We exist to make culture easier to understand, faster to change, and more aligned to business metrics. I would like to share my personal journey to the creation of Culture Intelligence.
"I am here because I want the world to explore the world of values and how values and culture impact leaders and their businesses. I am also here because I want to find and develop people who will be carriers of this kind of work. All my professional experience has been to develop people and teams, and now I can finally do so in a digital, effective, and meaningful way. Leading this team is a privilege, rewarded with achievements and new opportunities. Here’s my story."
Tone S. Ringsstad, CEO and Founder at Culture Intelligence
Values Dilemmas and Decisions
When working as a Geophysicist in Exxon, the idea that data is not the same data to everyone became apparent. A geophysicist is trained to do exploration, to ask questions about what data means and where the oil could be. We are trained to make fast decisions and recommendations on highly uncertain data sets. Our job to be done is to be the first to detect what could be a potential fortune for a company. There is a lot at risk. There are many people involved. Most of all, no certainties.
My time in Exxon provided me with a solid insight that people make decisions differently, they use logic differently and apply data differently in their decision-making. Our seismic datasets were identical, but were interpreted very differently by each leadership team and executive. There had to be something more than competence and seismic data that made such a differences.
The next time I made a values-driven decision was in my own resignation from Exxon. I had come to the end of the road with hierarchy, command and control, and wide values gap between leaders and us the rest. In Exxon at the time, we never talked about culture or values,only budget and schedule. By that time I was leading the training department in downstream, and was responsible for training the retail managers and their staff in gas stations nationally. During the oil crisis in 1997, Exxon decided to withdraw the budget for all training, at a time when change and transformation was critical with the global Mobile merger just starting. I could not accept responsibility for training when budgets did not allow training to happen, and I walked out frustrated. This was my first values decision, that only came to my personal understanding several years later, when I learned about values and could reflect over the decisions I had made in my life, of which this was definately one.
In my new job as Global VP HR for one of the world’s greatest ocean liners, Wilhelmsen Lines, later Wallenius Wilhelmsen Lines, I learned the specifics, the handcraft and the value of values. I was heading the project of integrating two global ocean liners. For the first time in my life, I was using values in a commercial process and it made a world of difference. Under guidance of Brian P. Hall, the people part of the merger found a new organizational platform. The project, which we called values@work, turned out to be the best values-driven change project in the business in that period.
We values mapped every leader in both companies, we identify the values data in the two different cultures and created insight and reality in the merger challenges and opportunities. Then we designed the culture for the future of the company. This successful approach made the merger deliver on expectations from year one, and the merger still holds. As a curiosity, the values were transferred upwards to be valid for the entire global Wilh.Wilhelmsen Group, a company of 20,000 people in 72 countries.
Living the Brand
Later along in my career path, I worked in Dinamo, the leading house of communication and brands at the time.. The intent was to build a business unit with responsibilities for the inside of the brand, expressed by a set of corporate and brand values. The work was inspiring and very powerful for the customers, and it brought me to realize the potential the values work really had. In building brands, culture was essential! Remotely supported by Brian Hall and his research, we delivered many values-driven brands and leadership development sessions.
Making Values a Profession
Following the Dinamo era, the need to understand and work with values and culture in the best possible way, became irresistible. The process of using values to build great cultures in a commercial way, the value of values, was born. The company was named values@work, after the integration project in WWL and with blessings from Ingar Skaug, the WWL CEO. The mission of my first company was to create business value from leaders values and the vision was to have a global community of values-driven leaders who could make a difference in the world.
In the first phase, with a new business partner, there was a struggle to use the methodology and the experience from previous work. My partner struggled to align to the concept and to team up to a true values-driven approach. The partnership ended on a black Monday in October 2009, following the financial crisis. That, too, was a values decision. The two of us had very different values, and when the pressure from the financial crisis hit us, we responded differently. We had different approaches to how to handle trust, support and risk, and it did not end well. Values@work was from that time a singlehanded around the world project, lonely but effective, and eventually profitable.
