How to create a fantastic work culture: “Adopt Morale Lifecycle Management” with Andrew Au and Chaya Weiner

Adopt Morale Lifecycle Management. Keeping morale high today is more challenging than ever before. As the pace of business accelerates, the highs are higher and the lows are lower. Morale Lifecycle Management (MLM) is a concept that was developed by our Tribe team. In a nutshell, it means delivering the right experiences for the right […]

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Adopt Morale Lifecycle Management. Keeping morale high today is more challenging than ever before. As the pace of business accelerates, the highs are higher and the lows are lower. Morale Lifecycle Management (MLM) is a concept that was developed by our Tribe team. In a nutshell, it means delivering the right experiences for the right moments throughout the year. MLM is an operating philosophy that measures, evaluates and supports team morale through regular rituals vs. an ad hoc cadence.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Au, an expert on digital transformation helping global brands respond to the new culture and nature of work. He’s the co-founder of INTERCEPT, a strategic consultancy based in Toronto and Boston that helps brands prepare for and respond to millennial and digital disruption. His company also recently launched its culture-as-a-service division, Tribe. Interesting fact: referred to by Forbes as a “millennial expert”, Andrew was the youngest person to be inducted into the Entrepreneurs Organization at the age of 22.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
 I’ve always been fascinated by technology and how it changes our world. From the invention of artificial light, to the computer revolution, to the proliferation of artificial intelligence, technology continues to reshape our world.

This passion is what propelled me to build a business that focuses on integrating technology into workflows — from sales and marketing to operations and human resources.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

As much as I thought I was in the business of technology, I realized that I was in the business of people. I learned that successful change initiatives only happen when people decide to embrace change. Philosophies are just ideas. Technologies are just tools. The outcomes of an organization are driven by the decisions that people make. This was a stark realization.

A couple of years ago, Harvard Business Review did a study of 400 organizations undergoing change initiatives. They observed that 90% experienced change failure. The core reason for failure wasn’t time or budget. It fundamentally came down to human problems — understanding the purpose of change, poor communication and lack of collaboration.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’re very fortunate to work with global brands like Microsoft, FedEx and Intuit on a number of exciting projects. Though one that I’m particularly passion about it is an internal initiative called Tribe.

Having been in business for over 12 years now, we’ve had the privilege of being part of some very large and successful change initiatives across a variety of industries. We decided to synthesize these learnings and fuse them with our own culture building practices as one of Canada’s top employers named to the Great Places to Work® list. The result is a newly formed division of the company called Tribe.

Simply stated, Tribe helps organizations build great culture. We offer a subscription model that scales to the exact number of employees and delivers meaningful team-based experiences throughout the year. Experiences range from entertainment to professional development and to collaboration exercises. It’s just amazing and deeply rewarding to see the impact we’re helping to make.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

One word, collision. There are a number of collisions taking place in today’s workplace that are driving employee disengagement.

Collision driven by multi-generational workforce. Today, we have four generations in the workforce working side by side — Boomers, Gen-X, Millennials and Gen-Z. Each generation brings a different set of values, communication styles and workstyle preferences. And each generation thinks their way is the right way. As of 2016, millennials became the largest cohort in the workforce and we’re seeing them challenge legacy processes, infrastructure and work culture.

Collision driven by industry consolidation. Digital transformation is giving rise to new start-ups and new business models that are rivaling, and in some cases overthrowing, legacy business models. And that’s driving a lot of M&A activity. The big companies are merging to regain profitability and protect market share while small companies are scaling quickly with growth capital and acquiring others (or being acquired) on their journey. All this results in a melting pot of organizational cultures — many of which are dysfunctional to begin with, which breeds further chaos and further employee disengagement.

Collision driven by customer obsession. Industries have learned to become customer-centric. Know your customer. Study your customer. Celebrate your customer. Our addiction to wooing them and seeing the impact on revenue has led to the depreciation of our most value asset — our employees. We see organizations spending 10% to as much as 35% of revenue on customer marketing, while spending less than 1% on employee empowerment.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

Richard Branson famously said, “If you take care of your workers, they’ll take care of your business.”

As business leaders, we need to realize that change is not decided by us. It is decided by our frontline who engages with our customers every single day. Your customers aren’t interacting with the CEO or line of business leaders. They’re interacting with sales reps, customer service agents and account managers.

