Workplace Transformation: The Journey To Workplace Culture Change With Dr. Kate Price
By diagnosing unhealthy cultures and transforming them, we can create sustainable change that improves the lives of individuals and the success of organizations. In this episode, we sit down with Dr. Kate Price, a clinical psychologist and expert in workplace culture change. Dr. Price has worked with a variety of organizations, from startups to Fortune 500 companies, and has helped transform workplace cultures through her unique approach. She is also the author of the Amazon number-one bestseller, "Taming the Culture Tiger." Today, she shares her journey to becoming a culture change expert, the challenges she faced along the way, and her insights on workplace culture. She discusses how to diagnose unhealthy cultures and transform them into healthy ones. Dr. Price also discusses global perspectives on workplace culture and how the hybrid workplace is impacting teams. Tune in now and learn how to improve your workplace.
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Workplace Transformation: The Journey To Workplace Culture Change With Dr. Kate Price
It is my honor to introduce you to my guest, Dr. Kate Price. She is passionate about improving people's lives with her unique brand of psychological and science-based methods. From the NHS in the UK to startups and Fortune 500 companies in the US and globally, she has worked for decades to bring a human-centered approach to effective and sustainable culture change.
Trained as a clinical psychologist, she believes that understanding complexity is essential to designing simple solutions that transform people's experiences in the workplace. Dr. Price is the author of Taming the Culture Tiger, a published book that is fantastic. It's an Amazon number-one bestseller in the UK and the US. On a personal note, after traveling the world for over eighteen months, she accidentally ended up in Indiana. Hat tip to Indiana. It's a great place. She lives there with her husband and her two cats. Kate, I want to welcome you to the show.
It's nice to be here, Tony. Thanks for inviting me.
We're going to have a lot of fun. I can't wait to dig in. I love your new book and the work that you're doing in the world. We're going to take a journey into your past and spend some time understanding how you got here.
That sounds good.
As we do at the campfire, we journey through what's called flashpoints. These are points in your journey that have ignited your gifts into the world. What we will do is invite you to share what you're called to share. Along the way, we will pause and see what's showing up. In a moment, I'll turn it over to you and allow you to take it away.
My background is I'm a clinical psychologist. I grew up in the UK. I'm focused on looking at culture change because of some of the experiences I had as a clinical psychologist, working with people who were in very severe levels of distress within the mental health system, with chronic health conditions and within the prison system, veterans, refugees and all these different kinds of people.
One of the things I came to realize working with them was that our environment plays a very big role in how people get into these situations in the first place but most of those systems are reactive. We're always thinking about how we fix the problem once it's occurred instead of thinking about how we prevent it in the first place. From that, I've ended up being interested in what role culture plays and what role our environments play. We spend a lot of our days at work and in a work environment. That was where my interest in the area of organizational culture came from.
I love the background that you came to this with. I'm curious to ask, where did your interest in getting into working in clinical psychology come from? What were your parents like? What was your childhood like?
My father was an actuary or a statistician. My mother was a stay-at-home mother but she is very highly educated. She has a degree in economics and philosophy. During my childhood, she did a number of other degrees as well, one of which was child psychology. She did a lot of work with special needs children when I was a kid. I had a lot of exposure to that. A bit later, my younger brother had dyslexia. He went to see an educational psychologist and because I was only a few years older than him, I would have to go along as well. I was sitting in the room while he was having all these tests and things done.
I was fascinated by the way that they would look at the issues he was having and test different things and how they came up with the results and worked to correct them. That was one of the big influences on how I got interested in it. I started. I wanted to be an educational psychologist. I went through my undergraduate psychology degree. I did my teacher training. I worked with preschool children as well. Halfway through my teacher training, I realized that I wasn't that interested in all the children in the class.
I was more interested in helping the ones that had specific issues or unusual family dynamics were going on. I took a step back and thought about what I'm interested in and realized that maybe clinical psychology was a more appropriate route for what I was interested in. I transitioned into that field instead and did a lot of work experience in brain injury units and stroke rehab forensic units dealing with learning disabilities, mental health and also child and adolescent work, which is where I ended up specializing.