Making it digital
On a visit to Brian and Elva Hall in Santa Cruiz in 2013, I accidently met with a software team in Palo Alto. The team wanted to partner up and build and deliver my culture consept digitally. Together we built the first Culturengine! Bootstrapping a software development takes time, and off hours work, but we were on a mission. I had got a deep desire to make values data and culture insight available to leaders in any company in any part of the world. The technology served as the foundation for data driven culture transformation methodology in my consulting business and was used to test and developing applications, methodology and eventually made a good product-market fit.
In 2018 the solution was ready to take on partners. Designing training and certification modules prepared and enabled partnerships and broadened the analytics and applications of the data. We later started to test direct sales, with partners to deliver the consulting work and we are still tracking the evidence for the two models.
In 2019 the old platform was rusty and due to upgrade. Heading for external investors, getting a professional board in place and and we raised capital to version 2.0 of the company. The new platform was built on a new Azure technology platform with extended features and functionalities.
Culture work could now be done faster and much more applicable to business strategy through extensive culture code generation and analytics. We got our first large cusomers and rigged the service to deliver globally. With the new functionalities and deliverables around analytics and deep insight, we changed names from Culturengine to Culture Intelligence. With another round of raising capital, the company has got onboard a new team. Now we are set up for taking culture globally and empower every leader and team to make their culture right. The global SaaS company Culture Intelligence is ready!
Having experienced the difference between leaders who make the culture right, and those who don’t, I have seen the significant difference between the two over the years.
The joy of knowing you work in a team of trusted peers and a meaningful way of collaboration or an innovative drive, is the core of being passionate about what you do. It has made me realize that culture is not a part of the game, it is the game. My purpose is the continuation of these experiences, and the steps from here onward will be even more meaningful. Now we have the means and the tools, now we head for the goals.
There is a global social project going on. People protest because they don’t have Internet access. One billion people are without electricity. Two thirds of the world live under strong command and control regimes where democracy and freedom of speech is not yet a fundamental right. The protests that we see will continue from country to country. The people in one country will no longer accept social huge differences in conditions for choice and living. There is a pandemic recovery and the biggest focus of all; a global sustainability sence of urgency.
Corporations originally were given the right to explore a piece of land from the king. The king was then responsible for making sure the society and culture development was taken care of and that the people could benefit from the exploitation. The corporation got a license to exploit on behalf of the society. When the kingdoms collapsed and the challenges were bigger, the job of the king and the subsequent governments was to build governing structures that could take care of the society. That left the organizations to continue to focus on exploitation of natural resources. The question now is: what kind of responsibility do commercial corporations have today? Do they still have the right to exploit without leaving something beneficial for the society? Is it ok to have corporations profit from the shared resources without giving anything back to the society?
This question is a values-based one, and the approach that corporations should pursue going forward. What can we as a society and democracy expect in return from a corporation?
Future Triple Bottom Line
A triple bottom line is when the corporation reports what they are doing for itself, its people and for the society. The triple bottom line states explicitly what the corporation brings back to development and benefits for the society and how the business thinks about their responsibility to build a stronger quality of life for the people both in the business and for stakeholders outside the business. Many businesses now have CSR, Sustainability reports, environmental strategies and will show the level of emissions and waste they are responsible for. Values-driven teams do that better, as more KPIs than budget and schedules are reported.
What they are doing for their people, and how it is making a business based on all, is another values-related question. Who really owns the company, so who is it really for? We have up until now placed the shareholders as the legal owner. But that was based on the time when the shareholders owned the plants and physical assets. Now, in the knowledge era and the time of the Internet society, the knowledge is the driver. Who owns the knowledge, the 21st century true assets of the corporations?
Values and culture will provide a direction for people in a busines. A cultural baseline brings inside and educate leaders on people, teams and company culture. What people have in common, the values they share and the direction they believe in. When the people, the shareholders and the market they are in can find a common values platform representing what is really important, the foundation for a winning strategy and business success is found. We want to be part of making that happen!
Tone S. Ringstad, Founder and CEO