Making Culture UNCONDITIONAL With Amy Leschke-Kahle of ADP

What if your organization’s culture was founded on trust, consistency, and unbroken promises? Imagine the ripple effect this could have on your employees and customers alike. Our guest today is Amy Leschke-Kahle, Vice President Talent Insights and Innovation at ADP. Amy reveals the secrets of creating such a culture within your organization. From understanding the true meaning of culture to the power of non-negotiable promises, Amy guides us through the process of shaping an unshakeable culture that goes beyond work.

The conversation moves beyond the realm of theory as we delve into the tangible impact of a consistent and promise-driven culture on the employee experience. With Amy’s expert guidance, we explore how a culture of trust empowers employees, fosters initiative, and even attracts potential recruits. Furthermore, we discuss the importance of a customer-first culture in building lasting client relationships. This episode is a treasure trove for leaders aiming to cultivate an organizational culture that consistently delivers on its promises unconditionally. Tune in with us and embark on this journey towards building a trusted and reliable culture in your organization.

Listening Time: 26 minutes

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Amy Leschke-Kahle
Vice President Talent Insights and Innovation ADP

As the VP of Performance Acceleration at TMBC I can honestly say that I love my job. I get to help organizations activate their talent move the needle on employee engagement and performance. I combine 25 years of practitioner experience with the lessons I've learned at some of most respected organizations in the world. The result? A unique point of view I feel obsessed to share. Every day, I bring TMBC’s ground-breaking research to life by making it real inside each client’s unique environment.


Making Culture UNCONDITIONAL With Amy Leschke-Kahle of ADP

[00:00:00] This

William Tincup: is William Tincup and you’re listening to the Recruiting Daily podcast. Today, we have Amy on from ADP, more specifically, the Marcus Buckingham Company, and she’s got a new title, so I can’t wait to talk a little bit about that. But our topic today is making culture unconditional. That’s all capped, bold, underlines.

Talisize, the whole bit, unconditional. Amy, would you do as you’ve been on the show many times, but would you do us a favor and introduce yourself and what you do [00:01:00] for ADP slash the Marcus

Amy Leschke-Kahle: Buckingham Company? Yeah, so good to be here. I’m Amy Leschke Karl. I’m the Vice President of Talent Insights and Innovation.

And what that means is I do applied research. I talk to the world about how to make the world of work a lot better and spend a lot of time working with organizations and HR leaders to really simplify work.

William Tincup: Much needed, especially the future work. More simple would be nice. That’d be awesome. How did we get to this place where making culture unconditional?

So why don’t we start backwards and go, okay make sense. Like people talked about culture fit, especially in hiring, but I think we’ve always talked about culture, not always, but we’ve talked about culture fit in a lot of different ways over the years, but you’ve now you’re taking a step further and you’re saying, okay, it’s unconditional.

Period. Hard stop.

Amy Leschke-Kahle: [00:02:00] Yeah, it’s interesting because I read an article maybe a year or two ago, and it was actually some research that MIT did back in 2020, and MIT published it. We can send you a link and folks can look at it themselves. But one of the things they found in this research, which was not surprising to me, is that when they looked at organizations, the alignment between the organizations.

Culture, values, however, whatever you want to define that as, and how employees experienced it is that there was not even a correlation between those two things. And as I thought about that, William, it became really clear to me that yes, that’s absolutely true. And part of that is because of how we even, I’m going to say, think about and define culture in the world of work.

People often define culture. Here, I’m going to ask you. I’m going to put you on the spot. Sure. How would you define culture? Oh boy.

William Tincup: I think 10 years, 15 years ago, I would have said culture is [00:03:00] to some degree it’s the people that you want to be around. Culture is back then I would have probably even said people you want to go have a beer with, people you want to go have coffee with, people that you want to spend time around with because you’re going to be, it’s like kids in school.

Parents see their kids. A number of hours a day. Teachers see them more if you do the actual math. Teachers combined, they see your kids more than you do. And so it’s one of those things you’re gonna spend a lot of time around people your work. So you should probably like them or at least respect them on some level.