It's powerful when you think about that journey from those little early experiences to moving up the ladder to getting clarity about what you want to spend time in. I have to ask because this is something that a lot of professionals in the space have to deal with. How do you keep yourself sane in a world where you're faced with so many traumatic experiences and people who are dealing with challenges? How do you keep yourself grounded?
That's slightly less relevant in my working organizations because most people and I deal with executives on a day-to-day basis and are quite well-grounded themselves. In working particularly in child and adolescent work, you would hear a lot of very traumatic stories about children's experiences and how they have ended up in the therapy that I was doing, which is serious end-of-the-line mental health problems.
It's about understanding where your boundaries are, knowing yourself extremely well, knowing what your issues are with it where you're likely to be triggered by other people's stories and making sure that you can separate the two pieces so that you're not putting your emotions and feelings onto other people and then giving them advice or help or assuming that you know their experience of something is. If somebody tells you about their experience, you think, "I went through that too." You assume that it was the same and then say, "I know what that was like. This happened to me too. I know how you're feeling." Generally, you don't. Other people's experience is very different from yours.
When you're trying to listen to somebody and understand their experience, you have to be able to take out your own to be able to truly listen to their work. In doing that, you're able as well to create a bit of a boundary so the emotion doesn't affect you in quite the same way. You're able to step away from it at the end of the day. If you're not able to do that when you're doing it with so many people every day, then that would become difficult.
That training or ability early on when you were in that particular space can help you. We will talk about this more as we get into the organizational aspects because it's still there. It still exists in organizational workplaces but maybe not to the degree that it shows up in that arena. I'm sure we will dig in. I want to hear what happens next on your journey. What were the moments that led you to the next inflection point from being at the NHS to deciding to go off on your own?
It wasn't an intentional decision. It came about as a result of the fact that I moved to America. I had been traveling for about eighteen months or so. As part of that, I spent five months in Fiji. When I was there, I lived on a very remote Northern island with a Fijian tribe. Part of it was vacation. Part of it was I ended up doing quite a lot of voluntary work with the kids in schools there and also thinking about how tribal culture and community are different from how we live in the Western world.
Through people I met there, I visited Indiana and met my current husband. It's not easy to date when you're living in two different countries. He has two children. I have two stepchildren. At the time, they were quite young. I ended up moving out here. While my clinical psychology qualifications in mental health transferred easily to the rest of the world, they did not transfer easily to the United States.
When I started reflecting on what it was I did in the health service, the prison service and the government, I realized that the mental health aspect and the therapeutic aspect were about 20% to 30% of the work I did. Everything else was organizational. I was looking at pieces of the health service, how they functioned and how could we make sure they were meeting the needs of all the different stakeholders, taking them apart, putting them back together, thinking about how teams worked, doing supervision of a whole variety of different healthcare professionals and then working in big multidisciplinary teams.
I realized that if I stepped aside from the mental health component, I could still do the same work and maybe I could do that in corporate organizations, which would also give me the chance to think about that more preventative piece that I was talking about earlier. Instead of always reacting to the problems, I could step into an area where we could design workplace environments that didn't cause the stress that leads to mental health problems and physical health problems.
I saw it as an interesting opportunity to do that. I looked into other people who might be doing it and discovered there weren't very many clinical psychologists in the world doing this work. I've only come across 5 or 6 with the same background as me. We have different approaches because of our training to how we see it than an organizational or occupational psychologist would or normal consultants who go in. In the end, I decided I would set up my business and do it that way so I could be fully in control of my approach and the way I was doing things because it was a bit different than the other approaches that I was finding in the marketplace.
That's the beginning of a new journey entirely. When you think about the idea, "I've got all this training. I'm pivoting into a new world and opening up a new environment for myself of exploring a new path," how was starting a business?
Exciting and terrifying in equal measure. I never intended to start my business. I always assumed I would always work for the government. The whole sales and marketing piece of it was quite interesting. Doing the actual work though is incredibly rewarding and I enjoy it. It's different from working in the mental health systems but rewarding differently. It has been challenging at times. It has been interesting because my work is a bit different. Not everybody understands it. That's challenging selling work or having clients understand where we're going.
