Episode 207: Tanya Kleindienst explains what a Head of Corporate Culture does
Our guest today is Tanya Kleindienst, a culture and leadership coach based in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Prior to starting her independent consulting practice, Tanya was the Senior Vice President and Head of Corporate Culture at Fifth Third Bank.
In this episode, Tanya describes the roles and responsibilities of a head of corporate culture.
Will: Hello Tanya, welcome to the show.
Tanya: Thank you, Will. I’m really happy to be here.
Will: Tanya, you created the role of chief culture officer at Fifth Third Bank. Let’s start with what is culture?
Tanya: Well, it’s an interesting question. If you google the term corporate culture, you’ll get thousands of opinions and definitions on what corporate culture is. The way I like to think about it is really influenced by Edgar Schein. It’s just the way things are done around here. The way we do things around here is the way I think about culture, because it’s really not something that a corporation could just like another culture somewhere else and emulate that. It really is the collective system of shared values and assumptions and beliefs of the employees that work in an organization, and how they use that in their daily work, that unite them as a member of that organization.
Those terms, the values, assumptions, beliefs, they’re pretty amorphous terms that are concepts that… How do you make those really tangible, and how do they really show up in an organization? It’s the symbols. It’s the artifacts. It’s the language that they use. They show up in really big ways and really small ways, but it’s the things that unite them as that organization. It’s the unspoken reality. It’s the way, as I said, the way we do things around here. It’s the lessons we pass on to one another. Sometimes those things are consciously and sometimes unconsciously. It’s what people do in public and private, that there’s congruency there around what they do when no one’s looking.
Will: I’d love to hear some very discrete examples of A versus B, particularly say for values, right? I mean, let’s think of it in terms of a bank, where you’re working. I think that, at a surface level, an unsophisticated person like me might think, okay, every bank, it’s pretty much the same values, like okay, compliance is important, and the customer is important, and we must treat our colleagues with respect, and honesty is important. Our shareholders come first. I don’t know. Diversity, we much respect one another. All these kind of vanilla things.
What would an example of a value be where two banks might actually have different values or different behaviors where you might say, “No, this is really something that we do differently here, that’s not just apple pie and vanilla.”
Tanya: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes, that’s a great question, and a really good way to make it tangible. To answer that, I’d say what would you risk revenue to protect? This is so important to you, that you would walk away from lending or from a relationship because what you value is so important, so that might be a round that you decide not to lend to a certain industry or just either exactly what I said, what you would risk revenue to protect, or what you would walk away from because that is something that you value as an organization.
Will: And give me an example. Just give me something that bank A, not even Fifth Third, but just like bank A might walk away from, but bank B might not in terms of revenue that you would walk away from.
Tanya: If part of your purpose in values is environmental sustainability, you might walk away from coal companies or from palm oils for example.
Will: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay, and what about beliefs? What would some examples of some beliefs that are different at bank A versus bank B, so to kind of really make it very tangible for us.
Tanya: If your beliefs are around putting your customer at the center, a lot of organizations say that, not only banking, but customer comes first, customer at the center of all we do, we’re customer-centric. You can say that, but then in the actions of the organization, are you more focused on delivering service in that point in time, and very short term, and transactional interactions, or are you focused on more of building that relationship, which takes more time and takes more experience, and you’re focused more on the long-term connections.
Really being clear about what you mean by some of those values, and then how do they actually show up in the interactions with customers? The way that you think about your brands, the way that you establish your risk tolerance, the way you think about innovation, the way that you operate. You can really start to put it into more of the execution and the way you make decisions, and even the way you think about results, and what does it mean to win.
You can say you’re customer-centric, but then how does that actually play out in the day-to-day decisions that you make and the way you solve problems, and the way you interact with one another?
Will: Hmm. Okay. Yeah, that’s helpful. One that occurs to me is for maybe independent consultants, how two people might differ. One person might say, “Hey, when I think about taking on a new client, I’m really thinking about how big might this client be, and is there going to be a possibility for ongoing work, and is this going to be a one-off?” Where someone else might just say, “I’m not so much worried about the long-term with that one customer, with that one client.” Maybe they’re not big enough, they’re a startup, only big enough to do just one strategy project, but I’ll do it anyways because my point of view is that that person might then introduce me to other people, and doing good work for that person. So they’re kind of thinking more holistically versus that one client, right?
