Culture Summit 2018 Recap: Culture Isn’t an HR Priority, It’s an Everyone Priority

Culture Summit 2018 Recap: Culture Isn’t an HR Priority, It’s an Everyone Priority

The 4th annual Culture Summit took place July 10-12, 2018, bringing more than 500 culture champions together to talk about how we can bring more humanity into the workplace, ask questions from experts who have been-there-done-that, and connect 1:1 to build communities where that have an even bigger impact.

We can’t share the delicious food through the blog, but we can give you a look at key ideas and takeaways from attendee’s favorite keynotes each day:

Culture Summit Day One

“Unleashing the Power in Every Team” with Atlassian’s Helen Russell

Helen Russell, Chief People Officer at Atlassian, kicked off the conference with a powerful keynote about the role recruiting and hiring plays in building culture – in building a culture that leads to business success, in particular. As a part of the Atlassian team, Russell has studied and worked with hundreds of different kinds of teams over the years and shared a few points about what companies can do to acknowledge big transition points – which for Atlassian was going public and scaling to 2000 – while staying true to core values at the team level.

HelenRussell-Atlassian-CultureSummit

“Building Culture Across Remote Teams” with Julian Lute, Sarah Elizabeth Graham, Katie Womersley, and Shane Metcalf

In the afternoon panel discussion, “Building Culture Across Remote Teams,” Julian Lute from Great Place to Work facilitated a discussion with Twitter’s Sarah Elizabeth Graham, Buffer’s Katie Womersley, and 15Five’s Shane Metcalf. Panelists shared real-life examples of how they encourage a sense of belonging among new remote employees (Buffer), how they communicate and monitor expectations (15Five), and how they work to create balance between remote teams and on-side or headquartered teams (Twitter).

RemoteCulture-TwitterPinterest15Five-CultureSummit

“Leadership in 2018: How Managers Can Lead Inclusively in Times of Volatility” with Awaken’s Michelle Kim

Michelle Kim, Co-Founder and CEO of Awaken, tackled the challenging topic of how managers and executives can lead inclusively in politically volatile times, sharing real-life examples of how leaders can create spaces for awkward conversations that actually build culture rather than suppress it. Kim focused on the important role managers play in building culture – after all, 70% of variance in employee engagement scores is due to managers and 93% of employees say trust in their direct boss is essential to staying satisfied at work and doing their best work – and what companies can do to prepare managers to model inclusive behaviors and encourage belonging within your company culture.

MichelleKim-Awaken-CultureSummit

Day One also featured practical keynotes from the following speakers:

  • Rajesh Subramaniam with FedEx spoke to how company culture can bring unity from diversity
  • Christina Kosmowski with Slack showed us how to design an employee experience using customer experience best practices
  • Carrie Staller with The Go Game explained the importance of psychological safety at work and how prioritizing playfulness and structured team games can create space for a healthy culture to grow
  • Robin Zander kicking off an experimental new Culture Summit session, “The Fishbowl,” in which attendees volunteered to step up on the stage and share their hard-won advice from the field

Culture Summit Day Two

“Culture in Everything You Do” with Pinterest’s Cat Lee

Day Two kicked off with a compelling keynote from Cat Lee, Head of Culture at Pinterest, who spoke to the importance of weaving culture into absolutely everything your company does – from the very first interview to company-wide traditions to the last day of work. Lee shared several steps leadership teams can take to help employees take ownership over core values and build the habit of using those values to make every decision. In particular, Lee focused on the importance of using culture as a guide for who joins the company, how they contribute while they’re there, and the understanding of culture they’ll take with them to new opportunities when they leave.
CatLee-Pinterest-CultureSummit

“The Importance of Rituals & How it Reinforces Company Culture” with Warby Parker’s Susan Lee

Later in the morning, Susan Lee, the VP of People at Warby Parker, explored how even the smallest, simplest traditions can be powerful opportunities to build culture if they’re based on core values. Lee also walked us through how Warby Parker builds rituals that build culture, but emphasized that it’s not the ritual that’s precious – it’s the intention behind the ritual and the cultural impact of the ritual. While some rituals stick with you while your company grows, others will come and go as your company expresses its values in new situations.
SusanLee-WarbyParker-CultureSummit

“Creating Real-Time Employee Engagement Without Spending a Dime” with Zen Workplace’s Karlyn Borysenko

Karlyn Borysenko, Owner and Principal at Zen Workplace, took to the stage to close out the Culture Summit by sharing practical tips for improving employee engagement without the pressure to bring in time-consuming engagement events or expensive consultants. After detailing the benefits of highly engaged employees – such as increased productivity and retention and decreased turnover – she walked attendees through the basics of how the brain works and simple psychological shifts that leaders and managers can make to help employees have a more engaging day-to-day experience, grow healthy relationships, and feel psychologically safe at work.
KarlynBorysenko-ZenWorkplace-CultureSummit

Day Two also brought us the following actionable keynotes:

  • Jack Altman facilitated a discussion with Reddit’s Katelin Holloway, Monsanto’s Melanie Moore, and Atrium’s Justin Kan on the ways in which they’ve seen investments in company culture deliver a measurable ROI
  • Aaron Kahlow shared how we can encourage mindfulness, or moment to moment awareness without judgement, in the workplace and how it benefits company culture
  • Carrie Staller and Kelly Rogala with The Go Game hosted a networking game that brought attendees together in small groups to share individual experiences and challenges
  • Twilio’s LaFawn Davis and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s Maurice Wilkins hosted a Fireside Chat to explore diversity fatigue and how companies can remove barriers to opportunities and access in the workplace today
  • Josh Lavra from IDEO shared case studies for six culture behaviors that allow teams to thrive creatively

 

If you weren’t able to join us this year, we hope to see you next year! And if you were, we’d love to hear about your favorite Culture Summit moment in the comments below.

Want to keep reading? Check out these powerful attendee recaps:

How to Integrate Your Company Mission Into Your Culture by Cristina Ashbaugh

At Culture Summit, anyone can be a change agent: key takeaways from a culture conference by Sam Trieu

Dagger Goes West: Learnings From Culture Summit 2018 by Rachelle Knowles

Sarah is a HR and HR marketing and technology writer who analyzes and condenses cutting-edge research and data to help leaders and HR professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and business performance. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR.

5 Ways to Make Remote Employees Feel Included

This is a guest post by Dani Fankhauser, Director of Content at Reflektive, a leader in providing innovative, real-time performance management solutions for HR leaders and their agile organizations.

I remember playing tag on the grassy field behind my grade school, feeling like hours had passed and nobody had picked me to be “it.” Maybe you have a similar story, either from childhood, or interactions with your team during a meeting earlier today.

When it comes to our employees, obviously we want them to feel included at work. But with the rise of the remote workforce, this becomes a bigger challenge.

Companies are hiring remote workers to fulfill a high-priority talent need that’s not available locally, or to accommodate top talent that requires a flexible work schedule. Sometimes just one person on a team is remote, but increasingly, entire companies are choosing to allow employees to work from anywhere.

Gallup found that 37% of U.S. workers say they have telecommuted, and the average worker telecommutes two days per week. In addition, 43% of U.S. employees work remotely at least part of the time. A remote workforce can mean getting the best talent, but does it pay off?

Another study found organizations with engaged employees outperform those with low employee engagement by 202%. They typically have 40% lower turnover, 21% improved

productivity, and 22% higher profitability. Organizations need to ask whether engagement is consistent as they grow and their workforce spreads worldwide, or if remote employees will suffer from exclusion, driving down their engagement and productivity.

The effects of social rejection are heavily studied in the neuroscience field. A game called Cyberball is used to create a situation in which one person feels rejected. A group of subjects begin passing a ball from person to person through a web interface, but after a few rounds, one person is excluded. But, this person doesn’t know it was planned.

What happens? As it turns out, an EEG study found subjects’ brains reacted with anger or sadness in this situation. Tossing a ball in an online game is not so different than tossing ideas around in a meeting — on a video call or in person. The takeaway for businesses focused on teamwork and collaboration is clear.

In addition, studies show the emotional feeling of pain from social exclusion overlaps with physical pain, such as stubbing your toe. The same area of the brain processes these different kinds of pain.