What I've discovered is it's got to be the right people who are very willing to make changes, not just within their organizations but they have to be willing to undergo their personal transformations. I love working with those people because they're the people that I see take on these challenges, undergo their personal transformation and then start working with their teams and being capable of leading cultural changes in a sustainable way.
It's exciting to watch people take those steps and build their knowledge and skills further than they are already because typically, they're already very good leaders. They're just looking to know, "What is it I don't know about myself? How can I get better? How can I more effectively lead my teams and the organization?" They've got a real focus on wanting to improve the workplace experience and a genuine care for the people in the organization. Those people are great to work with.
I love that you're sharing this. Something about this has me thinking. When you look at an environment that you walk into like a company or a workplace and you say, "There's something not quite right here," do you often see that it's caused by one person? Is it usually caused by a multitude of people? How do you diagnose or come to realize the real challenge that you're up against when you walk in? If you would like to bring something in from the book, I'm happy to hear that as well.
It's different in every situation. When you're looking at a small leadership team, it's easier to see. You can watch the dynamic of how people interact together. Is there one dominant voice in the room? Do people feel able to speak up? Is everyone agreeing with each other? Are they willing to challenge each other? You would look at things like that initially.
I rely on my skills as a clinical psychologist and my ability to read people to be able to determine what's happening in that situation and look underneath to see. Are some people in the room feeling insecure? How much of their personal issues play into this dynamic? Is it one person? Is it lots of people? It varies. Sometimes you can get one person in a room that's very toxic intentionally or unintentionally. It's usually unintentional. Most people don't want to be toxic and have a bad impact on other people but they can quickly, especially if they have the power in the room, change the dynamic of a team or a culture and make it unsafe.
When you're looking at larger organizations, it becomes more complex. You've got 1,000 people. It's going to be the interplay of so many different interactions but the leaders do have an outsized influence in setting the culture because however hard you work as a more junior employee, it's very hard if you don't have the support of leadership or they are setting up a culture of blame.
As a mid-level employee, you can try and make your environment psychologically safe but if from above, you're being blamed for mistakes, then it's very hard to transform the whole culture. Leaders do have this outsized influence in culture but that's not to say it's all on them to set the culture, define it or do all the work for it. That's up to everyone in the organization.
Speaking of cultures, what have you experienced in terms of the difference as you look across different cultures on a global basis? For example, have you seen a uniqueness around companies that are in the US versus in the UK or Fiji and different ways that people are showing up and how they manifest? Is it that no matter where you are, the problems are pretty much similar?
The underlying issues are similar but they show up in different ways. The cultures that are very quiet and unassuming show up in a different way to a culture where it's loud and people are fighting for themselves. There's a lot of ambition. That's not to say ambition isn't present in other countries. They don't demonstrate it in the same way because perhaps it wouldn't be culturally appropriate.
I tend to be working with global companies. The challenge there is a bit different because you can have people from a lot of different cultures within the same team. Is it an American-based company? Everybody else is being forced to fit into the American way of doing things or vice versa. What challenges does that present? How do we understand other people's perspectives and where they're coming from? It takes intentional effort on the part of everyone in a team to understand each other.
It takes intentional effort on the part of everyone in a team to understand each other.
We can broadly look at cultural aspects but when it comes down to a small team level, it's much better to think, "How does this person interact? What have they been influenced by in life? What society did they grow up in that makes them act in this way? How can we bridge some of those differences?" Those are always interesting conversations to have with teams.
It makes me think of this idea of the macro and then the micro situations. The understanding has to be developed both from a time perspective of looking back at people's past. It's understanding what makes them do the things they're doing but also understanding what's having them act the way they're acting in this moment. What are the current environmental factors that are creating the tension in this room?
All these things are very complex at some level. You want to look at the individual but beyond that, you want to look at the individual's neurology. How is their brain functioning? What is it being programmed to do throughout their lives? What are the evolutionary aspects of that as well? What do we all as humans react to in certain ways? If you move outward from the individual, you want to look at the interpersonal relationships that they're in and the situation. More broadly, how does that function in a small group? How does it function within a larger organization and then out to the societal and cultural influences that we were talking about?
