How We Completely Changed Our Organizational Culture in 12 Months

When I began my work as the CEO at SEG Saude Ocupacional, in mid 2013, I immediately perceived the great potential this company had. It was relatively small (and Dynamic), it had demonstrated decent growth in the previous year and its owner was open for change. The company had reached a stage in which it needed more professional management in order to go to the next level.

As a management consultant turned executive, my first job was to get to know more about the operation and its people. After 2 months, it was time to implement the first great action towards change: the Strategic Planning. I see the S.P. as the first great step in change because, when properly done, it helps the company in defining what it wants to be and do (its purpose), where exactly it wants to get, what it wants for its internal corporate culture, and it brings in tools for the company to create paths to get to its objectives.

This third step in the Strategic Planning process, the definition of the desired company culture, is not very emphasized in traditional S.P. processes. Normally, many companies define their Mission, Vision, go through very basic Values and quickly go to the SWOT Analysis. I believe that the definition of organizational Core Values, the main drivers of the desired company culture, is one of the most important steps in a Strategic Planning process.

Once defined the organizational Core Values (and I really like the style made popular by Zappos), along with the company Mission, Vision, SWOT, Balanced Scorecard and Projects and Initiatives Plan, the Strategic Planning, when done with monthly review meetings, creates a sense of urgency and accountability for the company to really move forward towards its objectives.

The Survey

One of the projects normally defined in the Strategic Planning workshops I facilitate is the implementation of an Organizational Climate and Culture Survey. It is a very important action that allow us to understand the current state of the organization in regards to its intended culture. We ran the first survey at SEG in September/October 2013.

I like to design this survey in a manner that it identifies the employees’ behaviours alignment to each of the Core Values defined in the Strategic Planning process. I also use this survey to measure some important strategic KPIs, such as employee satisfaction with: Internal Communications, IT Systems and Internal Processes. Find below the scores we had in 2013 for alignment to each desired Core Value:


Note: Scores vary from 0 to 10, ten being the highest/better. An alignment score of 5 indicates the company is 50% aligned to the desired core value. The NPS (net promoter score) varies from -100% to +100%. Positive values signifies more people recommends the company than talk badly about it.

Looking at theses scores, we see that the company already had a decent score at providing good customer service (at least in the eyes of its employees). This was further proved by the measurement of client NPS at 60% in February 2014.

However, some scores worried me. We clearly see that people in the company lacked in humbleness, communication and integration among employees. The specific scores about employee satisfaction with internal processes, IT and internal communication were also significantly low.

The light given by this survey was followed by set of important projects and implementations, orchestrated with the Strategic Planning, which resulted in a complete change in organizational culture in only 12 months.

In September/October 2014, exactly 12 months after the first survey, we ran the second one. The core values, which were 12 freshly made in 2013, were consolidated along 2014 in 10 core values with very similar meaning to the original ones. The survey questions used to measure alignment to each core value were mostly kept the same between the 2 survey. The new results were the following:



We can see significant improvements in the scores measured in 2014. Every single score has improved.

In 2013, the worst organization alignments were to the values “Be Humble” (score: 4.5) and “Value communication and be assertive” (score: 4.9); while the better alignment was to the value “Promote the best experience a client might possibly have” (score 7.1).

In 2014, the worst alignment was to the value “Promote the integration between people and a team spirit” (score 6.9, the equivalent to the second highest score of 2013), while the best alignment was to the value “Keep a High Standard of Ethics” (score 8.3)

Of the 50 quantitative questions that were the same in both 2013 and 2014 surveys, 49 presented an improved score while 1 kept the same value. No question in 2014 received lower score than that of the previous year.

Of the specific questions asked, some leaps in score are worth the mention:


A new question asked in 2014, not present in 2013, made me proud: “Do you think your job is positive to society / the world?” Score average: 8.6.

This improvement in culture is already being reflected on customer service. The client NPS score, which we measure monthly, is already varying between 70 and 80%. These NPS values are very rare. (I leave here a disclaimer: we do the client NPS survey ourselves, not through external consulting companies. However, we do our best to be impartial and are very honest with our results).

