Observable Artifacts

Artifacts are the physical manifestations of an organization. They include factors such as dress codes, myths, rituals, and tangible items such as awards, product displays, logos, furnishings and decor. Observable artifacts represent the more visible level of culture within the organization. They help to establish recognition (branding) to shareholders, customers, and the general public, e.g., the Toyota emblem or Google logo, while creating a culturally accepted, inspirational talisman to internal stakeholders, e.g., the skull and bones of the pirate ship flag, outfits, weapons and rum.

dutch-voc-ship2Observable artifacts are extremely important to the success of a company because they are tangible items that allow employees to become a part of that company’s organizational culture. This is especially true for companies whose brand is well established within a society, as a good, or great company, with excellent products or services. People not only want to work for these companies, they desire to be recognized within their own society by wearing company uniforms, driving company vehicles displaying their brand logo, or any number of ways in which they can share their enthusiasm for their employer’s success. Of course, as you might expect, the opposite is true for non-HpO, where employees may not be as enthusiastic in promoting their employer’s business, either because the workplace environment is humdrum or challenging, or their products and services are nothing to brag about.

The observable artifacts in an HpO add to its contributing culture in two ways, 1) they serve as functional tools to aid in the performance of its crew and 2) they create inspiring environments. As you board the HpO Vision, Captain Cèo’s ship, one of the first things you’ll notice is the numerous, colorful flags amid its sails and rigging, symbolizing its peaceful mission. Furthermore, uniforms, brass nameplates, wooden barrels of supplies, and dozens of functional apparatuses designed to make the expedition safe, comfortable and efficient can be seen on every deck. The way in which each crew member communicates with each other, regardless of rank and file, reveals a culture of trust and respect. Rituals, such as hoisting flags, rum rations, poker games and cooking demonstrate a theme of fun, woven through the seriousness of day-to-day business. With regards to Google, the observable artifacts found at Google’s various offices around the world explicitly tie into their organizational culture. Some of these observable [inspiring] artifacts include:

  • Every office on Google’s campus is geographically named and decorated as the country they represent. Each office has pictures and specific cultural furniture tied with that specific geographical location
  • Hundreds of bikes and scooters are placed around campus to make it easier to travel to and from different offices
  • Very few solo offices were built so that Google can help promote entrepreneurial group thinking
  • Laptops and internet access are found everywhere throughout the campus so employees can work in any sort of setting
  • There are multiple cafes around campus that serve breakfast, lunch and dinner to employees
  • There are multiple gyms, beach volleyball courts and heated pools that are all free for employees to use

The observable artifacts found at each of these campuses are the reason why Google was named the 4th best company to work for in 2011. With that said, the observable artifacts help promote a strong organizational culture that makes Google more than just a place to work.[i]

Cultivating Observable Artifacts

Benin_2013_Sailing_Ships_1_HMS_Bounty_Silver_Thumb__12093.1421275097.500.500No vessel design is complete in the absence of artifacts—functional or inspiring. Although functional artifacts, such as furnishings, technology, logos and equipment are engineering into the organization during conceptual design, much of the inspiring artifacts, such as dress codes, communication, rituals, superstitions and myths, etc. evolve as its culture matures. Unfortunately, many organizations fail to establish inspiring artifacts, leaving it up to each individual to decorate their work space with a collection of personal artifacts, which do little to cultivate communication methods, protocols and rituals, for example, and do nothing to establish a common theme.

  • Begin with a Theme – a theme inspires internal stakeholders and employees to contribute, while motivating external shareholders and customers to invest. Think of an organization or business where you’ve either felt inspired as a contributor or motivated as an investor. What was it about the environment or the people that made you feel this way? Chances are it was an underlying theme of customer service, product displays, music, uniforms, plants, lighting, décor, or similar elements that made you feel comfortable an eager to contribute or invest. Consider how you can create a theme related to your organization’s vision and mission with respect to human interaction and environment, similar to the Google example above, which will help to cultivate high-performance. Begin with simple concepts that add value to your internal organization, then integrate additional artifacts to motivate external investors. Whether you own a real estate business, RV Park, garage, factory or engineering firm, there is no shortage of observable artifacts available to cultivate into a theme that represents your vision and mission.
  • Incorporate a Talisman – a logo will help to establish a brand for external stakeholders and customers; however, its power to inspire internal stakeholders and employees is typically insufficient in terms of enhancing performance. Incorporating a talisman (an object, typically an inscribed ring or stone, thought to have magic powers and to bring good luck) is the best method of inspiring employees; an emblem, of sorts—branding an organization to a recognizable icon, which can then be distributed as a symbol of unity and commitment (a privilege). Talisman often represent an organization’s logo in the form of rings, belt-buckles, lapel pins, vehicle emblems and mascots. These are what make companies like Disney such great organizations to invest in—contributing time and energy as an employee, or time and money as a customer or shareholder (Mickey Mouse is one of the all-time recognizable and inspiring mascots of an HpO).
  • Create Empowering Artifacts – empowered employees are engaged employees. And there is no better way to empower employees than with inspiring artifacts. A contributing culture has its roots in observable artifacts, defined by espoused values and basic assumptions (see Treasure Three). Naturally, then, any method used to empower employees should be considered as an observable, cultivated and inspirational influence. Whether through communication methods and rituals (Googles stand-up meetings), dress code, hours of work (performance-based, flexible hours), rest periods, exercise rooms or brain-storming lounges and libraries, technology and furnishings, to name a few, the cultivation of inspirational artifacts, observable both internally and externally, will help to establish an HpO.
  • Create Motivating Artifacts – motivated customers are repeat customers, and more likely to endorse your business through investment and positive reviews. Although marketing does motivate customers, the real motivating artifacts are those which encourage customers through all five senses. In other words, until they enter your place of business, their only motivating factor to do so, or to purchase products or services, is either by word-of-mouth or advertising. In the absence of a real-life experience, it’s difficult to motivate anyone to invest time or money. Creating motivating artifacts to provide your customers with an experience includes both human interaction and physical interface.

[i] http://teamtophat.blogspot.ca/2011/03/googles-organizational-culture.html

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