Maybe they're national ones but maybe within an organization, it can be as simple as, "The scientific department is going to react in a very different way to your sales department." Those are two different mindsets as well. Often we go into organizations and try and create solutions. We have these nice or simple models to apply to things but they are generally looking at one of those levels. Anywhere you've got humans involved, you've got all those levels involved. If we miss that, then we're not able to design solutions that work because those other factors come in and interfere with the one piece we're trying to do.
There are so many directions I want to take. I'm fascinated by what you're sharing. I'll choose an adventure here. Tell me how the hybrid workplace has impacted the workplace from your perspective and the dynamics of teams.
At an individual level, it's very positive because it gives people a lot more flexibility. At team levels, I don't know. I'm not sure there's a simple answer to this one. It can be good. It can be bad. It depends on how the individuals and the team react to it. You can successfully build your teams, build cultures of psychological safety within your teams and do all that virtually as well as you can in person. However, you have to be much more intentional about doing it because you don't have in-person conversations. You don't bump into people in corridors. You don't have all that.
You've got to manufacture those in a way so they still feel natural. That's difficult to do for people intentionally because it feels a bit fake and weird but if you do it and practice it intentionally, then it does become much more natural in a way. There's no disadvantage to working in that way. The benefits for people's lifestyles, their home lives and the way we live are so huge generally. It's an advantage to be able to work in those ways but with that being said, it has to be judged on each situation individually.
It's not appropriate for scientists who work in a lab. Maybe it is to some extent. Does all their work have to be in person in a lab? Do they intentionally choose all to be in the lab at the same time together to build community? Are they splitting their time up because one person always has to be there? We think for every team, it's got to be something discussed.
That's what gets missed. They don't have these open discussions, "What would work best for us in this situation at this time? Is there something that happens that changes that? Do we come back and discuss it again?" Sometimes people are afraid to voice their opinions on it as well because of what other people might think or how others might react to it.
Sometimes people are afraid to voice their opinions because of what other people might think or how others might react to it.
It's well said. I appreciate you taking that. It's not an easy question to feel but I was curious about your opinion. We're all making our way through this challenging period of what to do. I appreciate that take. I want to come back to your story and understand. Here you are doing this work. What was the next big challenge? Was it decided through the book? Tell me something else along the way that was a big moment for you that challenged your resolve.
I don't know if it's the biggest challenge but I was terribly afraid of public speaking based on some experiences I had in my childhood at school, which led me to this. It's your environment that can cause a lot of issues. That has been very interesting. It was with working with clients. I was often asked to stand on a stage at a company and provide an expert opinion where I like to work much more behind the scenes and through other people because change happens more successfully when it's led by trusted leaders in an organization. You don't need a consultant standing up there but a lot of scientific organizations would be like, "You have the scientific expertise. Our people will want to understand that there is some theory and evidence behind this." That was quite a big challenge for me initially.
Since the book came out, I get invited on podcasts, "Come and talk at our conference." That for me was an interesting challenge. I hadn't stopped to question it along the way, "What was my fear?" It turned out to be very different from what I thought it was. I'm very happy talking if people ask me questions and it's based on my knowledge. It's easy to do that and stand up. That has been an interesting journey of self-reflection and reevaluation along the way that I've gone through myself.
I'll ask this question now because it's a good time. What have you learned the most about yourself that you want to share or the lessons that you've learned that you haven't already shared?
It's a lesson I've been learning continually as an adult. Know that you don't know everything. The more you come to know, the more you realize there is to know in the world. You can't possibly have the right answer. Often people will call and say, "You're an expert in this subject." You don't feel like you are because you know there's so much more out there to learn and know. It's that.
I'm a consultant. People come to me for answers. Do I have the right answer? Probably not. It's going to be more of a joint experiment with people. We're going to go in based on the knowledge I have of psychology, how people think, how people change and how groups work together and jointly with their knowledge of what's happening in their organization and what their goals and aims are. If we can put those two sets of knowledge together, we can come up with a hypothesis of what might work.