Needless to say, employees can’t do their best work in these conditions.

Whether you’re looking to re-engage your secondary offices or better support work-from-home individuals and teams, check out the tips below.

Get Your Face Time

One-on-ones are key to good management. It’s easy for managers to feel they can do these meetings less regularly when a direct report is not located in the office, but the opposite is true. Finding ways to connect are more important. Meeting schedules should match what is given to other employees on the team, otherwise, the remote employee will feel that stubbed-toe social exclusion you want to avoid.

When should you use video versus a phone call? Nonverbal communication plays an important part in ensuring you are understood. Any constructive feedback or bad news should be delivered via video. And, be sure it is timely — you don’t want your remote employee to be the last to know about a leadership team exit that impacts her work directly.

Deliver Ongoing Feedback and Recognition

Constructive feedback can be so hard to give that many managers will skip it completely, especially when it requires a video call and conference room to deliver. The problem is, this type of feedback is crucial to helping employees develop. Your remote employees don’t want to be stuck in a career rut, and it does not help the company to leave them at the same level.

A counterintuitive key to good constructive feedback is actually giving recognition generously and often. The ideal ratio should be 7:1 recognition to feedback. Positive recognition also goes a long way in affirming good behaviors and can improve performance on its own. Your employees get to improve their skills, and the company gets better work.

For employees who aren’t sitting in the same room, recognition that is logged in a company portal can help employees connect with each other and learn from each other. When employees see who is doing good work and what the company values in success, they are better able to collaborate.

Build Relationships

If you’ve ever had a friend who moved away, you know it takes effort to keep the friendship alive. No matter how well you connected when hanging out was easy and casual, you need to invest time and effort to maintain your connection.

When you first hire a remote team member, make the case to travel for an in-person orientation. Whether you invite the team member to your main office or you visit them in their town is up to your company’s culture. This face-to-face meeting can create a foundation for a strong connection. The trust you can establish by talking over hobbies, fears, and aspirations will put you on the best track to openly talk about sensitive topics later on.

Another way to maintain a relationship is through tangible objects of appreciation. This might be making sure a company notebook, pen, or jacket is sent to a remote employee. On birthdays and work anniversaries, sending flowers or a card can help employees feel appreciated. It’s a reminder that you’re not alone. You’re part of the team.

Work relationships follow the same rules as personal relationships. That extra effort goes a long way in making your employees feel included, no matter what part of the city or globe they do their work.

Leverage Technology

Remote work means fewer casual conversations. One question I find myself asking colleagues in the hall between meetings is, “What’s the status of XYZ project?” The result is a feeling of being on track and each person carrying their own weight. Formal meetings are used for higher-impact work.

When you haven’t spoken with a teammate or supervisor for a week, the least productive use of your time is to run through status updates. Luckily, technology can take care of the status updates for you. A tool like Asana for project management can log due dates and project assignments, and notify everyone once the project is completed. With a tool for OKRs or another goal format, you can track progress by a percentage or dollar amount.

These tools ensure your conversations are exactly that – a conversation.

Instant messaging applications enable remote workers to have casual conversations that don’t warrant an email thread. This can help employees share ideas, as collaboration, usually across departments, is key to innovation.

Video conferencing should be used for any all-company or all-department meeting. Also, ensure the meeting is recorded or offered at a time that works for every time zone where employees are represented. Remote employees can feel like they’re the last to hear about company news, which contributes to disengagement.

One last tip is over-communication. As mentioned, non-verbal cues dominate our in-person communication and are largely lost in remote conversations. Someone might reply “yes” to whether they understood a direction, but when the project is completed, it’s clear they missed something. Documenting conversations via email or a feedback tool ensures both parties are hearing the same thing. Ultimately, it benefits everyone.

Your commitment to an engaged workforce shouldn’t fall short of remote employees. Get the right tools and teach your managers how to connect with their remote team. You’ve already identified the best talent in your remote workforce, and with these tips, you’ll find your remote employees can be among your most productive and happy.

Dani Fankhauser is head of content at Reflektive, where she creates resources to help HR leaders transform performance management and help people reach their potential. Her writing has appeared in Fortune, The Billfold, Mashable, PopSugar, and NY Mag’s The Cut.

Turning Insights Into Action: What One Culture Advocate Learned From Culture Summit

Turning Insights Into Action: What One Culture Advocate Learned From Culture Summit

Alicia Case began her advertising career as a copywriter on the client-facing creative side, working on branding, ad concepts and creative for large health and wellness brands including Procter & Gamble Global Oral Care and Pfizer Women’s Health. Over time, it became more and more clear that she wanted to help spread her team’s thriving team culture to the rest of the organization.

Case began to wonder, “How do we establish an ownable, differentiating culture across our the entire organization that makes people want to stay working here and attract outsiders to come here?”

With that question, Case cultivated a cultural overhaul to the entire agency setting the path directed to an employee-facing role that now made her “client” the agency she worked for. After more than a year of developing this robust culture program and showing positive results from annual surveys and increased employee satisfaction, Case proposed a new role and officially shifted her career path. She moved from the creative side to a role focused on a wider set of employee culture variables including internal communications, social media, events, recruiting, reward and recognition opportunities, and more.

Throughout all this change and growth, Case has used her background in creative advertising to think about building culture the same way you would build a good brand, and attending Culture Summit for the past two years has been an important milestone in Case’s development as a culture and employee experience professional. Each year has featured keynotes, speakers, and presentations that helped her shape her understanding of culture and build an intentional employee experience at Publicis Health.

“Our agencies want to emulate many of the characteristics of Facebook, Amazon, Google, LinkedIn, Spotify, etc.,” says Case. “And for me, it’s important to not just understand what they do outside of their organizations but also on the inside.”

“What are they doing to create cultures and employee experiences that get their people to put out the caliber of work that we admire and recognize as best in class?” Case continues. “How are they building an employee experience that’s directly linked to the company ROI? That’s why it’s imperative to attend conferences like Culture Summit because you get to go under the hood of companies you may not otherwise get to hear from.”

Here are some of the most important Culture Summit takeaways she’s collected over the years:

Turning Insights Into Action: What One Culture Advocate Learned From Culture SummitPhoto Credit: Cathryn Lynne Photo

1. Culture is a combination of micro and macro experiences

From the application and interview process to onboarding, training, and working on day-to-day tasks, the employee experience is made up of a number of different large and small employee experiences. When you look at how your organization builds its culture, consider high-level macro, big things you do that affect the entire organization as well as the small micro-level individualized factors. Which brings us to the first point Case would like to emphasize: culture is not some distant concept developed by the higher-ups like a product to be passed down. It’s every single micro and macro interaction a company has with its employees…

  • It’s our competitive advantage for recruitment and retention
  • It’s why we want to work here and also stay working here
  • It’s what can drive engagement, which increases output and makes our clients happier as a result because more engaged people means a higher quality of work, which means happier clients, which means more money back into the business

Micro experiences look at what individual things are happening at a granular level for each employee, like learning and development, career mobility and development, rewards and recognition, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and thought leadership opportunities. Macro experiences include the things that impact every single employee at large, like the company mission, brand values, processes, benefits, physical space, technology and tools, communications, etc. A successful culture will intentionally establish and adjust both macro and micro experiences to the needs of its people. A culture that can be responsive to its people’s needs will thrive.

Key Takeaway: Give more personalized gifts instead of giving everyone the same gift card or spot bonus. If you know a team member loves music or they’re a foodie, why not give them a pair of concert tickets or a dinner at a Michelin Star rated restaurant? Those small details make the person feel like the organization “gets” them. It’s building on a total rewards philosophy and moving away from the thinking the same things work for everyone.

Turning Insights Into Action: What One Culture Advocate Learned From Culture Summit

Case (center) speaking on the “Power of Business Resource Groups” panel at Saatchi & Saatchi. Image Source: Kipp Jarecke-Cheng

 

2. If you want to emulate the pros, learn from them

According to Case, one of the best parts of the Culture Summit was learning from relevant, best-in-class brands like Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn. Many legacy companies that have been around for decades or over a century are looking to change their business models to meet today’s business demands, many of which are being driven by these tech titans. These company’s outputs are a reflection of what’s happening inside and the culture and talent that’s there, it offers a great learning opportunity for brands that want to achieve that kind of success on their own. Or a minimum, understand how they’ve created a culture that is writing the playbook on today vs chasing to keep up.

