CultureCal online brainstorm aims to reimagine campus ethos

What is the Berkeley way? What do you want it to be?

Those are two of the questions driving Monday’s launch of CultureCal, a first-of-its-kind online brainstorming session that seeks to enlist faculty and staff and students in a campuswide effort to reimagine UC Berkeley’s organizational culture.

“We need to be more flexible, adaptable and responsive in order to meet the campus’s challenges and ensure financial sustainability,” says John Wilton, Berkeley’s vice chancellor for administration and finance and a key sponsor of the Berkeley Operating Principles project.

Over the next 12 days, CultureCal hopes to engage 10,000 faculty, staff and student employees in a collaborative process to define a set of guiding principles that support innovation and excellence in the workplace and help meet UC Berkeley’s operational goals.

“We want to engage everyone from the groundskeepers to the chancellor in making Berkeley a better place to work and creating the kind of environment that helps us succeed,” says Kia Afcari, Operating Principles project manager.

Berkeley’s Operating Principles project aims to improve workplace culture, as seen in this video produced by the Office for Administration and Finance.

The Operating Principles project is part of Operational Excellence, the ongoing campuswide effort to create a more efficient and effective operational environment. Afcari’s office has worked closely with several departments over the last two years, collecting and analyzing data from campus surveys, focus groups and input sessions in order to understand different workplace perspectives.

“The overarching theme that emerged from our work was a real desire for change across the campus,” Afcari says. “People tell us that they have great pride in working for UC Berkeley, but they often find it hard to get things done here.”

Take Nancy Armijo, whose job as a payroll assistant in Research Enterprise Services requires her to “pull pieces of the puzzle together from different places.” Better lines of communication across campus units would help her to be more efficient in her work, Armijo says.

RES supports campus research units with administrative services, from purchasing to grant management.

The massive crowd-sourcing effort will use social-media and crowd-sourcing tools to gather input and bubble up trending ideas across the campus community. The innovative discovery-engine software will aggregate and prioritize brainstorming input to rank popular principles in real time on the CultureCal website.

Participants can rate principles, suggest new ideas and promote and demote favorites or duds in just minutes. Users can join the conversation as many times as they like, commenting on how particular principles might be useful or problematic in their day-to-day work.

To encourage participation in the online brainstorm session, Afcari’s team has been making surprise visits to departments across campus since early this morning, dropping off baskets of cookies and CultureCal postcards.

Another incentive: The three departments with the highest rate of participation will win a catered ice-cream sandwich party from local vendor CREAM.

To further raise awareness about the event and allow staff with limited computer access to participate, staff will man a CultureCal kiosk at different high-traffic campus locations, including the Free Speech Movement Cafe. Look for the telltale bubble machines Oct. 3-4 and Oct. 10-11.

Informational materials, including a YouTube video outlining CultureCal, have been translated into several languages, including Spanish and Cantonese, to expand participation among non-English-speaking staff. CultureCal teams have also conducted in-person visits to a number of units with ESL staff.

“If we hit our goal, this will be the most input on a single topic we’ve ever gathered from the campus at one time,” Afcari says.

At the end of the online brainstorming session, which runs through Oct. 12, Afcari’s team will present the highest-rated principles to groups representing faculty, staff and students. Following the review period, the draft operating principles will be submitted to the Operational Excellence executive committee for approval by the end of the year.

Once adopted, Berkeley’s new principles will inform campus operations in formal and informal ways, from planning and decision-making to how the campus hires, trains and rewards staff.

Richard Lyons, dean of Berkeley’s School of Business, led a similar initiative several years ago to codify Haas’ distinctive culture in a core set values that would form the keystone of the school’s newly revamped curricula. The first of the four defining principles urges students, faculty and staff to “Question the status quo.”

“The Haas Defining Principles project was a kind of a rallying cry that these are things that matter to us,” says Lyons. “That has also provided concrete guidance to the staff in thinking about how they do their work from day to day.”