By Christine Graf
When leaders of the Veterinary Services division of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) were tasked with improving the agency’s internal culture, they turned to CultureTalk for help.
CultureTalk, a Saratoga Springs-based company, was founded by sisters Theresa Agresta and Cynthia Forstmann. The USDA is among a long list of companies and agencies from around the world that have utilized the CultureTalk Platform to measure and define workplace culture.
Organizational culture refers to the values, beliefs, attitudes, systems, and rules that outline and influence employee behavior within an organization.
“It’s common for people to talk about culture, but a lot of people don’t fully understand it,” said Agresta. “It is more often found in the ‘unwritten rules’ than the things that have been spelled out. CultureTalk can take something that is difficult to define and make it easy to talk about.”
The sisters came up with the idea for CultureTalk while working together on their first joint venture, brand development company Allegory Studios.
“Cynthia and I developed a niche and expertise in brand development,” said Agresta. “Very early on, we discovered the impact that measuring culture had on the development of an authentic brand. When we were working with a business to differentiate and brand them, the culture was the piece that really stood out to us.”
“If you are selling services, a lot of what you offer is similar to your competitors. It’s your people and your culture that really differentiate you, and that can be why a prospective client might choose your business.”
Agresta said that she and Forstmann recognized that many companies struggled to make their culture tangible, meaningful, and actionable.
“They can’t connect the dots between the culture they want to cultivate and the specific leadership and team behaviors that will get them there. They struggle to get employees engaged and connected around the culture in a way that employees can rally behind.”
In 2015, the sisters began developing an assessment tool to measure an organization’s culture by using an archetypal framework that draws on the work of Carl Jung. Jung identified universal archetypes, symbols or patterns that are present in the collective unconscious of all humans. By developing an understanding of these archetypes, Jung believed it would be possible for individuals to gain insight into the human psyche and better understand themselves and others.
“It’s a storytelling framework,” said Agresta. “The framework provides a common language to define the desired culture and allow leaders and teams to identify necessary shifts. It also connects the behaviors of leaders and individual contributors with strategic initiatives.”
CultureTalk developed two validated assessments, one that measures the personality of individuals and another that measures organizational culture. Companies can utilize one or both of the assessments.
“Certified practitioners conduct a culture audit,” said Agresta. “It includes the organizational assessment and a series of one-to-one interviews. One or more workshops are run to validate the outcomes of the survey and to create a culture profile. The process generates a lot of authentic, honest conversation.”
While that may sound intimidating, Agresta assures employees and company leaders that they have nothing to fear. Employee feedback is entirely anonymous, and the purpose of the culture profile is not to criticize the leadership team.
“CultureTalk answers the questions ‘Where are we today, and how is that moving us forward or holding us back?’” she said. “Now that we can see where we are, we can identify where we want to go and design an action plan to get there.”
That is what Agresta refers to the “So what? Now what?” aspect of the platform. She said that is what differentiates CultureTalk from its competitors.
“There are other tools that measure culture and personality, but what differentiates us is the ‘So what? Now what?’ part that is very actionable. There’s a lot you can do to make the outcomes sustainable and shareable– there’s a sticky factor to it.”
More than 160 people in 22 countries have completed the CultureTalk certification program which enables consultants and practitioners to validate assessments and implement solutions. The company also trains internal HR and talent management teams.
The platform has received rave reviews including from Queensbury-based IT company StoredTech. In 2022, Stored Tech was recognized by the Times Union as one of the best places to work in the Capital Region.
“They were one of the first clients locally to embed the system,” said Agresta. “They began by measuring and defining their culture. They also use the individual assessment for every hire and they put each person’s archetype profile icons on their name plates. They are an example of a company that is using the system to the fullest.”
Certified CultureTalk consultant Michael Cruz worked to implement the program at the tech company, and Kristina Mobilia, StoredTech’s director of people, completed the Culture Talk certification program.
Within the Veterinary Services division of the USDA, CultureTalk trained 13 individuals. The division’s leadership team has been extremely pleased with the engagement and results.
“The USDA is extremely appreciative of the outcomes they’ve achieved with CultureTalk. They share that this is actively moving them forward,” said Agresta.
CultureTalk has a number of certified consultants in the Capital Region. For more information, visit www.culturetalk.com.