“One of the most memorable panels was one about diversity and inclusion, but how Airbnb put the emphasis on belonging versus inclusion was the real differentiator,” says Case. “When you’re a visitor staying in a host’s home on Airbnb, you want to feel like you belong there. It’s totally different from a hotel. Staying in someone’s home you truly need to create a sense of belonging. That the people hosting want you there, they make you feel at home, they make you feel comfortable with the city you’re visiting, you feel like a local vs just a tourist.”

“That’s what Airbnb wants to create and to bring this same notion of belonging into how they view inclusion feels so on brand,” continues Case. “They want people to feel like they are truly at home at Airbnb and are connected and really part of the neighborhood. I loved how that nuance came to life not just in what they are doing externally, but internally as well.”

Key Takeaway: So many companies get lost in thinking about what they want to be versus analyzing what they fundamentally already are. Case noted that the Facebook speakers have made excellent points that when you choose a value, you have to think about what you also give up since a value comes at a cost. If you value one thing, there’s something that you don’t value because it’s not possible to value everything: You can’t say you’re funny but also be serious. You can’t say you’re type-A but also be OK with failure. They aren’t mutually exclusive.  

Turning Insights Into Action: What One Culture Advocate Learned From Culture Summit

Case (far right) attending the Out & Equal Workplace Summit in Philadelphia with the LGBTQ business resource group she co-chairs. Photo Credit: Kipp Jarecke-Cheng

 

3. Culture needs to be original – not duplicated and not lip service

Another important speaker takeaway for Case was that you can’t say you believe in diversity and inclusion and not have your staff speak truth on its own or not have programs and initiatives that actually help move the needle. The speakers really modeled what they preached and didn’t just make it words. Speakers don’t just tell you they believe in something, they show you how the brand puts those values into practice.

One way Case’s company is following through on this takeaway is to adopt a philosophy to only use real photos from real events – not stock photos or pure type that anyone could use – for the work that their communications department creates. They know it’s important to show their people volunteering their time painting local high schools, dancing in drag pageants, speaking on panels, or leading a workshop to reinforce who we are and what we stand for.

Amir Diwane performing as Addy Rall in the Publicis Égalité Employee Charity Drag Pageant that Case organizes each year for PRIDE. Photo Credit: Kipp Jarecke-Cheng

Here are a few examples of year-round or ongoing culture initiatives at Publicis:

  • To improve presentation skills, one of the agencies selected employees for an offsite “Art of Improv” training. Employees were invited to an offsite event space with stimulating art and colors for a sensory experience in which they worked with an improv company to learn how to think on their feet and be able to change directions quickly if something happens in a presentation.

Agency members participate in an interaction workshop to learn improv techniques that they can apply to their presentation skills. Photo Credit: Alicia Case

  • When a team came back from SXSW, they put on a pop-up experience for those in the office who couldn’t attend. To mimic almost frenetic energy of SXSW, attendees needed to make decisions about which sessions to attend happening simultaneously. Additionally, large-scale keynotes were being held in large cafe space while other speakers were presenting in the other conference rooms. At the close of the learning session, there was had a big party with food trucks and a live band to create the same experience as if everyone had been able to head down to Austin, TX.

Agency attendees sit in the cafe and listen to the live band during the SXSW-inspired pop up. Photo Credit: Alicia Case

  • For Women’s History Month, employees were asked to nominate a woman in the organization who they thought rocked through Publicis Health’s #WMNLDRSRCK campaign. Nominated women from across the organization were featured on social channels, creating a positive social media footprint with just a bit of coordination and branding work.

Case featured in the WMNLDRSRCK campaign. Photo Credit: Kipp Jarecke-Cheng

Key Takeaway: If you’re doing it right, your company culture will not look like any other company’s culture. Your values, events, and initiatives will be unique and customized to the people who work there. Anything less runs the risk of feeling like lip service to employees who are hungry for a unique company culture that represents who they really are and what they really do.  

How could Culture Summit inspire you to influence your company culture and be an agent for change? Find out by attending this year!

Sarah is a HR and HR marketing and technology writer who analyzes and condenses cutting-edge research and data to help leaders and HR professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and business performance. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR.

The Evolution of Culture at Culture Summit

The Evolution of Culture at Culture Summit

For the past decade, company culture has grown into a bonafide hot topic in the HR and recruitment world. Now in the 4th year of its running, Culture Summit is in a unique position to see how the industry has grown and changed, and even to reflect some of those changes in how the conference is run, who is attending, and who is speaking.

Today, we caught up with Jully Kim, who has attended every Culture Summit since its inception and Senior Manager, Program Management Office at BigCommerce to hear how the conference – and company culture – has evolved over the past 3 years.

The Evolution of Culture at Culture Summit

Image Source: LinkedIn

1. Why did you want to attend a conference around the topic of culture, and what jumped out about Culture Summit that made you choose this one?

As a Sr. Manager of PMO, I manage other project and program managers across multiple offices. The culture of the workplace heavily influences my ability and my team’s ability to execute – if the culture is terrible, I’m limited in my role. If it’s awesome, not only can I do my job, but I can do more and grow my role and my people.

Culture is such an important part of the way I think about work that I just can’t separate the two. Of course, there’s the responsibilities and skills I need to get projects over the finish line, but I can’t do those things to the best of my ability in a vacuum at my desk. The nature of work is that I work with people, and people determine the culture I work in, and the culture decides how well I can execute those responsibilities.

In my sphere of influence, there wasn’t an active conversation around company culture. My colleagues and I knew culture is important – we complain about it, praise it, or envy it from afar – but there wasn’t a structured conversation around what it was.

I chose Culture Summit because it was the only conference around that actually addressed the topic – the only one! I didn’t know what to expect, but I was hoping to find others I could start a conversation with about how this is an important topic. I knew culture was important and I needed to find others who thought it was important so I could equip myself to be a better culture agent at work… and I did!

The Evolution of Culture at Culture Summit

Image Source: BigCommerce

2. What’s changed the most about the conference speakers?

The nature of the first two Culture Summit conferences was very much around executives who were embarking on culture initiatives. At the time, those were probably the only people who could speak out about how important culture was – the executives, CEOs, and authors who were starting or leading a new company and rolling out a culture program. It was really valuable insight from trailblazers like Google, Culture Amp, Facebook, and Airbnb who could validate that this is important and something worth pursuing.

Over time, the caliber of the speakers hasn’t changed, but the nature of their jobs and closeness to lower-level employees has bridged the gap. Particularly last year’s conference, there were great keynotes as well as less well-known companies who were doing awesome things in employee mentoring, engineering recruiting, and diversity and inclusion. There was a lot of varied experience that felt more tangible, and I walked away with action instead of admiring someone else’s culture.

As more and more people become interested and aware of the fact that culture is valuable part of how we think about work, the natural next step is to ask, “Well, what can I do about it?” So when we hear from middle managers and directors at that in-between, tactical layer, we get a better picture of the next step we can take when we get back to work. It’s less about hearing how awesome other companies are and more about learning what we can do in our spheres of influence.

 

3. What’s changed the most about the conference attendees?

Originally I felt like the nature of the people I met were people like me who weren’t sure about culture but wanted to know more – engineering managers, consultants, product marketing, and marketing folks. I hardly met any HR people… and then last year’s conference was almost exclusively HR and recruiting people!

Companies are recognizing that the way we recruit, hire, promote, and live out corporate values is linked to HR and HR is becoming much more influential in determining culture. It’s not about listing the corporate values on your website and hanging posters in the office. It’s about how we experience things like onboarding and offboarding, and how we celebrate or manage performance, and all many of these things come back to HR.

In one way, it’s good that so many HR people are paying attention to this important issue, but I worry that assigning culture as a “task” to a department isn’t a good idea. Once it becomes someone else’s job, it’s not your job anymore. It’s no longer the responsibility of the whole company but rather a program or a thing HR “does.”