I think as a, as I’ve gone, and COVID probably helped some of this it’s for me, culture is when you’re not there. My wife took off work yesterday and she said, everything went pretty smoothly. I said, yeah, that’s the bid. It’s supposed to work better without you than it does.

because of you. And [00:04:00] that’s good. cultures that the machine can keep running with or without you, hopefully without you in cases where it needs to be that way. So I think it’s almost reminiscent of what people say about you when you’re not around that, that feels like culture. I think that Zappos had some really interesting things going on years ago around culture where culture was the receptionist.

That your experience, the bus driver that took you from one part of the campus to another, your interaction with that person, that was the culture. So it wasn’t like this ivory tower, boardroom, C suite type of discussion around culture, which I think by my father, probably, that’s probably what he went through, is a ivory tower of culture and it was pushed down and all the subordinates must be this.

It’s okay what if they’re not? And, so I think my, my definition of culture has changed pre [00:05:00] COVID, during COVID, post COVID. If that makes sense.

Amy Leschke-Kahle: I love that description of culture because you’re really talking about a consistent experience as an employee. What are those things that I can count on?

And you also talked about the impact culture. What are those things as an employee that I can count on no matter what? Culture is often defined in kind of the broader world. I’ve heard so many people say this, it’s how work gets done around here. The problem with that, however, is it’s a little bit loosey goosey.

It’s a little bit, yeah, sometimes I refer to that as little c

William Tincup: culture. Oh, yeah. Yeah. And it’s all that opens up rationalization and justification. Yeah,

Amy Leschke-Kahle: Sometimes maybe, but if it’s not convenient, probably not, but usually we try to it’s that kind of a feel, and what you were talking about with your examples was, to me, that’s big C culture.

That is [00:06:00] non negotiable. What are the promises that an organization is making to its employees? And oftentimes, via employees to its customers and clients, what are those very few, critical few promises that we can count on no matter what?

William Tincup: Are you thinking more in the way of a social contract?

We agree to do this for you, you agree to do this for us you agree to do this for each other, et cetera. Maybe not explicitly a contract but articulated in a way whether or not it’s in hiring, whether or not it’s in, onboarding. But basically, and I’ll tell you why I’m asking this question.

A hundred years ago I ran an aid ad agency. And at one point we basically, we created a document through a series of missteps and mistakes and all that other stuff where we said, that’s not cool. And so we wrote up a list, it’s almost like a declaration of independence. We wrote up a list of things that just aren’t cool.[00:07:00]

And then we went through it. We ratified it with everybody, all the employee everybody had their hands, fingerprints all over it. And then we all signed it. And it was a bit where Hey, throwing hand grenades not cool. Showing up to meetings, 30 minutes late, not cool. Showing up to meetings unprepared, not cool.

You’re not calling your clients back, certain, like certain things. And it’s we agreed together. These things aren’t cool, period. But it was a fun bit because we all, everything was on the table. Like everything was on the table and it was really interesting to see what was important to me as a partner versus someone that was like a junior account creative, okay what’s important to them?

What’s not cool to them?

Amy Leschke-Kahle: Yeah, I love that. And I think, culture’s two way. One of the mistakes that I see organizations making around culture is they do these big, giant culture surveys, or they go on a culture journey. [00:08:00] And I think that’s doing it, I wouldn’t even do that, quite frankly, because I had a, someone, an HR leader I was meeting with actually about six weeks ago, and they said to me, we were talking about culture.

And one of the things they said to me is they brought in a firm to do a culture survey. And it’s who gets to determine culture? And again, I’m talking big C culture. I’m not talking little c culture on a team. I’m talking about those promises that organizations make to their employees. And I like what you said about a kind of a social contract.

It’s a promise that no matter what, I can count on this. And she said, The person I was talking to said it feels like everything that we’ve always talked about around culture is just a tagline. It’s a gimmicky tagline. Oh,

William Tincup: 100%. I think the big, it wasn’t a shock to people that were probably a little bit more observant, but the shock of the pandemic was that for a lot of the C suite, I would say [00:09:00] is they thought and maybe even executives in particular, maybe managers is they thought that the box was culture.

And when you got rid of the box, the office when you got rid of the office, it’s what’s our culture or our culture isn’t. Going to the hour commute the, the nonstop meetings in person that just drone on that’s not culture or, occasionally going out to a baseball game.