Tanya: Yes. So it’s that congruency of what you say you value, but then in your interactions, in your operations that is actually is threaded through, is defining and guiding the way you interact, the way you solve problems, the way you make decisions.
Will: What are some examples of artifacts and symbols? I’m curious about those terms between bank A and bank B about what some of the… I mean, are we talking about like a gold star on your desk or you get a plaque or something? What kind of symbols, office space, who gets the biggest office? What would some examples of the symbols be?
Tanya: Well a very simple one for Fifth Third bank is if you see a Fifth Third employee on the street or in a restaurant or at the grocery store, and they just came from work, you’ll see that they have a pin on. It’s on the left-hand side. It’s on the lapel, and it’s the fraction 5/3 on that pin, so that’s a symbol. That pin is so much more than just identifying them as Fifth Third. It is a sense of pride, and it’s a sense of history and values for the employee that is wearing that, so that’s a physical artifact of that culture.
Will: Hmm, okay. What other kind of artifacts or symbols inside the company, I mean, maybe just titles or office space, or the kind of notebook someone carries. What would some other examples be?
Tanya: Exactly that. It could be the dress, business casual, casual, that they’re all in suits and look the same, so that that’s a way to really start to get a signal of what that cultures is. The work space, is it open, collaborative space? Is it offices and dark wood? Is it open? Are all of the desks in the center and everyone has a view of the window and the outside, and the sun coming in? You don’t have that corner office, or you do, so those kinds of symbols.
The way that the language that you use, the way that you describe the executive team, and the distance in that hierarchy from the top to the masses, and the way that hierarchy is spoken about. Those are all symbols and artifacts.
Will: Great. Okay, so intro to culture. Let’s get into your role. I found this fascinating. I’ve never heard of this role before: chief culture officer. You created this role at Fifth Third. Tell us a little bit about maybe your history leading up to that, and then how that role got created. I’d love to explore kind of what that role meant, and what you did in that role.
Tanya: Sure. So my background, I have a master’s in industrial organizational psychology, behavior in the workplace, and through my career, my positions have always been engaged in human behavior and what motivates people at work, and how do you connect people to the strategy and goals of the organization. My positions have always been either in consulting for corporations or on my own, or in companies, more in a compensation performance management, or HR business partner type roles, but always thinking about that connection to what motivates people, and how behavior is directly related to the strategy and a company achieving their goals.
Will: Can I just jump in there just a second?
Tanya: Sure, sure.
Will: I know I should know this, and I’ve heard the term a lot, but I always like to ask, what is an HR business partner?
Tanya: Mm-hmm (affirmative). The best way I can describe what an HR business partner is, it’s the quarterback role of HR. So within HR, however the operating model and human capital, human resources function is organized, you have recruiting and selection, you have performance management, talent management, learning and development, all of it, compensation and benefits, all of the functional responsibilities of HR, but one of a very common way to deliver those services to the business is through a human capital or human resources business partner. The role of that person is to play the quarterback of the rest of HR, where you’re understanding the business, and that that partner of the business owner, the business leader in bringing all of those services within HR. What are the human interventions or strategies to help them accomplish their business strategies and goals?
Will: So that person would be paired up with a business unit head.
Will: So they’re really a kind of counselor, advisor, and also the person who would bring in all the other recruiting, benefits, all the other kind of services as needed.
Tanya: Exactly. Yes.
Will: One point of contact. Okay, great. I’m sorry. I interrupted you. So you were an HR business partner, and then keep going.
Tanya: Yes, so I was the senior HR business partner leading a team of other HR business partners in support of the chief administrative officer, and the chief strategy officer. At that time, each of those groups, we were at a point where we were rolling out a new enterprise-wide business strategy. We were designing a new innovation and design, being more human-centered, customer-centric around our design of products and offerings and services to our customers.