We go into the situation. We try it out. We have a plan but we want to constantly be reevaluating that plan. We don't want to wait five years, come back and say, "That didn't work. Let's try a new strategy or have a new initiative." We want to constantly evaluate what we're doing as we go along and be willing to adapt and accept that some points fail. What do we learn from that? How do we adapt? How do we create a new idea moving forward?
We're always making sure we hear from everyone else because we learn so much all the time from listening to other people's experiences and how they deal with things. It's that. You're never going to know everything. It's okay to let other people know that because leaders will often present things, "We have come up with this solution. It will be great. It's going to work," but everybody knows that's not entirely true.
Make sure to hear from everyone else because we learn so much all the time from listening to other people's experiences and how they deal with things.
They can express their uncertainty around it and say, "This is the solution we have come up with. We think it's the best fit at the moment. We will keep evaluating as we go along. This is what we're trying. Give us feedback on it." Express that uncertainty or doubt, especially in times like the pandemic when nobody knew what to do. To stand up and say, "This is what's happening. This is how we're going to deal with it," and present it like it's a certainty, everybody knows it isn't.
You're causing more doubt in your leadership by doing that whereas standing up, being vulnerable and saying, "We don't know how this is going to play out. We're also feeling very discombobulated, anxious and uncertain about it. We're right there with you. We want to share your feelings and ours and see how we can best get through things together," is a much better strategy.
I love how you shared this. It was well said. It reminds me of something I often say, which is that experts are the best seekers. They never own the mantle of an expert because they know that there's always more to be learned. There's something that you shared. What makes people who come into organizations and are able to help them transform is a sense of, "It's not just me. It's about us." That's a game-changer. Let's talk about the book and some of the key things you want people to take away when they read the book. Why don't you say the name of the book?
It's Taming the Culture Tiger.
Thank you so much. I knew I was going to get it wrong. Tell us what are the key things you want people to take away without giving the whole book away?
It is part of what we talked about. Cultures change. People are complex. There is no simple solution. My book is not, "Here's how to do everything." It's more like, "Here are some of the issues that you might need to think about and what you might need to look at if you want to design a culture or improve the culture in your organization. Why are you doing that? What do you want to achieve? What are some of the main factors that you might want to look at in doing that?"
The first part is a theoretical background. It's more the psychology piece. It's why people behave in the way they do. There's some neuropsychology, anthropology, social psychology and a bit of the evolutionary stuff around stress, how organizations create a lot of stress for people and then how our brains are reacting to that. If you can understand that background, then you can start thinking, "Why are the environments we're in not very successful? Why do people respond poorly to change? How could we do it in such a way that people engage with it rather than resist it?"
The main thing that I would like people to take away is that it is okay to test things out but leaders also need to be very willing to understand themselves and know what impact they have on other people. It's that willingness to change and knowing that if you want to lead a successful culture change, you probably are going to have to change some things about yourself to lead it successfully.
Self-awareness is incredibly important. Once you have that, make sure your lead team or the team that is going to lead change, whomever they are in your organization, also has that self-awareness and the ability to model the behaviors that you want to see within the rest of the organization because there's nothing worse than being told, "We're going to have a culture of psychological safety. We're going to do all these kinds of things," and then looking up at your leadership team and none of them are doing it. Why are you telling us to do it if you're not doing it yourself?
Make sure everybody is in a real alignment, know how to do that and then think about how we include everybody in changes. Instead of setting out a vision and expecting everyone to get on board with it, how do we include them in its development? How do we educate them on the way through so we don't create resistance to our new ideas? That's something that I would call neuropsychological priming. We use people's memory representations and the ways that we build up ideas in our minds so that when we hear something new, we don't respond to it fearfully. Think about the introductory elements of change rather than focusing on the change itself and the actions we're going to take.
The way you describe makes absolute sense. The way that we can change organizations is through this lens of knowing that it's not just one person navigating alone but it starts with each individual understanding and becoming aware of themselves and then understanding that change is a team sport. It's important. That's brilliant. I want to ask you the last question that we ask every guest. I can't wait to hear your answer. What are 1 or 2 books that have had an impact on you and why?