That’s not culture. You can do all that stuff. On your own time, if you want to, if you want to, if you want to drive into the city for fun, great, do that. But that’s not culture. I think that was one of the big shocks that I, I dealt with a lot of executives is just Hey, we’ve got to redefine.

We’ve got to, we’ve got to, we’ve got to figure out our culture. I’m like, yeah. Cause if you thought it was the office in downtown San Francisco, It was never the office in downtown San Francisco.

Amy Leschke-Kahle: No, absolutely not. One of the other interesting things, if you think about how [00:10:00] organizations describe, again, in whatever you want to call it, culture, values, whatever, organizations will often have one word descriptions.

So something like, usually integrity, like you could probably guess what the top five are, right? It’s integrity, it’s collaboration, it’s sometimes respect, sometimes it’s diversity. And what is that? It’s simply a word. They’re not making a commitment, slash, promise, slash, social contract with their employees.

And although employees know, and we, to your point, what you were talking about earlier we know what we want and what’s important to us. Boom. As an employee, I’m looking for the organization to make that promise to me. I promise to work for you underneath certainly to meet my job responsibilities, but in, in the dome or in the kind of what you deemed to be important as an organization.

But most organizational cultural declaratives are not super[00:11:00] descriptive. They’re not super vivid. What does integrity mean? If it sometimes, just think about even in the old days, I’m not even this old days in a lot of organizations, like we sometimes rate people against these things even.

Oh yeah. But like integrity how much integrity does William have on a scale of one to five? It’s no. He’s either got it or he doesn’t, like it’s either, either you promise, either you’re doing this thing or you’re not doing this thing. And so as we think about organizations who define a culture, and I think everybody should, it’s got to be the promise.

It’s got to be non negotiable.

William Tincup: And I think some of the struggles for folks is that they know the culture that they have and it terrifies them because it’s horrible. And so it’s aspirational. Culture, which I don’t mind if you’re transparent about it. If you’re an executive, you’re like, listen, we aspire to have this culture and here’s what we have in place, [00:12:00] helping us to get to that place.

So we aspire to have this culture because again, it’s like you either have it or you don’t, it’s either there or not there. It’s a, it’s one of those things that you’ve got to be able to touch it. I was thinking about Nordstrom earlier this morning and one of the things that they used to do, I don’t know what it is currently, but what they used to do is their bit with employees was real simple with, as it relates to customers and each other and management and vendors and just 360, just use good judgment.

Use your best, use your best judgment, use good judgment and it’s, that was it. That was the guidance. If a customer came back and they, had a suit and it had a tear in it and you thought, eh, it was probably done by them accidentally or whatever you know what? Use good judgment.

Treat them right. There wasn’t a long list of like how that got done. It was just, you know what, empowerment. And then they would teach them ways to use judgment, which I thought was,[00:13:00] really great for a retailer. And a really great way to empower employees to just make good decisions. And again, if it wasn’t a good decision, then it was a teachable moment, coachable moment.

Amy Leschke-Kahle: Absolutely. And I would put that, I think about culture, like organizations that have true promises to their employees and they fulfill those promises. I think about four Conditions, if you will, are four descriptors of that. The first one is differentiating. So integrity, as an example, or collaboration, as an example, is not particularly differentiating in the market, like what I don’t know exactly what those things mean in the context of an organization.

So they’re not particularly differentiating. Differentiating one organization from another, and you talked about recruiting. If I’m going to go work for an organization, I want to know what’s unique and special. What is that unique and special promise, again, that you’re making to me? A good example of that, there’s a healthcare institution that I’m familiar with, and one of their, they call them a service standard, is Love [00:14:00] Me.

That’s differentiating. Whoa what? What is that? That is really unique. And by the way, completely describes. It’s so indicative of the experience that you have. I don’t know. I’ve not been a patient there, but I’ve certainly worked with enough folks from this organization. It’s true. Like you feel that in the organization and it’s incredibly differentiating.

You talked about the Nordstrom example and there’s others in service in retail and hospitality that have similar types of things. And it’s really credible because when I go into that store or when I go into that hotel, I have that experience every single time. It’s really credible. It’s not made up.

It’s not sometimes. It’s credible because we experience that every single time we interact with that particular organization. Consistency is key. It’s got to be consistent. It can’t be sometimes. And I’ll give you another example of some, an organization that I’m really familiar [00:15:00] with that has a, I’m going to call it a value, call it a cultural identifier statement that says clients trump prospects.