We were launching a new brand for the organization. Each of these things and all of those conversations, there’s so much change management required, and what in the way that we exist today will help us to be successful? What’s going to get in the way that needs to change? Or what doesn’t exist right now and will need to be created? A lot of those discussions, but they were very business-focused, very focused on the shareholder, the investor, and our regulators as a bank, and being a highly industry. Those were a lot of the conversations.
As their HR business partner, I started to notice that we didn’t always talk about the customer or the employee in those conversations about how to operationalize some of these big changes we were trying to make. At that time, pointing this out to our chief strategy officer and our CAO, they said that’s really important and a good insight. What do we do about that?
So we started exploring and talking more about, well, it’s culture. It’s what we’re all swimming in, and the employee and the customer are really essential to these conversations, but we don’t really have the mechanisms to study and focus on that. So at that time, the functions that I brought together as a culture organization, one standing up a new change management office. We had an EPMO office, Enterprise Program Management Office, which is typical in an organization that’s focused on change, but more from the conversion, the operational, the technical aspects of change, really putting a group together that focused on the people side of change, so standing up a change management office.
Then also, inclusion and diversity being so important, having an inclusive environment that collaborates and breaks down silos and all of those things. We had inclusion and diversity in HR, but taking it out of the functions of just human capital, and thinking about it more from, even pulling in diversity from a diverse supplier perspective out of procurement and thinking about it from a community perspective as well, so taking all of the way we thought about inclusion and diversity, and pulling them out of different parts of the organization, and putting them together in one group.
Corporate social responsibility, that if you’re really go to focus on internal culture, there has to be congruency on what you’re saying outside of the organization, and how your employees, and what you’re saying inside, so corporate social responsibility. Environmental sustainability is an area that being purpose-driven and being focused on environment and social and governance, and pulling that together. These are some of the groups that we started to pull together.
Then also thinking about employee engagement, but expanding that definition into employee experience, just emulating the same things that you do around customer experience, just taking out the word customer and putting in employee, and really having this continuous listening strategy around that, and putting the voice of employee first, and really understanding how they think about the organization, the strategies and brand, and how are they going to deliver these things, and what is going to help them to be successful and be able to accomplish the things that we’re asking them to do, and what’s really getting in the way and is not helpful, and they would like change around those things.
So these are some of the groups that we started to pull together, whether they existed in different parts of the organization or if we were newly creating them, we decided that to really relevant and understand our values, heritage, history, and who we are and where we want to go, how do we pull it all together, so a group is focusing on those things day in and day out.
The reason that I thought that that was important at the time, and thankfully our organization agreed, is that these functions exist in a lot of organizations in different ways, but you start to compete for resources and priorities because the day-to-day work takes priority. They’re the things that you need to get done, but if you can lift them out and make these functions more strategic, and then be more of an internal consulting group that is then guiding and letting those other groups know, where do these things show up? Where are the critical few times where signals the culture? Inside and outside of the bank? And how do we bring focus to those things and help them make sure that they’re on top of mind? That’s kind of what the culture team did.
Will: Tell me a little bit about this employee journey piece, the employee experience.
Tanya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Will: When you say continuous listening, how did you do that in practice? A lot of companies will do the annual survey. Did you do some kind of ongoing one-on-one randomized interviews or was this following the tweets of employees, or monitoring their emails sentiment traffic or something? So how did you do that continuous listening piece?
Tanya: All of those things. All of those things that you mentioned. Yes, we have surveys. An annual survey is really important that’s measuring all of these things. The onboarding experience, the exit experience, so yes, formal survey is a very important part. But one thing that we did that was unique, in addition to the other things you mentioned, the employee sentiment on social media, that the email traffic, and the informal structure and systems of how work and information flows through the organization using analytics and technology to translate some of that for us.
One thing that we did that was unique to really kick off this continuous listening, we partnered with an organization called Root Inc. They’re in Sylvania, Ohio, and one of the things, they’re very helpful in just translating that strategic alignment into creating a movement around what you’re trying to accomplish, but one of the tools that they are really good at, they have amazing illustrators, and created these giant learning maps for us that really described the financial services industry that banking is really important, but banks not as much anymore, because you can get some of these services outside of the banking industry. Things are changing around that.