The new, more solid culture, also had an impact on revenue. While Brazil entered, in 2014, in one of the worst crisis in decades, SEG managed to sustain double digit revenue growth in the first semester 2014 (Jan-Jun) over the same period in 2013. While the market contracted, we grew.

But how did we get these results?

The following are some projects and actions we implemented along these 12 months, in between surveys:

Creation of the Strategic HR

One of the organizational areas most neglected in many businesses is the Human Resources. I am amazed at how the one area which is responsible for recruiting the people that makes up the organization; the area which is supposed to develop the mechanisms for motivation and productivity, and which should curate and develop the desired culture, can be so left to the sidelines at so many businesses.

One of the first steps I took at SEG was the hiring of a person with more experience and potential to take care of the company’s HR. I also took this area away from under the Finances department and put it directly under me, the CEO.

Creation of the Strategic IT

Another area that is normally neglected at SMEs is the IT department. When I started at SEG, this area was outsourced. An IT analyst would come twice a week to take care of support, urgent matters were resolved remotely and a consultant would sporadically present a disconnected project idea for improvement.

Don’t get me wrong, I am against swollen IT departments at any company but I believe IT must be strategic. By strategic IT I mean an IT that knows how to listen to people; that knows how to research and come up with solutions that not only improve processes but also that changes them completely. An IT that implements solutions that greatly increase productivity and that create competitive advantages.

This type of IT was, some 10 years ago, only available to large companies. Today, due to the increased access to information and Software as a Service applications, strategic IT is available to business of all sizes. As I have a reasonable background in IT, we hired our own system analyst and we put him reporting directly to me. We now both do research on good solutions for the company (always in partnership with users) and he makes it happen under my supervision.

Better Systems

One of the first projects implemented in IT was the migration from MS Exchange/Office to Google Apps for Business. Just after implementation, our email problems (which were responsible for 50-60% of all internal support calls) suddenly disappeared. Google Apps also has great applications such as collaborative spreadsheets, online chat (the Hangouts), Google Sites (which is now our intranet), Google Drive (document storage), etc. These tools greatly increased interaction and collaboration within and between teams and departments.

We also hired SugarCRM – a web-based CRM system which is very customizable and includes workflow features. All these tools allowed us to dramatically reduce the use of paper across the company.

Leadership Development

I believe it’s vital that leaders’ behavior is in alignment with the intended organisational culture. So an important step was to ensure our leaders believed and lived our culture.

Naturally, in big organizational changes, especially to company culture, we always find people that are resistant or simply do not hold the values we want for the organization. Throughout this process, we had to let some leaders go in order to bring in people more aligned to the culture we wanted to implement. On the other hand, some new leaders emerged internally and people who were already leaders grew even more personally and professionally.

In the leadership development process, we implemented coaching for leaders, both individually and in groups, and I personally conducted weekly discussion meetings on management books, such as “The Servant”, one chapter per week.

Approximation of the CEO to all employees

From the start, we implemented a weekly lunch between me and 2 randomly selected employees. We implemented this because I felt that I needed a direct channel of communication with the people who are in the front lines. These lunches gave me the rich opportunity to get to know people, to understand their point of view and understand their concerns, as well as to receive first hand suggestions and feedback. It also allowed me to explain our strategic plans, to answer questions and talk about some of the projects we were implementing. This was, and still is, one of the richest experiences for me. Besides lunch, we also implemented an anonymous suggestion box (one that only I have the key to open and read the notes), quarterly all-hands meetings (when we present the company results and update all on strategic projects) and other important projects.

Redesign of Company Visual Identity and Participation in Tradeshows

For SEG to enter in its new era, it needed a new face, more modern and more aligned to the intended core values. In the first semester of 2014, we began the process of logo and visual identity redesign. The result was a cleaner more professional logo, more related to Occupational Health and Safety, SEGs’ market. The name of the company was also slightly changed to reflect this. We changed colors from the use of orange and black to using blue, dark grey and white. We completely rebuilt the website.

