Culture Hacking – the new way to enable change

| December 5, 2013 | 2 Comments

I carried out an investigation into this really interesting new way of looking at and approaching change in an organisation for work the other day. Below is the fruits of my initial labour. I’ll be exploring and writing much more about this subject since it piqued my interest. If you have anything to add about the subject I’d love to hear from you in a comment.

What is culture hacking?

  • Culture hacking can be understood as infiltration into systems and the changing of their coding. It is a critical, often even subversive game with cultural codes, messages and values. Johannes M. Hedinger, Com&Com,
  • The culture of a group can now be defined as  a pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by the group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, which has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems. Edgar H Schein, Organisational Culture and Leadership
  • If you want to change your busi­ness, you also have to change your cul­ture. If you want to change your cul­ture, you also have to change your art. Crea­ting art and ideas that express, reflect, arti­cu­late what the busi­ness needs to become is culture hacking. Hugh Mac­Leod
  • Culture is the social infrastructure or operating system of an organisation. It is everywhere and you cannot see it but it is ingrained in habits. Great culture hacks change habits. Seb Paquet – derived from

What does it mean (my interpretation)?

culture hacking

– Addresses current/past and desired behaviours – assumes current ways not working or problematic and seeks new ways as solutions
– Addresses behaviours that are subtle, often intangible and take time to assimilate.
– Behaviours can be codified into processes or social objects to make them repeatable and habitual
– Example outcomes: Improvements in engagement; productivity; loyalty (employees and customers)
– Example means: storytelling, art (diagrams, infographics, etc.), events,

How to hack culture?

  1. Observe
  2. Find the crack
  3. Make art
  4. Find the others
  5. Catalyse
  6. Exploit language
  7. Instituionalise
  8. Let go
  9. Go back to 1

Seb Paquet

  • Social Net­works form around Social Objects, not the other way around.
  • The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the rea­son two peo­ple are tal­king to each other, the subject of interest.
  • How do you turn a product into a Social Object? Ans­wer: Social Ges­tu­res. And lots of them.
  • Pro­ducts, and the ideas that spawn them, go viral when peo­ple can share them like gifts.
  • The inte­res­ting thing about the Social Object is the not the object itself, but the con­ver­sa­tions that hap­pen around them.
  • Cul­ture Hac­king is all about crea­ting social objects and conversations around them

Modified from Hugh MacLeod and

  • Narrative vital to a vibrant organisational culture for millennials:
    • Career progression
    • Personal development and training
    • Work abroad
    • Receive feedback in real time
    • A comfortable and inspiring environment
    • Collaboration with clarity of purpose and goals
  • What these elements mean for an organizational culture include:
    • Clear career plans and rotations to develop the next generation of leaders (including a global perspective, if possible)
    • Solid training and development offerings to include a professional and personal focus and betterment
    • Timely feedback where frequency and meaning are essential; annual reviews become just a milestone
    • New workspaces to enable interaction and familiarity, meaning ease to work together (around a “kitchen” table or an individual space, for example)
    • Clarity in purpose and goals to empower collaboration and inspire the work to be done

From this article: Building a Culture to Embrace Millennials


  • Twilio is an API company, and one of our rituals is the requirement that every employee must build and demo an app built with the Twilio API in order to receive their logo track jacket and Kindle (which is a free company benefit). This goes for all departments: engineering, sales, finance, marketing. We have a company dinner each Wednesday where new hires demo their apps, and our CEO “knights” them by putting the jacket on them. It’s great to see the whole company cheering for the new employee as they show off what they’ve built, no matter how simple or complex. For most non-engineering hires, the demo app is the first software development they’ve ever done. To support them, one of our engineers anchors a weekly code coaching session after hours, where anyone can drop in and get help.
  • Demonstrate the benefits over traditional tools like email with your own simple videos/screencasts like this one:
  • A recent Deloitte survey concludes that while executives focused on tangibles as key influencers of workplace culture (compensation and financial performance), employees ranked them among the lowest. Instead, employees ranked candid communication, recognition and access to management highest. This RSAnimate video on Dan Pinks theory based on his book Drive consludes the same thing. Based on this the following hack (recounted here):
    • We have a hybrid program that’s similar to profit sharing. This discretionary cash bonus is available on a monthly basis and is largely based on the financial performance of the company. The elements that contribute to higher or lower bonuses are highlighted each month. This represents a better way to engage employees. They understand the business and the personal impact they have within the organization.
    • Employees that understand profit and loss, cost of doing business and the immediate effect that they have on these and other key business metrics will act like owners rather than employees. This sense of ownership is good for business and for employee morale. It has an impact on culture that can be behavior changing.
  • Write and implement a culture plan with detailed actions – suggested steps in article here
  • Create a visual map of your culture, to guide your teams in daily decision making and help them make choices that are consistent with what you stand for and who you want to be
  • Run hackathons to work on company culture. Aricle here covering some interesting projects that resulted from some hackathons.
  • Experimenatation is the new planning. Especially with culture, you cannot over plan. Culture should evolve through experience from doing things. Take the hacking approach literally and try out new things constantly. See what works and do more of that – stop doing what doesn’t.

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Category: Culture

About the Author ()

I'm an "edge" kind of guy that loves being at the points where change, creativity and innovation happen. It doesn't always mean doing entirely new things, sometimes old things in new ways or the same things better. Most often its at company boundaries, where the "rubber hits the road" and products/services meet markets and customers, employees and suppliers co-create value. For me of course, social lies at the heart of all this. Most of my social activities are captured on my About Me page.

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