I read a book called Dibs in Search of Self. It's a book about play therapy. It was this traumatized child who comes to therapy. It's the journey that the therapist goes on with him. It's exploratory. It struck me so much because it was about how she very much followed his path. She didn't impose any of her ideas. She sat and played with him until he was ready to open up and let him take his path through things.
One of the things that struck me about it was that we can do that with everyone. Even in organizational change, I'm not dictating a path to my clients. I want them to take their path. I can help them by sharing my insights, helping them understand themselves better and looking at the situation they're in. A lot of the time, I'm brainstorming with them about approaches they could take but ultimately, it's up to them to decide where to go.
That was the thing that came from me out of this book. At the end of the day, you can't say even for a child where they need to go or what direction they need to develop in. It has to be guided by them. Any change that happens is not made by you as a consultant or a therapist. It's made by the individual. You're facilitating that journey. That was one of my big needs.
I love the way you captured that. It's how coaching works too in the sense that you can't want something for somebody more than they do. They have to want it. You can help them but you have to make sure that it's their interests, not your interests. Sometimes we get so excited and invested that we have to slow down and say, "This is for them, not for me."
The other side of that is often if the change doesn't happen, we consider it as our failure but it isn't. It's not up to you what a client chooses to do with the information. It's not your fault if it doesn't go in the direction that their boss wanted or even that they wanted in the end. It's very much up to the individual to choose their path. You're there to help them, not to force it in any one direction.
What else do you have? Do you have another book in mind?
The other ones that spring to mind are different. They're a series of books written by Philippa Gregory who's a British historian. She writes books about women in history who were pretty much overlooked. A lot of them are Henry VIII's wives and things. They're novels. They're stories. They're fictional but she's a very good historian. They are based on that period and all the evidence that's gathered generally around the men that we know about.
She writes a story that she imagined would have happened alongside the factual events of what happened to Anne Boleyn but then she creates how would Anne have felt in these times. It's another one that's always interested me because I read one of them with a group of younger women who were all like, "These women are so annoying. Why would they do this? Why would they behave in these ways?" You think, "They didn't have a choice. They weren't allowed to think in the ways that we're enabled to think now."
That role of environment and how limited our choices can be by some things are still true even now in certain situations. Women don't get as much of a voice and get overlooked. Some of those themes still play out. One of the things that interested me was a different generation who knew less about that. They were American as well. This was very British history. It exists so much in America. Their reaction to it all was interesting to me.
That role of environment and how limited our choices can be by some things are still true even now in certain situations. Women don't get as much of a voice and get overlooked. Some of those themes still play out.
Don't believe every story you're told, especially the ones you tell yourself. There's a sense that it's only written by one person or a select few. There are many angles that the story can play out. That is a beautiful way to look at that.
The way you said it there is interesting as well because when you look at an organization or go in first as a consultant, often the story you hear about it is told to you by the CEO or the leaders. They get a very positive rosy view of what's happening because they don't hear the reality of an organization. It's the importance of hearing the many voices and the many angles rather than just one side of a story.
Kate, this was an enjoyable conversation. I'm so grateful for everything you've shared, the stories and the insights. I feel so grateful for this conversation. Thank you.
No problem. It was fun. Thanks for inviting me.
Before I let you go, I want to make sure that the audiences know where they can find out more about you. What's the best place to find you?
The best place to follow me would be on LinkedIn. It's Dr. Kate Price on LinkedIn. I have a website, DrKatePrice.com. Otherwise, they can find the book Taming the Culture Tiger on Amazon. That's probably the best overview of my work and the knowledge that people need about the psychology of leadership and change.
That's fantastic. Thank you again. Thanks to the audience for coming on the journey. You're leaving so informed here and thrilled to be able to have a great expert to reach out to and learn more from. Buy the book and take in some of this information. Thanks for coming on the journey. That's a wrap.
- Dr. Kate Price
- Taming the Culture Tiger
- Dibs in Search of Self
- Philippa Gregory
- Dr. Kate Price – LinkedIn
- Taming the Culture Tiger - Amazon
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