The introduction of fintech organizations and other ways to manage your money outside of banks, and with all of these changes, where does banking really fit in to the broader industry? That was the first time that we really had broader conversation with our employees around these topics, lifting them out of their day-to-day job, and everyone thinking about the industry and where we fit within in, and bringing a sense of pride back to being a bank, and how important banking could be within a community, and within society and the economy.
So we created this learning map around those topics. If you’re not familiar with what a learning map is, it’s about five feet by four feet, a really big, almost cartoon-like illustration of these big, broad topics. It really takes the place of a PowerPoint presentation or other presentations where people feel that information is being passed on to them, that they’re more of a passive listener taking in this information. What the learning map does is make it more of a two-way conversation.
You have a trained facilitator and a script guiding you through it, but it’s really about the conversation, and describe their capturing of that conversation. So that was one part. This is a three-part map exercise that we did. The first part was about the industry and banking within it, and how Fifth Third fits. The second part really introduced the strategy, the brand, our core values and the customer at the center of those things, and what it all means, and what we’re trying to accomplish. The goal of that was to not only communicate and inform on those things, but also to really get the employee to feel themselves, what their role is, and where they fit within that conversation.
Like I said earlier, what helps you to be at your best, and what might be getting in the way of us accomplishing these things. And then the last part of this three-part map series was about putting the customer at the center, and breaking down the silos across our groups, and how do we really coordinate and collaborate to deliver that brand promise and keep the customer at the center?
So, when I talk about continuous listening in the new employee journey, and how we captured that voice of our employees, we did things like that map series, and that was a tremendous investment, and just really proud of the bank’s leadership that they even entertained us doing something like that because all 18,000 employees at the time went through this four hour, in-person session that was facilitated to capture their voice and communicate in a really unique way.
The results of that experience really was the foundation of corporate culture, and what we were trying to accomplish within our culture, and the strategies, and then plans that we made from there that listening was a part of that. Then from there to keep that alive, we continued to do listening sessions, focus groups. The results of the surveys is really important, but that’s just more of a, our data is here, and we know where we need to ask more questions or dig deeper or be able to track the metrics of is it improving, does the interventions that we have put in place, are they working? Is it what employees need?
Will: So a question for you, on these maps, you said all 18,000 employees went through this four hour session.
Tanya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Will: Confused about that, so an employee’s going through a four hour session, would that be like a small group of, I don’t know, 20 or 30 or 100 people, and the people from the consulting firm that are helping this are making a unique, real-time learning map from that session, so there’s like hundred, or are they walking through the master map that’s been made already?
Tanya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Will: When people were going through this session, what was happening?
Tanya: Sure, I can explain that. So we created these three maps, and they were the master maps. We did that through a series of interviews with our executive director so that the root partners were part of that, and the creation of the maps, but really that would be more like instead of creating the PowerPoint slides, or the informational brochures, things like that, the same way that you would develop those materials is the way that we developed the maps, but when we had those interviews or those conversations about strategy, brand, what we’re trying to accomplish, we were taking notes the way that you would normally, but the root partners had illustrators that were actually drawing this into metaphors and design of the maps. So capturing the notes both in written form the way you would for a PowerPoint presentation, and then also these drawings.
The master maps were created, and then we had the root partners did train the trainer sessions where we had over 200 facilitators trained, and they were HR professionals, they were business leaders within the businesses, other coaches, and people that raised their hand and volunteered, or were in important roles that would want to be a part of hearing the voice of employee. They were trained as facilitators.
Then the delivery of the maps were, as you said, they were in small groups. We had ideally less than 12 people, sometimes as few as eight. So eight to 12 people at a time standing around a table with this big map in the middle, with a scripted facilitation done, but really just to keep the flow of the dialogue going, and us collecting the information that we needed from the sentiments of our employees.
So these very small groups, and sometimes an entire division would just like to do it at once, so you could have 200, 300 people in a convention center all simultaneously being done, but eight to 12 people standing around a table talking through this map. Or they were done in smaller groups, but throughout our footprint, which our footprint covers 10 states. We did this from the year that we did it, from May through October of that year, and then we completed it.
As we onboard new employees, we created these e-maps, electronic maps, so you can have the same experience, but through almost like an e-learning or a webinar kind of experience.
