Maddie Grant is an expert digital strategist who has helped hundreds of organizations with internal and external engagement. In addition to her work through her consulting firm Culture That Works, Maddie is Editor of SocialFish, one of the most visited and respected blogs written for nonprofit and association executives. She is an accomplished speaker and author and has written several books, including the 2012 hardcover, co-authored with Jamie Notter, titled Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World, and When Millennials Take Over: Preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business.
Why does the world need a work revolution? (In other words: the way we’re working isn’t working. Why not?)
We’re seeing big change coming. The traditional mechanical, industrial system of management has been in decline for a few years now. It’s not working because it doesn’t allow for the collaboration, the two-way conversation, the innovation, the agility and the continuous learning and experimentation that we’ve seen bubble up through social media and technology disruption. Jamie Notter and I argue in our new book When Millennials Take Over that when Millennials, now in their early thirties, enter positions of management, they won’t hesitate to change these broken structures in a way that enables the key capacities (digital, clear, fluid and fast) needed and much more aligned with our digital reality.
How are you or your organization reinventing work in some way (big or small)?
We’re consultants, so what we do is find the patterns, write about them, and help organizations see them in their own systems. Things that manifest themselves as not being able to recruit or retain younger employees, disengaged employees, an inability to keep up with customers, the market or the competition… all of these are fixable problems if we can come in and shine a light on how a company’s culture is hindering progress.
Why do you do what you do?
My background is as a digital and social media strategist—I was attracted to the constant change and evolution of it, and my ability to translate that into helping nonprofits (specifically) make best use of it all. When I started working with Jamie, whose expertise is in organizational development and generational diversity, and we started to see how these changes went far beyond technology but were impacting deep into management and leadership, we got excited about being able to describe what was happening. And if you can name it, you can fix it—so that’s what we do. It’s not just about writing about these things—it’s about working with companies who want to succeed in this new reality.
What kind of art (any kind) do you like and why? Any recommendations we should know about?
Love!! I happen to have a masters in Postwar and Contemporary art, so this is a great question. I like all kinds of contemporary art, which for me means the art I studied in London in the 90’s—Anish Kapoor’s pigment rooms or mirror sculptures, Anya Gallacio’s flower installations, Damien Hirst’s shark tank, Felix Gonzales-Torres’ piles of candy, James Turrell’s light pieces—art that involves several different senses as once, that involves the viewer’s presence as part of it.
What is one specific thing your company does that makes your culture unique and/or different?
Not sure this applies to me, since I have a consulting firm with one partner, but I would say we’re constantly checking in on what our strategic goals are as a company. We don’t do it once a year—we do it constantly. We experiment with all kinds of things, while always gut-checking on whether what we’re doing (or what we’re invited to do) matches the work we want to be doing strategically.
What is one discipline/industry totally different from your own that has inspired you? How does it impact your work?
For us that’s the tech industry, entrepreneurship, startup culture, the desire to change the world but through experimentation and a “lean startup” mentality. We’re studying the book by Eric Ries right now, in fact—the idea that we can scientifically test products and services based on market needs, by creating “minimum viable products” and sending them out into the world for people to tell us if they are of value or not, and pivoting when they are not of value. We’re consultants, not software manufacturers, but even so there’s inspiration to be had in just trying things out and getting feedback in real-time.
What’s one tangible and concrete technique other organizations should use if they want to create a more human and/or meaningful place to work?
They need to define the culture that they want, and align it to what drives success. Having a “cool” culture with a foosball table in your open space and beer in the fridge is not enough, if it doesn’t have any connection to what you do as a company. Having a values statement on the wall is not enough, if what you truly value is something totally different. (One word: Enron.) So making your existing culture visible, then tying that culture to what enables you to better sell what you sell or provide what you provide—that’s what will enable you to hire the right people, make everyone accountable and responsible for maintaining the culture you want, and ultimately connect the dots between what you do and why you do it—which creates the “meaning” that people will want to attach themselves to.
What is one surprising thing we should know about you?
I was a “bridger” growing up—the kind of person that could make friends with the jocks, and the theater geeks, and the goths, and the nerds. I’m also half French and half Thai, another kind of “bridge.” I still use that ability to connect all kinds of people in all kinds of different worlds.
What piece of technology (other than your laptop/smartphone/tablet) could you not live without and why?
My car. It’s nothing fancy, an Accord Coupe, but it’s where I de-stress, where I listen to music loud. Being in forward motion—I need that to think things through.
What do you do for fun?
I am an avid DC United fan, in the Barra Brava which is a supporters’ group (think loud drums and face paint). Our job, which we take very seriously, is to keep the DC United players’ spirits and energy up regardless of how well or badly the game is going. There’s nothing like the feeling of a whole stand of fans jumping up and down and singing, and beer flying through the air… and that’s before we score a goal, when it’s total and utter joy and mayhem.
Where in the world are you?