‘Culture Decks’ vs. MOOCs: What’s Better for Teaching Company Values?

Aug 15, 2013 Posted by

Company “culture decks” are big these days: Netflix got huge raves for its own slide show (“Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility”) – applauded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg as “the most important document ever to come out of the Valley.” Then Hubspot made a similar splash with its “Culture Code” deck earlier this year. Zappos, too, is another darling of this new model for sharing a company’s vision and values.

Which raises an interesting question for HR and learning and development pros: Are these slick slide shows truly effective at teaching and training employees about company values, or are they better suited as highly effective recruiting and marketing vehicles? I’d argue the latter, not the former, and here’s why.

I’m a big fan of the core ideas presented in all these culture decks — don’t get me wrong. Each one offers a philosophical foundation that almost any business would be wise to follow. (Not to mention, each serves as a welcome replacement for almost any typical “employee handbook” in corporate America.) At the same time, as teaching platforms, culture decks are still very old-school — they’re simply one-way presentations.

What if CEOs could raise the bar here and start developing massive open online courses (MOOC) that would not only carry all that great content and narrative, but would open it up to ongoing discussion and interaction focused on real learning and retention — not just viral show and tell. What makes MOOCs compelling, potentially, for an executive team is two-fold. First, a MOOC provides a persistent opportunity to get their message across about culture. Second, it allows a many-to-many model of engaging employees on an important topic.

I’d venture to say that for any company touting teamwork and collaboration as a part of their culture, it should already be using online courses to teach about values. How might companies actually put something like this in practice? Here are a few guiding principles:

Open Up Your Culture Discussion

MOOCs allow for a “many-to-many” approach to teaching culture, and for executive teams to interact directly with employees. Because a MOOC is massive and open, companies can open culture discussions to employees all over the world and even to prospects in the recruitment pipeline. What better way to educate prospective employees about your culture than to invite them to participate in a quick online course?

The asynchronous nature of a MOOC allows for executive-level participation because it removes the necessity for busy executives to be available in person at a certain time. Senior leaders can participate off hours, between meetings, on airplanes, or whenever they have a few free minutes.

Make It a Continual Conversation

Following the model of a typical MOOC offered by Coursera and other new services, executive team members could facilitate discussions on specific culture topics and truly engage people in conversations about the company culture and what it means to live and act on the culture. This is an excellent way to feel the pulse of an organization and to engage in on-going conversations on specific topics related to its culture. This kind of insight does not come out of employee surveys.

Test and Re-Test the Learning

During each weekly unit of a MOOC, participants might be assigned to take action on culture and values, and report back to the group on results.  For instance: “Last week, I tried to put the customer first, but my manager reprimanded me for giving away the store.” Think about how valuable it would be to share that result in a facilitated discussion with peers, managers and an executive-level facilitator. People will really know how the company wants its employees to treat customers after that discussion. The silver bullet of culture success is to get a large group of people to guide their actions using the principles laid out in the company culture.