Will: Okay. When you did those small breakout groups of eight to 12 people, were they then somehow collecting some kind of group feedback and filtering it back upward? Was there any kind of listening going on from that?
Tanya: Yes. So each session had a trained facilitator keeping the conversation going and a scribe. That scribe’s role was to capture the notes, and there were also coordinated around that, around the themes or what to be listening for, and we collected that information. Also the participants completed surveys, a very short survey after the experience. We also got all of the facilitators together after sessions and debriefed with them on the common themes. So through all of those sources we collected the common themes.
Tanya: Specifically around you, what’s keeping our employees at their best, and what’s getting in the way? Do they understand the strategy and the brand? So we were testing for the knowledge, and ability for them to execute on the things that we were doing as an organization, and we were also listening for do you see yourself in this, your role is it clear, your goals and how you connect to the bigger picture, how your position has an impact on the broader goals, and what would you like to see stay or change or be improved to be effective?
Will: Earlier you mentioned that there was some listening on social media of employee sentiment. Could you talk a little bit about how that works? I mean, a lot of employees might have a Facebook or Twitter account, but you know, the company wouldn’t necessarily know who’s who. Did you either ask employees to submit, you know, “Here’s my Twitter and my Facebook and my Instagram and LinkedIn.” Well, they probably know LinkedIn, or did you kind of just use some AI to go find those things? I’m curious to hear about that employee listening thing and how that works.
Tanya: Well, we have a wonderful social media group, and a very supportive brand, and they’re in the brand and advertising function of marketing. Between that team and the customer experience team and the employee experience team, there’s a really strong partnership there between those teams. I think that’s something that’s unique, and that we were able to foster that relationship because the corporate culture team was formed, and someone really paying attention to that from an internal perspective. It’s pretty common to have it from an external, but to be able to combine that is pretty powerful.
So the social media group helped us with, there’s different things within LinkedIn. There’s Elevate and some other programs that you’re able to use within LinkedIn, and they did leverage those for creating brand ambassadors, and people that were either pushing out content around thought leadership and our values, and things that are supportive of our culture, but also capturing the chatter of our employees around those things, what’s important to them and so on.
Yeah, so our social media group tracks those things and there’s different places where employees could talk about their companies, and just as they capture that from a customer sentiment, they’re capturing it from an employee sentiment as well.
Will: Interesting. So was there an effort to say, “Let’s go figure out the Twitter account of every employee so that we can monitor the sentiment?”
Will: It wasn’t something like that.
Tanya: No, no.
Tanya: No, nothing like that.
Will: Oh, okay. It was more just like it may be monitoring Glassdoor or something and saying, “What are anonymous employees saying there, and are we capturing the sentiment?”
Will: It’s more of that. It’s not like-
Tanya: So it’s not individual. It’s more yes, general.
Will: Oh, I gotcha. All right. What is some of the other sites that would be monitored? Like Quora or maybe Glassdoors or are there other places that companies are typically monitoring?
Tanya: I’m not certain of the sites. The names that you mentioned are ones that I’m familiar with, but I didn’t lead that. I was just more the receiver of the information from it, so I don’t know specifically.
Will: All right, cool. So let’s rise back up again, so we’re talking about chief culture officer role. We kind of really deep dive into the listening piece of it. What were some of the impact that you think a chief culture officer can have on an organization? Maybe you can discuss some of the things that you accomplished at Fifth Third in that role of how that role can accomplish more than a traditional HR business partner or a chief strategy officer, and do something kind of different that is additive.
Tanya: Sure. I think the value of it is that it’s really understanding the intersection of brand and strategy, the customer experience, employee experience, there are groups that are taking care of the constituencies of each of these things, human capital or human resources cares about the employee piece of it. You’ve got brand and advertising focused on the external, the customer. You have some groups thinking about the community, whether it’s community economic development or corporate social responsibility. But where are all of these things? Where’s the congruency?
