feedback experiences that will help craft culture and being willing to have hard conversations. Gallup did a study that said that organizations who give their employees more frequent feedback conversations have 14% higher retention rates. So it will actually help your people stay because they’ve got clarity on how they’re performing. And you know, I can tell you from experience, that was actually my big moment of deciding I wanted to focus on culture is when I was given feedback in a performance review that I was shocked by, I was given negative feedback that I had no clue how I was being perceived and I just felt blindsided and it could have been prevented with numerous conversations during the six months that I had been working there. But they never had them with me because they were afraid of how I would react.

Jenn DeWall:  Which is, I wonder if there’s also a gender variance of like how they might maybe address that, you know, less to women cause they’re afraid of the tears and more to men, they could do that. I, I don’t know if there’s any truth to that adding to the reluctance. But gosh, like even thinking about that because I love how you even frame feedback, you know, going back to what’s our purpose? Here’s, you know, whether we call it value North Star, like how that I, for team first, I love coming back to that because I think of so many feedback conversations are so unstructured that it almost feels like it’s so subjective. Like I got feedback, you know, and the audience has heard this before, Jenn, you need to be more vanilla and more of a yes man <laugh> tell me how that connects to a, a value that we’re trying to do.

Because then that I would’ve probably like landed that a little bit more, I mean I can infer obviously what that is and why they wanted it of course. But at the end of the day, tell me how that actually connects back. Because sometimes these things, you know, I also got the same feedback, Jenn, you need to stop laughing so much. Jenn, you need to make sure that you’re, you know, standing up straight anytime you’re walking outside of your cube that your shoulders are back and that people see you like this. And tell me again how that connects back to what we’re trying to do. Because if I’m a business driver and what I’m looking at are these metrics of, okay, my business is fire right now, it’s not a buying office. Like my business is fire, we’re doing so well, but oh I need to be more of a yes man.

Oh okay, okay. Like let me, let me do that. And of course the cocky 20-something that I was was like, uh, yeah, I’m pretty sure no one wants that because then you don’t have any diversity in your opinions or styles. But I love just attaching culture to it because I think a lot of people are, yes, you hit it like the, our feedback avoiders, conflict avoiders, whatever you want to say, but they don’t have the how or they have the sandwich method that’s just not effective and everyone knows it. They’re gonna know exactly how you’re gonna frame it.

So you might as well think about what are you actually trying to say and how are you attaching it to a value that’s inherently important to you, how you do business and use that as your start for feedback. I love that is just, I think it gives people, maybe it depersonalizes it and to some extent by looking at it as it’s not just me saying it, it’s the value that’s like holding me accountable. So I’m not the bad guy here, I’m just representing what our culture wants to be. If I’m understanding everything you’ve shared.

Jessica Kriegel:  Yeah, totally. And I’d say if leaders out there are asking the question to themselves, where do I start? The first thing that you can do is ask your team for feedback on you. Role model, how it looks like to receive feedback with grace and with understanding and ask for feedback to start to create a feedback culture. And that will give you more room to be able to give them feedback and they’ll know, oh, this is how this, this person accepts feedback from me, which means I should be more open to accepting feedback from them.

Jenn DeWall:  Oh my gosh. Okay. We, I know we’ve got a wrap. Any final thoughts on work culture that you feel like we didn’t cover or any tips or a mantra that you want someone to keep in mind?

Mental Health and Work Culture

Jessica Kriegel:  A mantra? That’s a great question. I mean, I think that more and more people are gonna be talking about mental health in the workplace and I think that that is so inexorably tied with culture because we need to make room for all different kinds of people and reactions. I mean, a classic example is, you know, 30% of US adults today have an anxiety disorder at some point in their life.

Workplace is the number one stressor for Americans according to research by Microsoft. So your work creates stress, stress creates health issues, it creates mental health and physical health issues. And so let’s say for example, you have anxiety, that’s a result of trying to be really productive and engaged in the work that you’re doing and get these results, right? Well one of the symptoms of having an anxiety disorder is a negative reaction when given constructive feedback.

So if you have an employee who does have a negative reaction to constructive feedback, then we need to as leaders be ready to create more understanding for that and think not just, oh, that person’s being unprofessional, but also, well maybe something’s going on in that person’s life that I can make room for or create a little bit more grace for them around. I mean that is what we are talking about, mental health in the workplace a little bit more than we ever have before, which is good, but I don’t think people realize what real understanding and inclusion of mental differences in the workplace means. And that’s an example.

Jenn DeWall:  I agree with you and I love that I wanna have a full podcast episode on this because in my opinion, as someone that has mental health challenges is I also have a mom who is schizophrenic and bipolar. And so, you know, seeing that, I think that organizations, some not all are going about addressing mental health in a problematic way. I think that I’m seeing people do it in the same way of ping pong tables for work culture. Take your mental health day, take this, and they’re making it kind of this very surface level understanding of what people actually need.

And it also doesn’t give people, you know, because we are still combating that notion of personal problems exist, you know, on personal time, like personal time, personal time, however you want to say that. And not giving leaders the tools to actually understand the nuances of mental health, especially if they don’t have that experience themselves. I mean, I feel like you and I could do a whole podcast episode on that because I really think that if you’re gonna do it right, you’ve got to actually educate people on what this is and how to have those deep conversations.

Jessica Kriegel:  Absolutely.

Jenn DeWall:  I just, I don’t know if you’re seeing the same thing of, of like it’s, it’s a ping pong table, you get your mental health day, here you go, here’s this, and it’s like, no, it’s got to be deeper in that like if I have a leader that is atrocious or condescending, like that needs to be addressed, right? Understanding why we don’t show up that way. Oh my gosh, Jessica, I have loved our conversation with you today. How can people get in touch with you, get in touch with culture partners?

Where to Find More from Jessica Kriegel and Get a Free Gift!

Jessica Kriegel:  Yeah, well, um, we have a free gift for your listeners if they’re interested in seeing some of the science, the research behind the culture work that we’ve talked about, as well as some tips and tricks on how to create an intentional culture themselves. They can go to and they will be able to download our more recent e-book as well as other resources. And they’ll also be able to see some of the other things that we’re doing and some of the trends that we’ve been following and comments that we’ve had.

I was recently on CNN and Squawk Box talking about quiet, quitting and some other issues, performance reviews, so they can check that out. I also, on LinkedIn every single day I post a two minute video with tips and tricks, best practices around culture. So if you wanna follow me on LinkedIn, then that’s another great way to get your daily dose of culture tips.

Jenn DeWall:  I love it. Thank you so much for just sharing all of your knowledge, your research, your enthusiasm, your insights. Jessica, it was a true joy. I loved having this conversation. Thank you so much.

Jessica Kriegel:  Thank you. It was a pleasure.

Jenn DeWall:  Thank you so much for listening. I loved that conversation with Dr. Jessica Kriegel. I thought it was insightful, I thought it was informative, it definitely stimulated new thoughts for me. And if you want to get connected, you can connect with her on LinkedIn. You can head on over to to learn more about Culture Partners.

And of course, if you are looking to improve your culture via developing your leaders head on over to We would love to connect with you, we would love to assist you in your leadership development needs. And in closing, if you know someone that would enjoy this podcast, benefit from it or you want to share it, share it with your team, go ahead and do so. And feel free to leave us a review on your favorite podcast streaming service. Until next time.