So if you’re in a situation where you’ve got a client commitment. And a salesperson wants you to go talk to a prospect. Clients win every single time. There are no exceptions. By the way, I want to be a client with that organization. They put you first. Yeah. Put the client first. And we promise to do that.

We make that promise to employees that if you’ve got to make that call, that decision between a client or a prospect, we’ve got your back every single time. No exceptions.

William Tincup: What’s the connective tissue or the similarities difference in your mind right now between culture and employee experience?

Amy Leschke-Kahle: It’s definitely part of that. Employee experience has so much stuff smooshed together under an umbrella. It’s a great descriptor, by the way. It’s a great thing to get a general sense of all the things, [00:16:00] which is why it’s important to talk about employee experience and what it looks like, but it’s also incredibly complicated.

It’s almost like each of us have our own kind of employee experience equation and it changes over time. It may change day by day. And I think about culture as one of those pillars of the employee experience, again, that actually doesn’t change.

William Tincup: Let’s, let me ask you about that, because I’ve struggled with this myself in terms of, is cult first of all, cultural from an anthropology architect not architectural, it’s anthropology.

is seen as, at least comparative anthropology, it looks at culture and says it’s fluid. It’s like sand in an hourglass. There’s new inputs and there’s old, older things that are going out. So there’s new things coming in, old things going out. So culture is never static. And if you could point to anything and see where that, that is, whether or not it’s music or anything, basically, you could see Change [00:17:00] culture is, it might be small, it might even be recognizable, but culture is change.

And so I struggle with that part, whereas in corporate culture it might be the hardwiring, like a superstructure, okay, the frame of your car isn’t changing, the chassis of your car, unless you change the chassis, it’s not changing. However, other things off of the frame are changing.

And the question is, it’s okay, how do we know that, okay, if we’ve, let’s say we nail our culture, let’s say we’ve go through the whole process and however we figure that out, I’ve seen multiple ways of doing this, but we like really get in touch with ourselves and go, this is our culture.

Is there a born on dating in your mind? Is there an expiration date of that? Is there a time in which you come back to that and make sure that you’re still that group of people or that culture?

Amy Leschke-Kahle: Yeah, I’m sure that there is. I [00:18:00] think that’s going to vary organization to organization, but I want to touch on something that you said.

And maybe it’s a question, and I certainly have a statement. I’m not sure if it’s right or not, but there is this idea that, that culture somehow we have to go out and find out what our culture is in the organization. Yeah. Yeah. We’re going to go ask everybody and say, what is our culture? I want to push on that a little bit.

William Tincup: You should push on it a lot, actually.

Amy Leschke-Kahle: What I hope organizations start to realize around this culture, again, big C culture, not the little c culture, but the big C, capital C can’t be optional thing. Is that the leadership of the organization, they should define that culture, they should be defining what are those promises that we are willing to make and never break, at least in the context of where we are today, I don’t know, maybe it needs to change a year from now, or five years from now, I don’t know what that [00:19:00] time frame is for any organization, I think they know, but I don’t know.

But I don’t know. So I think the notion of going out and, doing a culture survey and asking people how work gets done, I don’t think that’s the way to do it. I think the way to do it is the other way. I think organizational leaders need to declare, we are making these promises to you. Our culture, Big C culture, is defined by these three things, four things, not a lot of them, and not single word things.

Descriptors that are incredibly clear, like clients trump prospects. Or leave your ego at the door. There’s one, actually they don’t say it that way. They say give your ego the day off. It has to be that lived promise and you have to make it live in the organization as a leader.

Like you can’t ask people what it is. You need to tell them, these are the promises we are making to you. That’s how you actually get an established culture that’s consistent across the organization.

William Tincup: I like [00:20:00] that. And here’s what I think though, when HR and recruiting listen to the, to this, I think the takeaway is those things, they can be they are set.

Okay. And then everything else needs to then filter through that. We hire for culture, we promote for culture, we fire for culture, we train for culture. Everything’s gotta be if we do that, first one, if, when we do that, and let’s say our leadership says, okay, it’s these three things. Now those three things now need to permeate, in my mind at least, they need to permeate every decision we make.

