What we did
Activating a global culture
Not a weekday goes by that the news-watching world doesn’t see or hear the name Nasdaq. Founded in 1971, it was the world’s first electronic securities exchange and has grown to become the second-largest exchange in the world. More than 3,700 stocks are listed on the Nasdaq (NDAQ), including technology giants such as Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Meta, Amazon, and many others.
From its position at the center of capital markets, Nasdaq serves corporations, broker-dealers, and investors all over the world. Widely recognized as an industry innovator, Nasdaq is increasingly technology-driven—in fact, data and analytics services are now the biggest part of its business.
To continue expanding its technology offerings, Nasdaq has made significant acquisitions and shows no signs of slowing down. With so many new hires and new global offices, maintaining a positive and unified work culture has become a priority. In recent years, Nasdaq grew its people team to meet the demands of its changing business. And when the company rolled out its refreshed cultural values in 2019, employees fully embraced them.
Values and culture are not synonymous, however, and Nasdaq leadership understood that one supports the other. “I really wanted to understand our employees’ perceptions of what it means to work at Nasdaq from a cultural perspective—in terms of our behaviors, the way we work, and where we have opportunities to meet the demands of our future business growth,” says Laura Agharkar, Global Head of Diversity, Equity, and Culture at Nasdaq. The company wanted to develop tangible recommendations to activate its culture and support its purpose, values, and plans for growth. Slalom was proud to be invited to partner.
Throughout the process, we had to pivot, change directions, and appeal to audiences multiple times. But I had 100 percent confidence in Slalom.
One size does not fit all
When it comes to work culture, there’s no perfect formula that fits all companies—or even an individual company. In our initial conversations, the Slalom organizational effectiveness team presented tactical recommendations for ways that Nasdaq could strengthen the connection between its growth strategy and its people strategy. “You need to create a culture that will help you execute on your vision and your business model,” says Amy Marshall, a senior director at Slalom. “We want to know what you’re trying to do as a business and talk about the culture you need to help achieve that.” For Nasdaq’s leadership, that was the right approach.
With a corporate purpose to champion inclusive growth and prosperity all over the world, it was crucial for Nasdaq to ingrain diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout every part of the culture. We needed to ensure that it felt globally relevant, speaking to different cultures and demographics. But in order to arrive at a well-aligned future state, the Slalom team needed to understand the culture’s present state.
To learn how teams were experiencing Nasdaq’s culture, we reviewed Nasdaq’s existing employee surveys and found that the responses were overwhelmingly positive. People felt that collaboration was encouraged, work-life balance had improved, and inclusivity was increasingly prioritized.
Of course, there were also some disconnects—people didn’t understand the “why” behind the culture. Things seemed to be organically good rather than purposefully good. Employees also wanted to see the culture championed by leadership, clarification around professional development, continued momentum around ID&E, and actionable ways to innovate. Together with Nasdaq, we set out to address the gaps and align vision with culture.
As part of our discovery, the Slalom team conducted interviews and focus groups with 90 people from multiple levels in every global region, including North America, MEA, Europe, and APAC, as well as from all employee resource groups—Asian and Pacific Islander, Black, Latinx, LGBTQ, and more. We then defined the desired future culture and held leadership sessions to align on takeaways.
Applying the organizational strategy lens
For Nasdaq, we didn’t need to fix a broken culture—we needed to activate its existing culture. We set out to establish behaviors, processes, interactions, and ways of working that would protect the unique, positive attributes that had already enabled it to grow and scale. The culture also needed to be realistic, attractive, and transparent to continue supporting new growth.
“We wanted to help Nasdaq prioritize its efforts with specific parts of the culture and show how to focus on them,” says Euna Park, a senior principal focused on organizational effectiveness at Slalom. “For example, rather than telling them how to be innovative, we offered ways to actually be more innovative.”
In phase two, we developed a high-level roadmap of recommendations to arrive at the desired future state and created persona-based employee journey maps. We planned actions for six months, one year, and two years. To further boost Nasdaq’s ID&E efforts, we recommended that the company bolster ERGs, BRGs, and affinity groups. In career planning, we recommended a standardized skills and development framework and improvements around 360-degree feedback. To empower innovation at every level, we recommended removing boundaries and red tape so that employees could move faster. To promote engagement, we recommended a purpose-led culture communications campaign. And to make those recommendations realities, we articulated a change management plan.
The biggest challenge came with internal alignment. In an organization where many people stay for life and experience many changes over time, it wasn’t always easy to understand the need for a new framework. But as it became clear that a culture activation would not only dovetail with Nasdaq’s business goals but also help recruit and retain top talent to achieve them, leadership became fully engaged and passionate about the project. “Throughout the process, we had to pivot, change directions, and appeal to audiences multiple times. But I had 100 percent confidence in Slalom. I always knew they would be extremely well-prepared,” says Agharkar.
The evolution of an innovation giant
Not long ago, a visible artifact—a company screen saver, a mug—could be mistaken for work culture. Nasdaq knows the difference. Together, in just nine weeks, we developed an enterprise-level culture activation roadmap with a sustainability plan, process development, workshop design, initial culture awareness communications, and transition memos and meetings.
“Not only did Slalom help us build the foundation for one of our core enterprise goals—a holistic, well-defined culture—it informed executive conversations around strategy and fostered engagement from our teams around the world,” says Richard Taylor, Senior Vice President, People Experience and Diversity at Nasdaq.
Right now, changes in the job market and in the world are pushing many organizations to reevaluate their cultures. Employees, candidates, and leaders alike expect a connection between a company’s values and its actions. By prioritizing a clearly defined culture aligned with its business goals, Nasdaq has stayed ahead of the curve. The company has made an investment in its employees. And those employees now have the tools they need to champion inclusive prosperity around the world.