"This was like something I’ve never experienced before. It was so structured and visual, and allowed us to go deep and have authentic conversations about real strengths and opportunities. It changed our thinking about some of the activities, practices and stories we use at MOD. What we accomplished in one session was valuable and resulted in ideas we will immediately put into place."
Seattle-based MOD Pizza is an excellent example of a company that’s leveraging its purpose-driven corporate culture to stand out in a crowded market. Founded in 2008, MOD Pizza became a pioneer of the fast-casual pizza experience and, for a time, had been the fastest growing restaurant brand in the U.S. With over 500 locations, a major force propelling growth has been their company purpose, which is a belief that they exist “to serve people in order to contribute to a world that works for and includes everyone.”
Folks at MOD would say their purpose isn’t just an important part of who they are, it is the essence of who they are. This purpose has come to life organically over the last decade, as well as their core values: grit, growth, gratitude and generosity (4 G’s). Success has also brought challenges, including how to effectively scale their culture in the midst of rapid growth and a competitive talent market.
Dayna Eberhardt, MOD’s Chief People Officer, was an active contributor to Intentional Futures (iF) Culture Web Framework and invited iF to work with executives from MOD’s People Team to test its Culture Web Workshop. The team experienced a half-day session with the goal of designing a blueprint to activate the values of Grit and Growth that would further embed them into the daily store experience and inform their 2024 people strategy.
In 2022, Intentional Futures engaged in a research project to better understand the contributors to workplace culture. The result of the study concluded that while there are any number of things that contribute to what shapes a workplace culture, six influencers emerged having an outsized impact on the day-to-day work experience.
The study also provided some observations and insights that informed our approach to culture change.
The first observation noted was that organizations were more effective with culture change when they were a) clear & explicit about the specific beliefs and behaviors they needed to add or shed to advance their strategy or respond to external change, and b) were coupled with influencers that amplified and reinforced them. For example, organizations working on a DEI strategy were more effective when they focused on cultivating “bravery and belonging” as opposed to improving a “culture of inclusion.” This ability to focus improved clarity of action.
Workplace communities (teams, sites, departments, etc.) had a greater ability to shape shared behaviors and, over time, workplace culture when they were clear and explicit about shared beliefs or values AND ensured they were aligned to key cultural influencers (i.e.- processes, rituals, routines, storytelling, etc.).
However, when workplaces lacked a set of clear and explicit beliefs and/or did not leverage key cultural influencers (instead relied on written values, hiring “smart people” or “culture fit”), they reported greater friction when navigating cultural change.
Informed by our research and insights, the Culture Web emerged as a reliable and valid model to guide Intentional Future’s approach to culture change.
The Culture Web is a model that helps leaders focus on the strongest influencers of daily culture and their impact on strategic issues. By understanding culture as an integrated system, teams are able to make their culture visible and holistically understand what contributes to the culture they are striving to create.
Gerry Johnson and Kevan Scholes, thought leaders on culture and strategy, introduced this powerful and approachable model 30 years ago. Intentional Futures has leveraged its expertise in human-centered design to bring the Culture Web model to life through engaging and personalized learning experiences.
The MOD team was administered a short sixteen-question assessment before meeting for the half-day session. The Culture Web assessment helps teams determine how well their culture influencers (i.e. rituals & routines) are aligned to and reinforce their shared beliefs and behaviors. The assessment identifies specific strengths and gaps helping teams target culture change efforts.
When the MOD team reviewed their survey results they noted that while the shared beliefs of Grit and Growth were well-known in the company, the shared behaviors were not yet clearly defined. Also, while there were many rituals, routines and storytelling practices happening, they weren’t necessarily intentionally designed to amplify and reinforce the intended spirit of Grit and Growth. For example, some of the stories being told and leadership behaviors being modeled in stores celebrated “grind” culture as opposed to “grit” and healthy resilience.
While the team scored similarly on most questions, some of the assessment questions elicited a diversity of response on the rating scale, prompting rich conversation about how they understood what was impacting the day-to-day employee experience. For instance, it was noted that while new employees are given the Book of MOD (MOD’s culture code presentation), it varies whether or not the book is used as an intentional orientation tool to onboard and teach MOD’s core values and beliefs.
The assessment provided the team with a quantitative score and inventory of their current cultural web, but more importantly, the facilitated debrief conversation created space for open dialogue that corroborated their cultural strengths and illuminated inconsistencies, “unwritten rules” and taken-for-granted assumptions that were also influencing their current culture.
Core to the Culture Web approach is contextualized learning: the notion that survey scores alone aren’t strong enough to inform strong design. We believe that stories are best told in words, pictures and numbers. After the assessment debrief, the team engaged in a series of exercises to make the current culture web visible.
In the first activity, the team mapped out company rituals, routines, storytelling practices and artifacts that amplified and reinforced Grit and Growth. Captured on large posters, the team could visually see how many practices were actually being used, and which ones were intentionally designed to teach, celebrate and/or reinforce their shared beliefs. Making this visible sparked new awareness and insight around the importance of supporting store teams with standardized practices. The team also surfaced what they felt may be “detractors” that undermine Grit and Growth. For instance, it was called out that while some standards existed to support employee growth, they weren’t performed consistently which created variability (and in some cases a negative impact) with the employee experience.
In another exercise, the team was asked to move the identified practices and sort them by level of significance to employees (how meaningful are they?) and level of frequency (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.). Again, powerful imagery emerged depicting a small set of practices (rituals, routines, etc.) that were performed with a high level of frequency and significance and a very large number of practices that were performed at longer intervals (monthly, quarterly, yearly), many of which were not necessarily deeply meaningful to employees. The insight gained here demonstrated to the team where their strengths lay in shaping their shared beliefs and behaviors, as well as opportunities to create an even healthier and supportive environment.
In a matter of hours the team had moved through an inventory of their current cultural architecture (Culture Web), surfaced taken-for-granted assumptions and ways of operating, and made their current cultural operating system visual positioning them to design a new cultural web from a place of alignment and common understanding of their current state.
The final portion of the session engaged the team in a series of design exercises to create new practices they could test in their organization. The first exercise called, “lightening learning” exposed participants to an array of successful rituals, routines, and storytelling practices used at other well-known companies considered to have strong, healthy cultures. The intention was to strengthen team members’ understanding of the difference between each type of practice as well as inspire creativity. Next, participants spent time in brainstorm cycles creating and sharing ideas.
The team generated a set of practices that was documented in a Culture Blueprint they could test immediately to activate their new culture web and further embed their core values into the daily experience in a way that brought them to life. Everything in the image that is in blue font represents newly developed behaviors or practices created by the team in the workshop that are intentionally aligned to drive Grit and Growth, that was identified as meaningful to team members, with an emphasis on frequency and consistency.
The session opened up new thinking about ways to scale their culture, as well as provided focus for action. The MOD executive team walked out of the session with actions they could implement immediately, as well as plans to integrate the lessons learned into their 2024 people strategy, which included.
Dayna Eberhardt ended the session by summing up her experience, “This was like something I’ve never experienced before. It was so structured and visual, and allowed us to go deep and have authentic conversations about real strengths and opportunities. It changed our thinking about some of the activities, practices and stories we use at MOD. What we accomplished in one session was valuable and resulted in ideas we will immediately put into place. This process will be important for us as we improve the Squad experience and continue on our journey of becoming the best place to work.”