With the new face, we participated in CONARH, the largest HR tradeshow in Brazil. Our participation, along with the quality and completeness of our services, generated quite an impression in our market. Clients and employees became proud of the company and we became listed among the 300 Best Suppliers for HR Services in Brazil (by the “Gestão&RH” magazine). We are now more evident in the market and our culture is more appropriate to support this.

These were only some of the strategic projects we implemented in 2013/2014, in these 12 months in between surveys.

We still have a lot of work ahead of us to get where we want. But reflecting on the past 12 months, we came a long way.

I leave here special thanks to Fabio Diniz, André Ferraz, Carlos Rasini and Uilson Fernandes, from Exection Consultoria, for the valuable insights and contribution in this process.

Ricardo Sé Cestari.

Idea for Killer LinkedIn Mobile Feature

In the last 5 to 10 years, LinkedIn has become the place to be in the Internet for any businessperson. There are many great features in this professional social networking site, and I use it a lot. However, their mobile app is somewhat lacking.

Don’t get me wrong, it is nicely designed, has all my contacts, interesting news, etc., but somehow I don’t see myself using it very often. Actually, I think I opened it only 3 or 4 of times before writing this article.

However, during a recent situation, I had an idea for it to become much more useful. So, I am here to write about it: one new feature that might prove to be the killer feature for making the LinkedIn’s mobile app ubiquitous in any business meeting. I truly believe that, with this feature, a lot more people would be opening and using their LinkedIn mobile application, at least more often than it is done today.

The feature is: A Mobile Virtual Business Card

Just imagine for a moment: you are in a business meeting or event. You exchange business cards with several people. You will later need to enter their contact info into your contacts application and probably you will search for them in LinkedIn and add them as a contact.

I know, you can exchange vcards with them and there are some smartphones that you can “bump” and exchange contacts. However, these processes are still somehow complicated or limited to a few smartphones or manufacturers.

The LinkedIn mobile app could have a feature that would simplify this situation immensely. Just a QR code “link” card that makes exchanging contact details extremely easy.

Check the general idea in the presentation below.

As you saw, this would make exchanging LinkedIn and contact information very easy. However, I believe it needs to accompany an overhaul in LinkedIn tagging system.

My account is already filled with contacts that I don’t remember exactly where I met. I normally do not add strangers but I often receive several invitations after business meetings and, as I might be willing to make some business with them in the future, I accept the connections.

After every successful connection, in the web or on mobile, you should be presented to an option of tagging the new contact. LinkedIn already has a tagging system but, today, it is not a part of the connection process. Currently you have to ask to connect (or accept) a new connection and, when connected, you have to remember to go to your connections screen, find the new contact amongst all your other connections, and then tag it. Too cumbersome to be used effectively.

Nevertheless, here it is: the suggested feature of Mobile LinkedIn Cards that, in my opinion, when implemented with a better tagging system, will significantly boost the adoption of LinkedIn mobile app and make life a lot easier for us business people.

Gamification – Why it matters for Business

A very hot topic in the business world today is the growing trend of Gamification. This is a great tool, one that can significantly boost performance and motivation of clients, partners and employees, but one surrounded by misunderstanding.

Many people think it means using video games for training purposes or providing sponsored video games for customers to play so they can have an enjoyable “experience” with the brand. Although these are good uses of games in business, this is not what Gamification really is. Here, I will clarify the issue from a person who has the point of view of a businessperson, a gamer, a student of Gamification, and a proponent of correctly applied gamified systems in the business environment.


First, lets properly define what Gamification really is.

The most accepted definition of Gamification is: “the application of game elements to non-game situations”. In a business scenario, this means an integration of game elements into common business activities, such as customer relationship management or human resources processes, for example. But what exactly are “game elements”?

They can be understood and classified in 3 levels:

  1. Dynamics, the high level thinking behind a gamified system (e.g.: constraints, narrative, progression, relationships, etc.)
  2. Mechanics, the mid-level concepts that define relationships and drive action in gamified systems (e.g.: challenges, competition, cooperation, community, feedback, meaningful choices, mastery, rewards, etc.)
  3. Components, the building blocks of a gamified system (e.g.: points, badges, leaderboards, quests, check-ins, avatars, virtual goods, etc.)

