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TD Magazine Article

What Makes a Good Culture?

ATD's Thought Leader and Talent Development Champion Award Winners.


Thu Jun 15 2023

What Makes a Good Culture?

"Together We Create a World That Works Better." That is the Association for Talent Development's vision. One of the operative words is together. According to Merriam-Webster, to collaborate means "to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor," and culture is "the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization" (italics added). For work today, TD professionals must be adept at honing collaboration and culture.

Two awardees have extensive insights in that area. Kevin Oakes, author of Culture Renovation: 18 Leadership Actions to Build an Unshakeable Company and CEO of the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), is this year's winner of ATD's Thought Leader Award. Keynote speaker Erica Dhawan, a leading authority on collaboration and innovation as well as author of Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance, is the recipient of the Talent Development Champion Award. ATD presents the latter to an individual outside the profession who advocates for TD.


High-performing organizations are six times more likely to have a healthy culture than low-performing organizations; the former accounted for 20 percent productivity gains since the start of the pandemic, Oakes shares, citing i4cp research. "The fittest cultures typically have more flexible work arrangements, boards that care about culture, and leaders who lead by example and regularly communicate values," he explains. "These cultures also typically are inclusive and collaborative while holding leaders accountable for employee development and movement."

To leverage connection to build culture, Dhawan suggests asking: "Are you providing a safe environment where employees can communicate their concerns and share their challenges? Are you building rapid connectivity with new hires? Do you welcome a diversity of perspectives? Do you encourage vulnerability as a strength?"

TD professionals can train leaders and teams to be successful in this new era, says Dhawan. The first way is to help teams align and communicate their needs. With changed schedules and commitments, it's important to "understand what those norms are and plan your teamwork around these commitments for both in-person and virtual work," she states.

"A team functions better when everyone supports each other. As leaders, owning the moment—whether it means acknowledging good work, saying thank you, being flexible for others, working together around inconveniences, and covering for others when they need it—will go a long way in building trust in your team," Dhawan adds.

In addition, TD professionals can help extend leadership traits to people leaders, says Oakes. "Help them lead in a new work environment that often isn't bound by time or place of work and instead is focused on workforce effectiveness."


Oakes also notes that, rather than trying to retain their culture in times of change, organizations can renovate. "That's what's key: not focusing on how to 'retain' your culture no matter what, but—like renovating an old house—how to keep what's unique and \[what\] is hard to replace while at the same time improving and changing as the times change in order to increase value."

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