The Evolution of Culture at Culture Summit

Image Source: BigCommerce

4. In general, how have you been able to apply what you’ve learned at Culture Summit?

The thing I came away with is that I need to be a culture champion at work. In the past, I’ve felt like my network has talked about culture but felt more or less powerless to do anything about it. But hearing so many experts talk about the importance of workplace culture and give practical tips gave me a lot more courage to talk about areas I felt weren’t working with our culture and celebrate the ones that were. I felt like, “No, we’re not powerless, and we have a voice to embody change and can push for things we think are valuable rather than just admiring the problem together!”

In fact, every year I feel like there’s some issue I’m addressing or something I’m fighting for that feels hard and Culture Summit ends up being right around the corner right when I need it. It connects me with people who encourage me and keep me focused right when I’m feeling deflated – it’s my yearly recharge of being around other people who get it and come back to work with a sense of the particular action I can take right away.

Most importantly, I feel like Culture Summit provides a vision for what’s needed in the workplace. So often we know something needs to be better, but we don’t know what better is until we see other companies and individuals pushing for that vision. It shows me what’s possible and clarifies what I’m actually pushing towards.

Are you ready for your yearly recharge? Don’t miss the Culture Summit in San Francisco this year!

Sarah is a HR and HR marketing and technology writer who analyzes and condenses cutting-edge research and data to help leaders and HR professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and business performance. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR.

“How We Culture” With Jack Altman, Co-Founder and CEO at Lattice

“How We Culture” With Jack Altman, Co-Founder and CEO at Lattice

Are you gearing up for the no-fluff, all-strategy 2018 Culture Summit? Let us help you get in the mood by introducing you to one of year’s speakers, Jack Altman, Co-Founder and CEO at Lattice.

“How We Culture” With Jack Altman, Co-Founder and CEO at Lattice

Name: Jack Altman

Location: San Francisco, CA

Position: Co-Founder and CEO at Lattice

 

What problem were you looking to solve when you founded Lattice with your co-founder Eric Koslow?

Eric and I were working together in a fast-growing company called Teespring. I was head of business and corporate development and he was the head of engineering. When we got there we had about 200 employees and we grew to 400 over the course of 2 years and we realized we were feeling a lot of the same problems as the company grew. We felt all the pain of getting more humans to work together harmoniously: communication breakdowns, unclear responsibilities, people not knowing what was expected of them, and a lack of transparency throughout the rest of company. We realized, wow, as you grow, people management becomes this difficult thing.

That was the “problem” we wanted to solve. And what inspired me was seeing how quickly and immediately my happiness and my situation got better with a manager – Robert Chatwani, the former Chief Revenue Officer of Teespring and current Chief Marketing Officer at Atlassian. I realized that building companies is hard, but a great manager has so much power over making employees lives better.

When we left Teespring, we were looking to solve this problem of how companies can do management better.More specifically, how to build a goal-setting tool managers can use to set and align goals throughout company. Over time, we developed a product for performance reviews that really clicked with our clients and that’s become our central offering.  

 

What initially attracted you to the HR space?

For me it was the realization that HR isn’t this boring compliance world. It obviously has that, but software has gotten so good at automating payroll and benefits and core HR systems so that now, instead of spending time on those kinds of problems, you get to work on strategic things: people. Are we motivating and growing the right person for the right role? When I reframed for myself that HR isn’t this cost center, boring function but a function whose job is to make people really successful, I became passionate about it.

How has that attraction evolved throughout your career?

I’ve come to believe that, despite how obviously important the role is to companies and the people that work for them, HR teams are still undervalued by their companies. Over the last 2.5 years at Lattice, I’ve gotten to work closely with extremely talented and caring people. I’ve learned that HR is made up of a great group of humans who choose to spend their career on other humans, and they need more championing in the world and general corporate environments.  

 

If you couldn’t work in the HR space, what would you be doing?

Besides people management, I get a lot of enjoyment out of company building in the general sense: I love the process of creating a new product and talking to customers and building a complicated company.  

 

What are you reading, online or off, that you recommend?

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss

Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company, by Andrew S. Groves

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker, PhD.

 

How do you prefer to read/consume information?

I do succumb to the internet and should spend less time there, but I prefer books over nearly everything else. I have a funny style of reading where I go through a ton of books, but don’t read them cover to cover. I don’t make myself feel guilty about not reading the book front to back and every page. Instead, I allow myself to flip through as I want to go to chapters as I want and mark them up, using the table of contents as place to jump around from. In a lot of cases, depending on the book, this allows me to get through books faster, not because I read less but because I don’t get bored. I’m always excited to read.

 

What’s your technology of choice?

I use an iPhone and a 15-inch Macbook Pro. For a while, I enjoyed using a Kindle, but I go in waves between a Kindle and regular books. I don’t use a ton of other technology, but I do love my Airpods.

“How We Culture” With Jack Altman, Co-Founder and CEO at Lattice

What does your workspace look like?

At work, I make a point of not really sitting down in one place too much. I have a desk, but I’m rarely at it. A lot of that is because I’m at meetings or sitting with different teams and spending time with people. Spending time physically next to people and talking to them has been my MO ever since I started managing people – in fact, somebody in the office dubbed my workplace personality animal to be a hummingbird because I’m always floating around. At home, I like to work on my couch with a coffee and a notebook and computer.  

 

How do you define culture? Do you think there is or should be a universal definition?

To me, one of the ways I think about culture as the fundamental way a group of people interact and work with each other. But I don’t believe there’s one understanding of abstract ideas that is true, so I don’t know if there should necessarily be one universal definition. There are multiple lenses we can look at culture through that are reasonable and useful. For example, maybe someone else thinks culture is the degree to which people at a company feel a sense of belonging, while other definitions may be useful tools to encourage a healthy team dynamic.

 

What are some common misconceptions about culture?

One of the big misconceptions is the belief that you can change people. A lot of companies will spend a lot of time putting certain values in place or encouraging employees to act a certain way. But I think in most cases you’re hiring adults who are fully-formed human beings. Ninety percent of who they are was established before they joined your organization, and you won’t be able to have too much of an impact on that.

That’s why it’s important to invest in culture early, because you mostly can’t change people. Getting culture in place early matters so much because when you’re first building a team it’s about the people, not how you tell the people to act. And after that, the most powerful culture editing tool you have is hiring and firing.

“How We Culture” With Jack Altman, Co-Founder and CEO at Lattice

What’s the best culture advice you’ve ever received?

The best thing I heard recently is from an interview we did with Kaitlyn Holloway, VP People at Reddit. She said that when the company wins, that helps build the culture in many ways. I’d never heard this concept expressed this way, and it quickly resonated with me.

At first it seems like it shouldn’t be all about winning, but then I mapped it back to my own experience and saw the truth in it. When things are going well and there’s room for growth and everyone believes the company is great, a lot of good things happen: the bar for talent comes up because you can attract and compensate good people, and that’s empowering for existing employees. It’s the old saying, “Growth cures all problems at a startup,” through the lens of culture.  

 

If you had to pick one culture-enhancing practice or “tactic” most companies could or should implement, what would it be?

In our experience as a relatively small, under 40 person company, offsites have been a surprisingly powerful bonding event for our employees. We’ve done a few at this point, some with teams, some with the whole company, some more substantial than others, but during every offsite people have a great time and get to know each other outside the office in a relaxed environment. When we were a really small team of 6, we went to Nicaragua and stayed at an Airbnb. More recently, we’ve taken a half day in Napa Valley, as well as an international offsite in Mexico.

You can almost see how much faster communication is and how people enjoy doing work together when we give them the space and opportunity to build friendships.

 

What do you do to discourage negative/harmful culture from emerging?

As far as a tactical approach, I try to establish for myself and other managers and leaders that everyone on the team should be talking to each other first. If someone comes to me and complains about someone else, the first thing I do is ask, “Have you talked to them directly yet?” In most cases, I know if they have or haven’t, but it helps to remind people that the way to resolve problems is by trying to work it out together. It also helps me avoid rewarding or enabling company politics.

“How We Culture” With Jack Altman, Co-Founder and CEO at Lattice

If you could impart one universal understanding about company culture to every senior executive in the world, what would it be?