There are hundreds of game elements to think about but, in order to function correctly, they must be implemented by applying “game design” thinking. This means, the system has to have a purpose, it has to be human centered, it has to be balanced, it must provide a journey from beginner to mastery for the players, and it has to be fun, among other things.

Game elements, applied in games and in properly designed gamification projects, translate to a user experience that provide:

  • Objective and aptly timed feedback systems;
  • Clear sense of purpose (in an epic sense);
  • Clear statement and understanding of what needs to be done (quests);
  • Clear sense of progress (progress bars, leveling);
  • Activities presented in gradual difficulty (doable but always challenging);
  • Tangible achievements with status value for the player (badges, epic prizes);
  • Competition defined by clear and fair rules;
  • An environment that fosters collaboration to tackle massive challenges that one person clearly cannot tackle on their own.

Looking at the list above, from the point of view of a businessperson, it is clear that these points are definitely strategic. It is also clear that, in management theory, we have been talking about these same things for about a century now.

What is really worth noting is that game designers have perfected the science of applying these elements in a manner that they massively engage and motivate people to spend an incredible amount of time tackling extremely mind-intensive activities that are today’s video games.

According to Jane McGonial, in her TED talk (video below), currently there are more than half a billion people worldwide playing videogames for at least an hour a day. This amounts to about 3 billion hours a week (in 2010). As mentioned, video games are complex problem solving, extremely mind-intensive activities and people perform then voluntarily and have fun while doing them. Consequently, we can certainly learn from them and extract useful principles to apply to non-game activities, such as business and education.

What games can give businesses is a framework, a guide on how to apply these elements in a manner that will achieve business results and will make all stakeholders (employees, clients, managers, partners and business owners) better off.

There is no doubt that games, and game elements, play a huge role in the lives of the new generation of business people and the workforce. They will demand (and will also create) a better, more immersive, implementation of those game elements listed here; something that most businesses today still fail to do.

However, there is a certain danger of implementing game elements without proper understanding of human psychology. Jessy Schell has an entertaining “semi-apocalyptic” vision of a gamified future that is worth watching.

However, the real danger of improperly applying game elements to businesses, and to other areas, has its roots in Behaviorism theory. Points, badges and leaderboards are normally used as external rewards to motivate people’s behavior. When improperly used in a situation where there already was an intrinsic motivation for performing a task, there is a real danger for the extrinsic motivation to substitute the intrinsic one. For example: in a research done in a primary school, kids were asked to draw. Some kids intrinsically liked to draw while others not. When rewards were introduced for good drawings, the general quality of the drawings and effort went up. However, when rewards were later withdrawn, the quality and effort of the drawings dropped significantly below when compared to before the study. That happened because even the kids who liked drawing for its own sake had substituted their intrinsic motivation for drawing for the extrinsic motivation of the reward.

Another danger is that when gamification is performed as a system for controlling people’s behavior. In a very criticized trial, which became known as the “Electronic Whip”, Disney implemented a leaderboard for displaying the performance of their laundry employees. In it, employees where publicly shown their names and scores for their performance in doing laundry. As a consequence, people started to rush for better scores, often skipping lunch and doing voluntary overtime. However, they became very nervous, anxious and felt they were being unreasonably controlled. In systems like this, short-term productivity usually goes up but in expense of the people’s sanity and respect for employees’ human needs. A properly gamified system must provide motivation together with fun. It must provide freedom of choice for the players and a sense of purpose and companionship.

Some opponents of Gamification have named the bad approaches of gamification as “Pointsfication”, which denotes mindlessly applying points, badges and leaderboards to activities with undesired results. They are right in oppose these approaches. However, if done right, gamification can transform a boring job into something fun. It can boost motivation by properly providing objective feedback, sense of progress and clear goals. Gamification can be used as a framework for creating a path to mastery for employees and for effectively communicating desired behaviors to clients, partners and other stakeholders.

For people who want to know more about gamification, I recommend Jane McGonigal’s videos on TED, her book “Reality is Broken”, Professor Kevin Werback and Dan Hunter’s book “For the Win”, and videos on the Gamification Summit.