So from a corporate culture perspective, the value of the role and what can’t be done by any of those individual pieces is bringing them all together and connecting them and seeing where are those connections that are most important. What is that… And then helping them with the what’s the ideal culture, and not trying to emulate someone else’s culture, but truly understanding what culture we already have, and being honest about that, and an honest assessment of it, and where do we want to go, and helping each of those groups define from their lens what’s the ideal. And what would this need to look like inside and outside of of the organization to truly accomplish our strategy and brand promise.
Then where are the gaps, and helping them with where are the critical few things. What are the critical few gaps, where if we really focus on those would have a big impact. Then breaking it back up again to allow each those groups to take that back into their group and say, “Well, what would we change within our strategies? What interventions make sense for us?” It’s bringing it together in the collective, and then helping them and coaching and consulting with them when they take it back into their individual groups.
Then it’s the measurement around it, the accountability. Collectively someone measuring and tracking and talking about this in a different way just as you do the financials and other important business metrics. Do we have culture metrics that are really the collection of all of these seemingly disparate groups in the organization.
Will: Tell me a little bit more about the employee experience and maybe you could give me an example of something that you learned or something that a bank could learn by studying the employee experience, something specific and maybe something that you are able to do about that, or something a bank could do in reaction to what you learn about employee experience. Maybe something that was surprising to you and your team.
Tanya: An example comes to mind of that around having a cross-functional team that is designing either a new product or a new service. There’s perhaps maybe the executive or the leadership of a group has an idea about what this product needs to be, the features and benefits, and what you’re trying to accomplish. If the company then espouses that innovation and experimentation is valued in part of our culture, but in the actual experience in designing this new product, they’re learning that failure isn’t really accepted, or we got so far down the path on the design of this, and the team decides this isn’t really what we need to do, because we put the customer at the center, and we started with customer insights and realized this really doesn’t meet their needs.
So is the culture that you espoused around experimentation and innovation really a reality for employees, or as they start experiencing in practice some pushback or resistance of those values actually playing out. That’s where you start to, in a very meaningful way, see that the culture that you espouse to have and do the things that you say that you value, and the way that that shows up in everyday work, is there congruency or what they experience and what they expected that there’s some inconsistency there?
Will: Hmm. A couple times you mentioned at the bank of the chief administrative officer.
Will: What is that role? How is that different from a chief human resources officer? What is a chief administrative officer?
Tanya: Sure. And that title I think is common in a lot of organizations, but the functions that make up an administrative officer are different, so that’s a good question. At the bank that involved the community economic development group, my culture team. The HR group was separate from culture. The procurement or strategic sourcing group, the EPMO, enterprise program management officer, the operations team, the full corporate operations team, so the call centers and back office kinds of functions. So it’s typically those back office kinds of functions.
Also in enterprise workplace services or the corporate facilities, corporate security, those kinds of groups make up a CAO.
Will: Okay, thanks. Now, you have left Fifth Third bank, and you have now set up your own independent practice. Tell us a little bit about what your focus is of your practice.
Tanya: Yeah, so it’s just been a couple of weeks, so that’s still evolving and still getting clarity around it, but I’m specifically focusing on executive coaching, and culture and leadership. Leadership is so important in culture, and the vision and leadership shaping a culture, and being able to honestly assess the work environment and what are the things that we want to address. If you don’t have the vision and leadership to accomplish those things, it just won’t happen.
I really want to focus on those topics, and also managing change. Managing change is something that’s really not very understood, and organizations have to be ready to have the patience and put in the time and effort it takes to really manage change well from a people side of it, so that’s something that I’m really passionate about.
I’m also right now focused on nonprofit organizations, and assisting executive directors with all of these topics, the culture, leadership, change management of efforts, and helping them with their strategy around vision, mission, and purpose, and how to bring those to life.
Will: I always ask guests where our listeners can find you online. Would you like to give out a website or should I just include your LinkedIn URL in the show notes? What’s the best place for people to get in touch with you or to follow up?
Tanya: I’m just establishing my LLC, so LinkedIn right now is the best place. I also am an authorized partner for the Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team and DiSC workplace.
Tanya: So I can be found on their website as well.
Will: Okay, great. Well, we’ll include those links in the show notes. Tanya, it has been a real pleasure having you on the show. Thanks so much for joining.
Tanya: Thank you, Will. It’s been a great conversation. Thanks for having me.