In the organization, every, especially as it relates to people and so compensation, rewards and recognition, like everything that we touch, then those values, that, that culture, those promise. If it’s been clearly created, clearly articulated, communicated, et cetera, then everything else, it should be thought of as a way, a mechanism to [00:21:00] make decisions on who we hire, who we promote, who we let go, et cetera, because again, to take that simple example of putting customers first putting customers over prospects, if here’s how in the real world, here’s how this gets tricky.

Your best salesperson abs killing it in sales doesn’t do that. They don’t do that thing. They put prospects above customers a hundred percent of the time. So Can they stay at that company? And a purist would say, no, a purist would say, no, if you, the culture needs to reject you, right? Because we’ve said we’ve said it’s been, it’s come down.

We’ve all agreed. It’s permeates everything we do and you’re not behaving according to our culture and thus you need to go elsewhere. Now the pragmatist in me struggles [00:22:00] with that because the pragmatist says, yeah, Sally is our best salesperson, and she’s killing quota. Any leeway?

Amy Leschke-Kahle: You know what I would say to that, William?

What? Is that maybe that’s not part of your culture. Maybe that isn’t a promise that you’re making in that particular context. Maybe you’ve defined the culture. In a way that isn’t in alignment with who you actually are as an organization. So it might not be the, I would say the employee who’s got it wrong or the leader who’s got it wrong.

Maybe you’ve defined the culture in a way that doesn’t reflect the true values of the organization and the promises you’re willing to make to your employees.

William Tincup: And breaking trust, that’s the breaking trust and breaking promises. That’s why I think it’s one of the things that’s really super important about what you’re saying is you’re making promises to employees.

These are not written in pencil. They’re written in pen and they expect them to be fulfilled. [00:23:00] So you know, don’t break your promises. So once you’ve, once you, as an executive or once as a leader, once you’ve figured out what those pro those statements are going to be, the cultural statements are going to be then again, making aspirational.

I think even in this situation the words we’re using the customers over prospects thing. Let’s say we have a culture that doesn’t, isn’t that way right now, but we know that’s the way that we want to go forward. Okay. I would believe a leader if they told me that, it’s okay, here’s the deal.

We didn’t grow up this way, but we know that this is the path forward. This needs to be our culture. And so it’s going to be like, change is hard for everybody. However, we have to put our customers above prospects. That has to be our culture. Like I can, I will, I would believe a leader if they told me that.

Especially in that situation, if I work there [00:24:00] and I knew that we didn’t do it already, like I’d believe that it’s okay, listen, when there’s a change that we have to make, we recognize it, that this is the best path forward. So here’s the best path forward. What do you think, what do you think the leader’s responsibility is to in communicating with employees and then living it themselves?

Amy Leschke-Kahle: I have a little bit of a rub with that approach.

William Tincup: A little bit? You should have a lot of rub.

Amy Leschke-Kahle: So it sounds really nice. It sounds very nice. Here’s another, I’m going to say, a little bit of a myth in the world of work. The what’s in it for me approach, which is, we’re going to, the hearts and minds, right?

We’re going to grab people’s hearts and minds. Fine, by the way. Fine. But you’ve got to start with actions first. Like it’s not heart, mind, action. It’s action [00:25:00] and then maybe hearts and minds. It’s again, it’s going back to that promise of doing. There can’t be optionality in an organization’s culture, a true culture.

And I, that is, again, the fundamental problem, challenge, and even more importantly, opportunity for organizations around culture is make those very explicit promises. This is not optional. Here’s the actions that we take in our organization, even by the way, if it’s not popular or if it’s not whatever, it shouldn’t be what everybody else is doing because it should be differentiating.

This is who we are, this is how we do our work. This doesn’t, these are the promises again we’re making to you. What’s allowed, what’s not allowed. What’s allowed, what’s not allowed and it’s, here’s the actions that we take and I would almost challenge organizations and ourselves to think about actions first and then the hearts and minds.

William Tincup: Drops mic, walks [00:26:00] off stage. I love that. That’s soundbite right there. You’re always awesome. We just need more time. Let’s go ahead and get our next podcast scheduled. But thank you so much for your time today, Amy. Always fun. Thanks, William. And congrats on the new title, the new fancy title. And thanks to everyone for listening until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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