I think the place where senior executives can lose sight of the importance of culture is when it comes in perceived contrast to business goals. If you’re the VP of Sales or Engineering and your job in this quarter or 6-month period is to hit a particular revenue number or ship a new product, it makes sense in the short-term to make cultural sacrifices in the name of those ends without being deliberate and thoughtful about why.

Of course, sometimes there are times as a leader when you do have to make those tradeoffs to reach short goals: you might really need to get this feature released in order to keep the team’s momentum up and to meet that goal you’re willing to make the team burn out more than normal, or allow a rockstar engineer who’s tougher to get along with a little more leeway. Those tradeoffs are made all the time, but you need to be aware of when that balance gets out of whack and make deliberate choices between business goals and culture.

 

It’s the year 2030, what is the workplace culture dialogue talking about?

One of the bigger trends in the past 15 years has been a shift in power from employers to employees, as it’s easier to get a new job, people stay in roles for a shorter amount of time, and mobile technology allow people to move around more easily. This has all lead to companies trying harder to retain great employees. As a result, we’ve seen workplace conversations become much more employee-centric. Thinking forward, I think this trend will blend with the growth of automation and AI in the workforce so that jobs will become increasingly less monotonous and more creative.  

 

Sarah is a HR and HR marketing and technology writer who analyzes and condenses cutting-edge research and data to help leaders and HR professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and business performance. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR.

How to Keep Gen X-Ers and Baby Boomers Engaged at Work

We all know that Millennials have surpassed Gen Xers as the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, so it makes sense that they’re getting a lot of attention in the press, on social media networks, and on the SHRM blog. But as companies compete to find and hire the most talented of this age group, it’s only natural that more senior employees – the Gen Xers and the Baby Boomers – start to wonder if their work matters anymore.

Earlier this year we discussed how to help legacy employees stay engaged when the legacy culture gets an upgrade. Today, we’re going to look at what you can do to make sure those employees know that there’s still a place in your company for their hard-won experience and expertise.

There’s one caveat worth mentioning, though: while generational stereotypes can offer insight into larger trends, there’s no one-size-fits-all label that perfectly captures every team member on your roster. There are only larger trends that can inform your approach to human resources management and give you a starting point for conversations around employee engagement.

To help facilitate those conversations – and identify those larger trends – we got in touch with Austyn Rask, Research Analyst and Consultant with the generational consulting experts at BridgeWorks. Here’s what she as to say about keeping Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers engaged at work:


Why are Gen X and Baby Boomer employees valuable assets in the workplace?

Like every diverse segment of the population within an organization, Gen X and Boomer employees have unique experiences and traits to offer. The disciplined Boomers wield a fiercely competitive yet optimistic spirit, while the independent, resourceful Xers have mastered a special balance between analog and digital.

An organization is at its strongest when multiple generations can work together and complement each others’ strengths, but this isn’t possible if a company focuses on a single generation – cough, Millennials, cough – and ignores the others.


In what ways can employers balance efforts to attract Millennial talent with efforts to avoid alienating Gen X and Boomer talent?

It all begins with generational awareness, which impacts everything from benefits to engagement—from hiring to retention. Having a perspective on who generations are and how they impact the workplace is essential. Leaders must also make it a priority to keep an open line of communication with seasoned employees. Don’t let yourself get too sucked into the Millennial hype, because there will always be a new generation entering the workforce and bringing change and hype with them, as well.

(Something we’re seeing now with Gen Edge!)


What are some of the unique needs and interests of Gen X and Baby Boomer employees in the workforce?

Here’s a brief summary of Boomers’ and Xers’ needs and interests, and more can be found in the infographics below:

Gen X employees…

  • Value honest, transparent leaders and coworkers
  • Are best motivated through flexibility and time to invest in their personal lives (Basically, time at work = time away from the fam)
  • Desire freedom to exercise independence at work amidst the inevitable team meetings and brainstorm sessions
  • May or may not still enjoy The Goonies and Donkey Kong!

BridgeWorks-GenXTraits

Gen X infographic courtesy of BridgeWorks

Baby Boomer employees…

  • Tend to prefer face-to-face communication (a notable source of tension between Baby Boomers and Millennials)
  • Value networking and building a professional community
  • Appreciate it when their contributions are publicly honored (your motivational secret sauce with Baby Boomer employees)
  • Often enjoy being on the cutting edge of technology to “keep up with the Joneses”

Bridgeworks-BabyBoomerTraits

Baby Boomer infographic courtesy of BridgeWorks


What else should HR directors know about keeping these generations of employees engaged?

With four generations working side-by-side in the workforce, seeking generational understanding is key to developing a team that capitalizes on each other’s unique strengths and experiences rather than perpetuating negative stereotypes.

With 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day – a trend that will continue for another 11 years – these employees are walking out the door with decades of experience and industry knowledge. Establishing constructive cross-generational relationships and keeping seasoned employees engaged is essential to not losing their wisdom and years of hard work.

Thank you, Austyn! And if the topic of age and generational values in the workplace fascinates you, don’t miss these articles for further reading:

Sarah is a HR and HR marketing and technology writer who analyzes and condenses cutting-edge research and data to help leaders and HR professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and business performance. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR.

What Could You Learn from Culture Summit? Hear How Three Past Attendees Successfully Navigated Culture Changes

What Could You Learn from Culture Summit? Hear How Three Past Attendees Successfully Navigated Culture Changes

What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens at Culture Summit doesn’t stay at Culture Summit – it follows attendees back to work and into board meetings, one-on-ones, and cultural initiatives for the rest of their careers.

Today we want to share three stories of what three Culture Summit attendees took with them from their experience at the conference and how it enhanced their ability to scale culture, explore the possibilities of their role in culture, and participate in the culture community.

You’ll hear from Hailey Adams at Loopio, Tim Kenny at Black Duck Software, and Orson Wells at the Friedkin Group, and we hope you’ll join us in congratulating them on their achievements and wishing them well in their continued efforts to maintain, build, and explore company culture:

What Could You Learn from Culture Summit? Hear How Three Past Attendees Successfully Navigated Culture Changes

Hailey Adams, People Operations Manager at Loopio Inc.

Successfully scaling culture at Loopio Inc.

Hailey Adams, People Operations Manager at Loopio Inc., attributes the education and actionable takeaways from Culture Summit with being a pivotal part of her company’s scaling culture success story:

“I’ve been to a lot of conferences where we talk about issues, but we don’t get real actionable steps on how to overcome them,” says Adams. “This was the first conference that actually gave me key takeaways to bring back to my company and take action.”

In particular, Adams saw results from the culture mapping workshop. By applying the culture mapping process to her company of 25 she was able to grow to over 50, and plans to continue expanding at a rapid rate while maintaining employee engagement and keeping ratings and reviews such as ENPS, and overall employee happiness high.

“When I returned from Culture Summit, I knew our small team would be growing quickly,” says Adams. “Since our culture was already incredibly strong, I realized we needed to do something in order for us to scale, and so we can keep improving. Culture mapping immediately came to my mind.”

Adams continues: “I met with over half the team, individual meetings for an hour each. I used materials from Culture Summit to ask strategic questions, like, ‘What does a great day look like? Why, how, and what impacted it? What does a terrible day look like?’ and dig into the answers. After just a few conversations, I saw patterns and trends that I was able to map and present to our founding team.”

As a result of actively culture mapping as the company expanded, Adams implemented culture initiatives that allowed the new, larger company to unify itself as one team, rather than siloing off into departments or expertise. She also brought new employees in with the expectation they would change and shift the culture – not fit it.

“Culture mapping will be an ongoing activity because our culture will always be changing as we grow,” says Adams. “Different employees bring different opinions, wants, and needs to the organization, and we want to support that.”

What Could You Learn from Culture Summit? Hear How Three Past Attendees Successfully Navigated Culture Changes

Tim Kenny, Vice President of Culture at Black Duck Software

Inspiring possibility for Black Duck Software

Tim Kenny, Vice President of Culture at Black Duck Software, benefited most from the community he found at the Culture Summit.