If your culture is weak, chances are your frontline has not bought into your values or your vision. If they exhibit no feeling of personal ownership or empowerment within their roles they will not be productive, the organization’s bottom line will take a hit and your people will be miserable. If that isn’t enough of a reason to start investing in your people then think about how miserable employees will treat your customers.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

Celebrate moments.If we don’t celebrate moments, time just passes us by. Sometimes we wait for the quantitative wins before celebrating. But you don’t get to that point without celebrating the qualitative wins — the small stories of internal collaboration, team progression or customer appreciation. These qualitative wins build momentum through stories that travel throughout the front and back office.

Live your values.Corporate values make for nice foyer decals and content for your website. But do you live them? At INTERCEPT, our core purpose is “be better”. We pride ourselves on being a learning organization that is constantly striving to improve. To help our staff live out this mission, we offer a Learning Fund to all full-time employees. This annually refreshed fund is used to learn something new regardless of its relation to the business. Whether you’re learning about AI or exploring your culinary interests, learning is learning and it’s aligned to our core cause.

Be transparent.Today, we expect transparency from the companies we buy from. We want to know where they manufacture their products, what their sustainability practices are and how they are safeguarding our data. We expect this same level of transparency from our employers. One way to deliver this is through AMAs (Ask Me Anything). Have your CEO host an AMA for one hour using any digital platform and invite employees from across the company to openly ask any question. These types of discussions are happening whether you like it or not. My recommendation is to take part in them.

Adopt Morale Lifecycle Management. Keeping morale high today is more challenging than ever before. As the pace of business accelerates, the highs are higher and the lows are lower. Morale Lifecycle Management (MLM) is a concept that was developed by our Tribe team. In a nutshell, it means delivering the right experiences for the right moments throughout the year. MLM is an operating philosophy that measures, evaluates and supports team morale through regular rituals vs. an ad hoc cadence.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

It comes down to changing the way we change. Today, we’re often looking to the shiniest digital tool to solve our problems. As mentioned earlier, change initiatives succeed or fail based on the human factors. As work culture continues to evolve, we need to give employees personal ownership over this transformation. We need to stop thinking about change as a top-down directive. It’s a collective directive.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

My style is peer-to-peer management. I don’t like titles. I don’t look at myself as a co-founder and president of INTERCEPT. I look at myself as a member of the team who has a responsibility to support the collective group.

Many of the great ideas we’ve had, including Tribe, came from other members of the team. We’re fortunate to have great people and rituals that allow the best ideas to surface, regardless of who they come from.

One ritual that I enjoy the most is our annual retreat. We get out of the city and opt for some forest bathing. We get outside, connect with nature and connect with each other about business, personal and family topics.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My wife is a very special person who has played a crucial role in my life. She opened my eyes to the world of entrepreneurship and fueled the belief in myself that I can do more. Together, we founded the business and continue to co-lead the organization.

How I met my wife: we met the first day we moved into our university residence. She had already moved in and settled per the move-in schedule. I was late and stumbling into residence with too many boxes to carry. With both hands occupied, I decided to kick the door to see if someone would open it. Sure enough, she opened the door with the snarky comment, “Well, I didn’t have that luxury when I moved in.” The rest is history.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

This is a never-ending pursuit for me. I’ve been a board member for Autism Speaks. I’ve mentored other entrepreneurs and continue to do so. And, I’ve been a spokesperson for INROADS, an organization dedicated to empowering inclusive and diverse workplaces globally. I continue to donate my time to organizations and people who are empowering our world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Whether you think you can, or you can’t, you’re right.” — Henry Ford

Early on, I learned the power of setting my own goals, regardless of societal norms or other people’s expectations.

When I was five, I started practicing Tae Kwon Do and thought it would be cool if I could be the youngest person to get a black belt. I shared that vision with people and they laughed at me or thought it was naively cute. Fast-forward three years, practicing three days a week each and every week, and I earned that black belt at eight-years-old.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The reason I’m so passionate about Tribe is that I believe we have the ability to change lives at scale. The fact is we spend most of our lives working. It is a crucial part of our identity, particularly within North American culture. If we can make work a happier place, people will feel fulfilled. They will live more passionate, creative and empowered lives, which extends far outside the walls of their workplace. We believe this is our calling and we’re committed to changing the workplace, one organization at a time.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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