Iceberg Metaphor

is a metaphor or analogy to describe the different elements of a company’s culture from the visible and explicit to the hidden and unseen. While an iceberg is a common analogy used by many including the Peace Corps to teach cultures to teachers, by career coaches to understand how our unconscious mind works, and more – it’s used in HR in a few different ways (including D&I), but mostly to better understand the different elements of a company’s culture.

iceberg analogy in hr

There are three very distinct stages or phases with this analogy, which include:

Above the waterline: Is the explicit, highly-visible, and taught elements of a company’s culture. This can be the outlined and shared vision, mission, company values.

At the waterline: Are the elements which transition from visible and articulated to unseen. These include transitions from the top of the iceberg down where taught and visible elements are or are not carried out by the team. They also work from the bottom of the iceberg up – where elements which are not discussed are newly brought into culture consciousness and are discussed.

Below the waterline: Are the hidden and unseen cultural elements. These are often experienced but are not, and cannot be articulated. A common example would be attending meetings. Are people early, on time, or a few minutes late. Do they begin with explicitly building rapport by using the color grids to describe their current emotional states, or in a more casual way by discussing their recent weekend? Does someone always take notes, or sometimes, and how does everyone know which one it will be – or who it will be to take notes? Does a meeting include humor, brief interruptions, or sidebars – and does everyone get a chance to speak? How does someone know when to use the white erase board or not? These are generally items which vary greatly from company to company and are learned through osmosis.

Writing Customer Letters

Never underestimate the power of a hand-written note. Writing a letter to a customer is a thoughtful way to develop a deeper relationship while adding a delightful personal touch.

Writing customers notes can be done one-off settings by individual employees or in a team meeting when there is an appropriate moment. Big milestones in their journey as a customer, receiving their support on a call, exercising patience with a bug/product issue, or achieving a career or personal-life milestone are all great reasons to reach out.

When sending notes to customers, see if there’s anyone else that should write a note or sign the card. Also, if you have company stickers or swag that might slide into the envelope, include that too.

Build-A-Bear Honey Days

Build-A-Bear Workshop consistently strives to empower associates in every way possible. That’s why they’ve created a unique concept in retailing for store managers, full-time World Bearquarters and Bearhouse associates called Honey Days.

Honey days encourage employees to use his or her best judgment in the use of available time off, whether it is for vacation, sick days, religious holidays or to attend to personal business. If you’re familiar with Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, then you understand just how important trust is to a team and it’s ability to operate.

PTO Sell-Back

Encouraging a work/life balance is important, but creating an opportunity for employees to do it on their terms is more important.

Instead of forcing every employee to take their given paid time off (PTO), develop a “sell-back” program where employees can sell back their PTO.

This type of initiative does take time to organize and plan and does cost some depending on how many employees decide to cash in, but implementing this type of initiative can help people who would prefer the money over the time off.

Employee Opinion Survey

Sometimes it’s hard to know how happy everyone is at work and that’s why CHG Healthcare Services has its Employee Opinion Survey initiative. Organizing the survey and sifting through the results may be time consuming but this type of initiative is well worth the effort. Asking employees to be honest about their experiences helps to foster team bonding, improve your company’s internal communities, and increase employee engagement.

‘All About Me’ Exercise

Each person brings his or her uniqueness to the team when joining the company.

Celebrate individuals and recognize their unique skills, traits, and passions by encouraging each new employee to the company to develop an “All About Me” document or presentation. The goal of this document is to give each incoming team member an opportunity to highlight their uniqueness.

For an “All About Me” document, participants should create a poster or presentation about themselves. It can include their favorite inspirational quote(s), photo(s), and a short bio of a person who inspires them. This should also include a description of a skill, hobby, or passion they know the most about (outside of work).

If your company uses a specific type of personality test for employees when being onboarding, this can be included as well.

Personal Insurance

At Travelers, employees have an additional benefit option of personal insurance. Employees can purchase auto and homeowners insurance at a special group rate. This program also allows employees to pay through the convenience of payroll deduction.


SeatGeek provides their employees with activities that promote team bonding. One of these programs is called “Workation.” This is an annual retreat for all employees to enjoy. Workation is a different bonding experience from the day-to-day in the office and allows for team bonding and growth.

Spotify Account

At SeatGeek, in addition to work anniversary gifts and team presents, all employees receive a free premium Spotify account. Music has already been proven as one of the most productive additions to the workplace. Why not streamline implementation with a handy streaming service?
This initiative can also be accomplished with other streaming services and can be supplemented by team playlists! With 200 employees, this free account allows for a significant amount of customization.

Welcome package

Starting off on the right foot is important and that’s why Big Switch Networks has the Welcome package initiative for its employees. Putting together an onboarding initiative like Big Switch Networks could take a good amount of time depending on the size of the company, but it is an initiative that can be scaled and it’s fairly easy to implement into an existing onboarding process.
Having a similar initiative at your company can set a good pace for employee career growth, increase retention, and encourage your new employees to become engaged in their new community.

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