“Being able to network, talk, and share with people who care about culture as a major driving force in modern business was a delight,” says Kenny. “In fact, some of the one-on-one conversations I had were just as valuable as the presentations and keynotes. We would discuss what we’re working on and struggling with and where culture falls in the list of corporate priorities, and it was fascinating to learn about the similarities and differences from a diversity of industry and business from banking to software.”

Last year’s Culture Summit was particularly well-timed for Kenny because his company was about to be acquired by a much larger company, Synopsys. His company of 400 is now part of a company of 11,000 and they have retained him as head of culture within the larger company.

“When you’re a startup of five or 10 people in a garage, culture is natural and organic,” Kenny says. “But when you grow to 20 and 30 to 100 and 1000, it isn’t like it used to be. The speakers representing larger companies working on culture showed me it was possible to maintain or migrate culture at scale and shared perspectives on how they were fighting the good fight around cultural enablement and diversity – things that otherwise fall between the cracks in large organizations.”

What Could You Learn from Culture Summit? Hear How Three Past Attendees Successfully Navigated Culture Changes

Orson Wells, Senior Organizational Development Specialist at The Friedkin Group

Connecting with community for The Friedkin Group

When Orson Wells, Senior Organizational Development Specialist at The Friedkin Group, attended the Culture Summit, he was struck by his fellow attendees’ commitment to culture – it was important to everyone there, no exceptions.

“Coming from a place where everyone you work with is internal to the organization, there’s always a hurdle you have to jump when proving that culture is important and can profoundly impact the company,” says Wells. “At Culture Summit, you didn’t have to prove it. From the speakers to the workshops to the attendees, you were surrounded by other people who thought culture was important and who could see how culture impacts work.”

The community and education of the Culture Summit also reinforced for Wells that he was on the right track and gave him confidence to own the culture side of his company’s subsequent rebranding.

“We recently had a branding change, but instead of just a new logo and colors, we wanted to make a change from the inside out,” Wells says. “One of the big ideas we based this on was from the Culture Summit culture mapping session, the question, ‘What does a successful person look like within the company?’ We built a campaign called, ‘Owning the Brand’ and started having discussions with managers and leaders about what we would have to do to live up to this new vision and mission statement.”

Orson continues: “Starting with this question helped us really focus on authenticity and make a real culture shift. After all, if were telling our customers were more customer friendly and easy to work with, we wanted that to be true! We want a culture where when someone calls up our employees carry the challenge all the way to the solution instead of saying, ‘’This isn’t my problem.’”

“What made this culture change real is structuring it around that question,” says Wells. “We didn’t stop at just what we need to do as a company – we looked at what we need to do differently on an individual and team level to fulfill our new vision.”

Is your organization just starting to embrace a specific culture initiative, or is significant growth on the horizon? Sign up for this year’s Culture Summit today so you can get the knowledge, resources, and connections you need to be successful!

Sarah is a HR and HR marketing and technology writer who analyzes and condenses cutting-edge research and data to help leaders and HR professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and business performance. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR.

How We Culture with Helen Russell, Chief People Officer at Atlassian

How We Culture with Helen Russell, Chief People Officer at Atlassian

Are you gearing up for this year’s Culture Summit? Let us help you get in the mood by introducing you to this year’s Keynote Speaker, Helen Russell, chief people officer (CPO) of Atlassian.

Helen Russel Atlassian - Culture Summit Keynote

As CPO, Helen has global responsibility for the attraction, engagement, development, and experience of Atlassian’s most important asset – its people. She champions Atlassian’s mission: ‘to unleash the potential of every team,’ playing a critical role in enabling the company ‘to be the ultimate team.’ With a growing employee base, Helen enables Atlassian to scale, while retaining the very elements that have made the company so successful to date.

We plugged in with Helen last week to interview her about what’s on her mind, what’s new inside the Atlassian culture, and more!

Name: Helen Russell

Location: San Francisco Bay

Position: Chief People Officer at Atlassian

 

What attracted you to Atlassian? Do you think the culture is an intentional company attribute that’s the same for other employers, or something unique to you?

Definitely the values and the culture. The culture is set by the tone at the top. Our founders are authentic, straight-shooting Australians. When I came to interview with them, I felt this was a place where I could be myself. It was a heavily relational interview process where they were trying to make sure there was a personal fit first, and after that, they dug in to ensure I had the right HR skills and experience.

There are a lot of companies now with strong cultures and who put a similar emphasis on culture, so I don’t want to say we’ve mastered this, but I think it’s something we hold as extremely important and believe it to be a living, breathing thing. We have a screening process to make sure values-fit is really high.

 

What initially attracted you to the HR space?

I never considered a career in HR! I was growing up in the recruiting world and saw myself on the sales side of recruiting. At the same time, I was very focused on building relationships getting candidates to trust that I had their best interests at heart, finding them the right fit in terms of company.

I was running recruiting from Europe, and I’d shortlisted three HR leader candidates for the Head of HR role for our European business. Our CHRO was over from the US to interview the candidates and when she and I went out for dinner I asked how the interviews went – I felt good about the candidates! My heart sank when she shared that she didn’t want to hire any of them. I asked, “Why? What didn’t work for you?” and she said, “Because I want you to do it!”

What she wanted to leverage was the trust I’d built with the executive team, and that was more important than my having 10 years of HR experience behind me. She was a huge advocate for me, and pushed me outside of my comfort zone, including pulling me to the U.S. and providing me with the opportunity to assume her role when she went out on maternity leave.

 

How has that skill evolved throughout your career?

I would say the secret weapon of any recruiter is the ability to really assess a candidate’s potential and fit for the environment they’re coming into. That has proven to be hugely helpful in a talent development scenario as well.

I’m constantly looking for opportunities for people to come in and take new roles, which has benefited my team. I can just spot something in their ability that they may not even recognize in themselves, and push them to help them grow.

There’s an element of competitiveness about the role of a recruiter too, so I bring that to HR as well. I don’t want to lose! I don’t want to fall behind my peers. And there’s a level of really wanting my team to achieve and wanting the function to feel like it’s winning.

Look, it’s really difficult in this function! We don’t get recognition and awards, like, “Hey! Great job hiring that person!” As HR leaders, it’s incumbent on us to inspire and celebrate the team as a whole.

 

If you couldn’t work in the HR space, what would you be doing?

I would be in some kind of investigative role. I have this talent inherited from my mum where I have the ability to spot things other people don’t notice. I’ve just always got my radar up. So, I’d be doing something for the FBI or CIA that would allow me to leverage that ability.

 

What are you reading, online or off, that you recommend?

Atlassian was quoted in John Wood and Amalia McGibbon’s Purpose, Incorporated: Turning Cause Into Your Competitive Advantage, and I’m reading that. I’m very interested in anything about purpose and fulfillment. We spend so much time at work, and this whole “work-life balance” notion – where we used to believe they are two separate things that you try to make work in harmony – I just don’t believe they’re separate.

I grew up in a generation in which for most of my career I was one person at work, and I was a different person at home. But here, I observe in my team that they’re the same people at work and at home. I’ve been learning from my team that it’s okay to talk about family things I would otherwise only talk to friends about.

It’s as much about bettering myself as it is about learning how we can bring this more overtly to Atlassian and build that notion of belonging. How can people best show up so that they feel they truly belong in this environment?

 

How do you prefer to read/consume information?

It’s a combination. In addition to reading, I like to walk to work and listen to a lot of Audible audiobooks. I’m consuming on the journey in and home from work. It’s usually business content on the way in, and lighter stuff on the way home.

I consume most things online. I have a bookmark called “articles,” and anything interesting I drop in there. Every Friday, I calendar in time just to think and catch up – I schedule it to prevent anything else from cutting in. There’s just something about a Friday where there’s a level of calm that’s different.

 

What’s your technology of choice?

The phone is rarely picked up here – everything is video conference, in terms of communication.

I run my life on Trello. All my content from 1:1, team meetings go into Trello, and we’re even using it to develop career ladders. It’s such a simple tool. We acquired Trello last year, and we are embracing the heck out of this product. We’re also huge consumers of Confluence. It’s a major product for us that has driven a very heavy blogging culture. People will blog about anything and everything here, from living with domestic violence to being kind at work.

