Training seminar - tedx events
05 Jul 2019

How Johnson & Johnson Transformed Their Culture Through TEDx Events

Photo: iStock

We spoke with Steve Garguilo whose work with Johnson & Johnson exemplified the big, daring ideas that we think can inspire talent professionals to lead a transformation in their learning culture.

One of Steve's most impressive projects was implementing the first-ever corporate TEDx events. By inviting professionals from throughout the organisation to share their knowledge and experience, they engaged and inspired their employees. Learn about why the program was implemented, how it worked, and how they measured impact.

What cultural changes did you see stemming from the TEDx events?

Over the course of a six year change journey at J&J, we saw tremendous advancements in terms of creating a more egalitarian culture where everyone's ideas are valued, and establishing a mature community where employees could support each other in generating and pursuing new ideas. Often at large companies, it can be very difficult to deal with inertia and difficult to challenge the status quo, but our programming (including the TEDxJNJ events) helped connect people to be able to more effectively advance new thinking.

Do you think that TEDx contributed to the learning culture of Johnson & Johnson?

Our creative programming unquestionably contributed to the learning culture of J&J. First and foremost, when you bring diverse groups of people together to learn from each other, everybody wins. Connections and collaborations are forged that bust down silos, and that helps the company a ton. More importantly, people are naturally excited to learn and interested in learning, we just need to make sure we're providing the types of things that they WANT to learn. Our experiences were so successful, because they were formats that people got excited to participate in.

You helped bring a large multinational company together and it inspired more engagement at work. What advice would you have for L&D professionals trying to affect positive change in the culture of large organizations?

The single biggest skill that is overlooked in large organizations is community building. It's absolutely vital to culture change. As opposed to trying to drive change from within an HR function or from the senior executive level, it's critical to amplify voices buried within the organization who are connectors and who are making new ideas happen. Help them to build communities and role model the change. These leaders are the best people to drive sustainable culture change within our organizations. So if you're an L&D professional, what can you do to start building up an army of people in diverse places in your organization to help you with your goals? We all know that we never have enough resources in L&D to do everything that we want to do, but by empowering more people within your organization, that's where huge change happens.

What does an engaged company learning culture look like to you?

I think it comes in a lot of different flavors, a lot of different smells, and a lot of different styles, because every organization is different. But one of the biggest key dimensions is people being genuinely excited to come to work because they have the permission and the capability to make the biggest possible impact they can within their organization. When people aren't empowered to push boundaries and pursue new ideas, it's very difficult to say you have an engaged workforce. People learn by experiencing new things and trying out new things. There has to be room for that, and it has to be encouraged.

You helped launch a leadership development program in creativity and innovation. What role do you think that these skills play in engagement?

We launched a series of different development programs for employees at all levels within the organization, from the very top senior leaders, to individual contributors sitting in different locations across the globe. Skills like design thinking, action literacy, storytelling, and community building are tremendously important to develop great leaders. When those muscles are being worked out, and people are performing at their best, of course they're going to be engaged.

What role did technology play for you in building and enhancing company culture and how do you think you’ll use it in the future?

Technology serves as an enabler in everything that we do to enhance culture, and if we're not tech-literate as L&D teams, then we're at risk of falling incredibly far behind. In the most basic sense, as a global organization, technology served the purpose of helping our employees to connect around the world. We developed rich social tools that allowed people to collaborate on new ideas, exchange tips and advice, and support each other as changemakers. But on the back-end, technology played a huge role as well. We were constantly measuring how every program was working by using reams of data and statistical measures to evaluate our successes. Our entire office ran on Tableau, and we visualized and tracked everything, from how much time people spent in different platforms and programs, to which geographic locations were most engaged, to which functions or sectors were most engaged. And that data informed who we reached out to for our next programs.

How did you measure the impact that positive cultural changes have on an organization?

We're huge on data, so there were a lot of different measurements that we used. One was the development of an engagement index that measured the level of engagement of every employee within the organization. As opposed to the traditional measurement of sending out broad surveys, we were able to use metadata to track how engaged people are through their interactions on digital and social technologies and their participation in programming. Organizations have so much data on their employees, it's wise to sift through that in an intelligent way and use that as a foundation to understand engagement. We also used measures like Net Promoter Scores as well as tracking people's improvement in critical skills. But for me, stories were also a really important measure. I'd constantly be on the lookout for impact stories of product development and people development, and collecting dozens of those stories was really valuable in being able to demonstrate value as well as inspire others to realize similar outcomes.

What are you working on now to help organizations develop their employee engagement?

I recently launched a new company called Cultivate that is entirely focused on helping organizations drive sustainable, bottoms-up culture change. We identify and coach leaders capable of starting a grassroots movement to enhance organizational culture, particularly as it relates to creativity and innovation. We have a lot of great information about it on our website where you can also take our "Glance Test" and get some actionable feedback for things you can start doing right away in your organization.

About Steve Garguilo

Steve Garguilo works with people from all walks of life from all over the world to help them make their ideas happen. Steve currently serves as a Partner at Cultivate, working to help organizations best drive a culture of innovation. He also is a Co-Founder of Action Surge, working to help people and organizations take action on ideas.

He led the revolution to transform the culture of the 5th largest company in the world by instigating and shaping a grassroots movement at Johnson & Johnson that engaged 23,000 employees and led to countless stories of product and people development. Steve’s groundbreaking programs are known for being incredibly engaging and highly immersive and interactive. Net Promoter Scores for his programming range from +86 to +100.

Garguilo has also worked on social ventures globally, including in Kenya and India. In 2014, he completed The Mongol Rally, a 10,000-mile adventure from London to Ulan Bator, Mongolia, fundraising for the African Prisons Project.

He has lived all over the world and has spoken at TED and TEDx events across the globe in the United States, Switzerland, Brazil, Scotland, Tunisia, and Lithuania. A global citizen, he has visited each of the 48 contiguous United States and is a member of the “century club” having visited over 100 countries.

Learn more at

This interview is part of the U.S. L&D Report 2018.

Download the full report below:

L&D report

What's included?

  • The employee training budgets, training topics, and training methods of organizations in 2018.

  • Practical advice from L&D leaders to help you adopt new technologies, nurture a learning culture, and measure and promote the value of workplace learning.

  • How learning professionals rate the executive engagement in learning, assess the impact of training and more!

U.S. L&D Report: 2018
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Last updated: 05 Jul 2019

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