When we were a part of the Great Places to Work survey, the interviewers told us that our trust scores were one of the highest they’d ever seen in any company. I think that speaks to the fact that our employees can disclose things at work and feel safe doing so. Especially with the #MeToo movement strong and growing, you want to ensure that if employees sense the slightest whiff of anything, they are going to be heard, and we take it seriously.

 

What does your workspace look like?

It’s an evolving question. Our workspace is very open plan, and we have lots of collaboration spaces. As a part of my role, I also look after facilities and the workplace experience side of the house. I’ve just made an offer to someone to run that team, and the reason I got really excited about this hire is that he’s coming from the retail space.

Retail spaces are all about the customer and of course about making money, so he thinks about space in a very different way than if he was coming from the corporate world. There are a lot of great workspaces in Silicon Valley, where you say, “Wow, this feels awesome!” so I am excited about his coming in and looking at our spaces through a different lens in support of creating workspaces that will help unleash the potential of our teams.

We also want to ask the question, “And how does that look and feel for remote workers?” When you don’t have the luxury of all being in the same location – especially with the acquisition of our Trello team, where more than half our Trellists are remote – we are asking, “How do we make someone sitting in Idaho feel just as much a part of a team?”

 

How do you define culture? Do you think there is or should be a universal definition?

I define culture as the norms and behaviors expected of a person in a particular environment. Different people interpret it differently. Some people see values and culture as synonymous, but they aren’t. Culture is how you typically behave and how, when others come in and observe how that behavior manifests itself, they copy it to fit in.

 

What’s the best culture advice you’ve ever received?

My mentors would say, “culture is as culture does,” meaning that how you choose to show up every day is what’s defining the culture and setting the tone.

If I think back to my Siebel days when I had two little babies… I started to come home in the evenings, put my little ones to bed, and work in the evenings. I was often finishing email and returning calls around 10PM. But then I noticed that the majority of my team had also started to get online at 9 and 10 at night. I was inadvertently modeling that I expected that behavior. I had to sit team members down and explain that just because this was working for me at this time, it’s not what I expected from them. As leaders, we cannot underestimate the signals we send.

 

If you had to pick one culture-enhancing practice or “tactic” most companies could or should implement, what would it be?

I have to go with something we just started to do in the spirit of bringing your true self to work: at the beginning of each executive meeting, everyone has the mic for two minutes, and we each have a minute to say what’s top of mind from a personal perspective and a minute on what’s top of mind from a business perspective.

Since we started this practice, it is unbelievable what I’ve discovered about my peers. You just have no clue what’s going on in your colleague’s lives until that moment when they disclose things. It evokes a completely different level of empathy and connection. Having those moments to just situate what’s going on with colleagues enables us all to be more trusting, and to interact from a more humane and empathetic point of view.

 

If you could impart one universal understanding about company culture to every senior executive in the world, what would it be?

Every single thing you do and say contributes in some small way to your company’s culture and tone. I’m sure that knowing that would make executives check themselves ahead of responding in a certain way, being distracted looking at their phones, or other little things that feel so insignificant but have an incredible effect on the people around them.

Want to hear more from Helen? Start with her 2017 interview on 805Connect, “Building High Impact Teams,” and don’t miss her 2018 Keynote at The Culture Summit.

Sarah is a HR and HR marketing and technology writer who analyzes and condenses cutting-edge research and data to help leaders and HR professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and business performance. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR.

7 Employee Engagement Best Practices from the HR Experts at Google

This is a guest post by Mike Sonders, Head of Marketing at Spoke, a simpler, smarter way for HR and People teams to manage employee requests.

Fortune’s annual list of the “Best Companies to Work For” has featured Google every year since 2007. For the last six years, Google held the number-one position.

But Fortune isn’t the only one praising Google as a great place to work. Google’s Glassdoor rating is 4.4 stars—impressive on its own, but even more so considering its based on more than 6,000 employee reviews. Additionally, Glassdoor’s “Employees’ Choice” list of best places to work has featured Google every year since 2009.

Google is a leader in the employee engagement space, and it’s not just because of its high salaries, free chef-prepared lunches, and other quirky—and pricey—benefits. On Glassdoor, Google employees praise things like work-life balance, growth opportunities, and company culture just as frequently as their perks.

If you’re part of an HR team at a small or medium-sized business that’s looking for ways to boost engagement, discover new ideas and exciting opportunities by learning more about the employee engagement practices at Google.

How Google Measures Employee Engagement

Google’s entire approach to business—including how the company drives engagement—revolves around data.

During his tenure as Senior Vice President of People Operations (HR) at Google, Laszlo Bock instituted a long-term research study—named gDNA—focused on developing a scientific understanding of the work experience.

More than just Google’s employee engagement survey, gDNA measures how both the work environment and employees’ individual personalities shape the employee experience. Thousands of randomly selected Google employees complete the survey each year.

One of the earliest findings from gDNA results was that the idea of work-life balance is flawed.

They discovered that there are two types of people: “Segmentors” and “Integrators.” Segmentors are people who are able to go home at the end of the day and completely forget about work. Integrators, on the other hand, struggle to separate work and life.

Less than one-third (31%) of people are Segmentors. The rest are Integrators—people who want to achieve work-life balance but are incapable of making it happen on their own. This data helped Google identify an area with tremendous potential for improving engagement.

If work-life balance is important for keeping employees happy, motivated, and productive—but employees can’t achieve work-life balance on their own—there’s an opportunity to boost engagement by developing policies that enforce work-life balance.

For example, Google’s Dublin office ran a program called “Dublin Goes Dark” that required employees to drop off their devices before leaving the office.

With a team of psychologists, researchers, and data scientists, your HR team could recreate gDNA at your business. But since most SMBs don’t have access to those resources, the better approach is to look at what Google has learned and adopt those practices at your company.

Employee Engagement Practices at Google

In Google’s early days, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin focused on two things: creating a better way to find information on the internet, and making Google a great place to work.

To find out what makes a company a great place to work, they met with executives at SAS Institute. SAS Institute is one of Fortune’s “Best Companies to Work for Legends,” appearing on the “Best Companies to Work For” list every year since the list began.

What they learned from SAS Institute is that the foundation of building a great place to work is valuing your employees. Or as Jim Goodnight—SAS Institute’s founder and CEO—says: “If you treat people as if they make a difference, they will make a difference.”

The starting point for engagement is making employees feel valued. Here’s how Google shows its employees that they’re valued.

1. Google Keeps People Inspired

A 2017 study conducted by Future Workplace found that employee burnout is currently the largest threat to employee engagement.

One of the biggest causes of employee burnout is lack of control at work. Studies have shown that the most capable employees at a company are often overloaded with work. This leads to incomplete tasks, frequent overtime, and halted innovation—all of which reduce employee control and increase the likelihood of burnout.

Google’s approach to this problem is 20% time. Employees spend up to 20% of their time at work every week on projects that inspire them. With their 20% time, Google employees created Gmail, Google News, AdSense, and many other highly profitable products.

A perk like 20% time inspires employees because it allows them to focus on things they’re passionate about. That inspiration prevents burnout, increasing engagement and decreasing turnover.

Implement 20% time at your company by allowing employees to set an annual goal of their choice. Let them choose anything they’re excited or passionate about. Then, work with managers to give employees the freedom to dedicate one day a week—or one week a month—to working on that project.

Including 20% time in annual goals is important because it gives HR and managers the ability to measure progress and see the outcomes of the initiative.

2. Google Supports Flexibility

Another way to prevent burnout by giving employees more control is to allow for flexibility in work schedules.

Some of Google’s more exotic benefits—like on-site haircuts, massages, bowling alleys, gaming rooms, pools, and playgrounds—aren’t necessarily designed for after-work use. Googlers enjoy those amenities any time they want—even in the middle of the workday.

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Photo Source: CNN

While most Googlers work some version of a Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, they can vary it up whenever they need to. Work six hours one day and nine the next, go swimming after a morning meeting, or work from home with a sick child—no one cares.

According to Prasad Setty, VP of People Operations at Google, one of the company’s core tenants is “if you give people freedom, they will amaze you.”

But giving their employees freedom and flexibility isn’t a matter of blind trust. Google only hires ambitious people—the types of people who do their work whether someone’s watching or not. In fact, the company is well-known for its lengthy, detailed, and thorough hiring process.

There are plenty of ways to support flexibility at your company. Allow employees to work from home when needed, adopt flex schedules, increase the amount of personal time employees get each year, or allow employees to take their personal time in hours—not days.

And remember that people are most productive in the morning before lunch. If flex time means people take the afternoon off for appointments or errands, it’s probably not as much of a blow to productivity as leadership may imagine at first.

3. Google Promotes Diversity

In 2015, Google expanded its 20%-time perk to create Diversity Core—a program that allows employees to allocate their time to diversity projects and initiatives.

Employees who participate in Diversity Core work on projects that raise the visibility of women in technology jobs and encourage more Hispanics to apply to work at Google, among many others.

According to data from Google, in 2014—before implementing Diversity Core—the company’s gender split in technical roles was 17% female and 83% male. As of the beginning of 2017, the number of females in technical roles at Google was at 20%.

Additionally, Google locations in the U.S. employed 5% more Asians and 1% more Hispanics at the beginning of 2017 than in 2014. If these numbers seem small, remember that Google employs more than 70,000 people; even a mere 1% increase is more than 700 people.

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Implement a program like Diversity Core at your company by allowing employees to set 20% time goals toward projects that promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and consider adopting some of Google’s other practices:

Google Employee Engagement Case Study

When analyzing data from gDNA results, Google’s People Analytics team noticed that fewer female software engineers were getting promoted than males. The problem, they found, was with their self-nominating approach to promotions.

At Google, software engineers nominate themselves for promotion when they feel they’re ready to take on more responsibility. The problem wasn’t that managers were promoting more men; it was that fewer women were nominating themselves for promotions.

To fix the problem, a senior leader at Google shared the data with Google employees, and HR teams encouraged managers to look for employees who were ready for promotion. Over time, the promotion rates for men and women software engineers equalized.

4. Google Listens, Responds, and Adapts

The gDNA study is just one way that Google collects feedback from its employees:

  • Employees use a tool called Google Moderator—another outcome of 20% time—to ask questions and vote on others’ questions they want answered.
  • Every Friday, the company holds an all-hands meeting where company leaders respond to the most popular questions of the week.
  • Leaders use a charting tool called Google-O-Meter to measure the popularity of different employee suggestions.
  • Leaders also schedule “Fixits” to solve big, urgent problems. Fixits are 24-hour sprints where teams focus 100% on finding solutions to specific problems.

There are plenty of ways for HR teams at SMBs to solicit employee feedback: engagement surveys, pulse surveys, anonymous forms, or even just a basic pen-and-paper suggestion box.

But remember that the only way to benefit from giving employees a voice is to respond and react to their suggestions. If you don’t have leadership buy-in on making changes, it’s probably not worth asking for feedback. Doing so will make people less likely to make suggestions in the future.

Google Employee Engagement Case Study

In its early days, Google founders Page and Brin wondered if a flat structure—one without managers—was better than a traditional workplace hierarchy. Eventually, the company turned to data to answer that question, launching a study called Project Oxygen.

Project Oxygen researchers gathered feedback data from employee surveys. They used that feedback data to create a baseline for determining management quality, and then they used that baseline to identify managers of the highest and lowest quality.

Next, they looked at survey data specifically for their highest- and lowest-quality managers. What they discovered was that managers identified as the highest quality had the lowest turnover and happiest teams.

By collecting employee feedback, Google was able to determine that a flat hierarchy wasn’t the best way to improve engagement. Additionally, they discovered the specific behaviors that their highest-quality managers exhibited, using that information to create new management training programs.

5. Google Encourages Development

There are a lot of different ways for businesses to encourage professional development:

  • Offer a professional development stipend.
  • Form a mentorship program.
  • Provide PTO specifically for time-off related to learning and development.
  • Have an on-site library of books selected by employees and leaders.
  • Reimburse employees for tuition costs.

Google has its own unique way of encouraging professional development: CareerGuru. CareerGuru provides employees with access to company leaders who explain—in great detail—what it’s like to work in different roles within the company.

This level of career coaching helps employees find roles they might want to move into one day in the future and learn what education and experience they need to qualify.

To recreate CareerGuru at your company, find managers and executives interested in offering occasional career coaching, and set up sessions for employees to meet with leaders to learn more about different roles. If confidentiality is a concern, handle all scheduling within HR, and set up one on ones instead of group meetings.

6. Google Creates a Culture of Empathy

Data doesn’t always have the answers. That’s a lesson Google learned during Project Aristotle—the company’s quest to determine the composition of the perfect team.

Using a decade’s worth of data collected about Googlers—covering everything from their educational and career backgrounds to their interests and eating habits—researchers and data scientists attempted to find patterns among Google’s highest-performing teams.

They couldn’t.

The conclusion they ultimately came to was that the perfect team had nothing to do with any qualities of the people on that team. The statisticians couldn’t find patterns. The data just didn’t contain the answers they were looking for.

So the team took a different approach: they observed high- and low-performing teams to look for consistencies in how the teams interacted and ran meetings. The discovered that members of the highest-performing teams felt safe speaking up and sharing their ideas.

Great teams trust and respect each other, providing all members with not only a voice, but also the confidence to share that voice with others.

Here’s how Charles Duhigg summarizes Project Aristotle’s findings in his piece for The New York Times:

What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy.

Emotional intelligence training is one way for HR teams at SMBs to promote trust and respect in the office. It’s also important to remember that a company’s culture starts at the top. Encourage senior leaders to be more open and honest with employees—and to encourage their reports to do the same.

7. Google Offers Unique Benefits

An article about Google just wouldn’t be complete without covering the company’s unique benefits. But many discussions of Google’s benefits focus on the wrong thing—they focus on what the benefits are and not why Google offers them.

For example, in Google’s early days, Page and Brin noticed that young software engineers were really bad about washing their clothes. This led to the company’s on-site laundry perk. No one sat down to brainstorm benefits and thought, “I bet this perk will make people want to work here.” They were simply fulfilling a need.

When putting together the benefits package for SMBs, consider what you know about company employees, and use that information to design unique benefits:

  • If many employees have young children, consider offering childcare reimbursement instead of/in addition to tuition reimbursement.
  • If many employees are recent college graduates, consider offering student loan payment matching instead of/in addition to 401k matching.
  • If many employees are nearing retirement, consider allowing them to invest their professional development funds into their retirement accounts.

If you don’t know enough about employees to know what benefits they need, collect information from managers, or include demographic questions in engagement surveys.

Building Your Own Employee Engagement Practices

Laszlo Bock offers the following advice for HR teams looking to measure engagement and find innovative ways to improve it:

  1. Determine your biggest issues. Ideally, you’ll get this information from your employees.
  2. Use surveys to collect employee feedback on how to improve or resolve the issues.
  3. Tell people what you learned and how you plan to resolve the issues.
  4. Experiment with solutions.

When experimenting, Google recommends that you “treat HR interventions like a medical researcher treats a drug trial: have a treatment group and an equivalent control group, hypotheses, a data collection period, an analysis comparing groups, and quantifiable outcomes.”

Even if your plan is to simply recreate Google’s learnings at your company, it’s important to test the changes first and measure the outcomes. It’s a lot of work, but the engagement benefits will make the hard work well worth it in the end.

Advanced Lessons on Driving Big Change at Large Organizations - Culture Summit

Advanced Lessons on Driving Big Change at Large Organizations

Whether subbing out a CEO, troubleshooting a culture of bias, or reorganizing to pursue a new market opportunity, every organization will face a point in its development when it needs to change. And while we all know the basics of implementing any new initiative (get buy-in, craft a plan, follow through), there are nuances to driving big change within an organization that only those who have “been there, done that” can point out.

Today, Tatyana Mamut, General Manager and Director of Product Management, Design, & Engineering at Amazon Web Services, and Ellen Leanse, author, Stanford instructor, and former Apple executive, are going to walk us through five advanced (and sometimes counterintuitive) lessons on the best way to approach large organizational change to make it stick:

 

1. Ambiguity is what makes change hard

It’s natural to assume that the bigger a change is, the harder it will be to implement, and the smaller the change is, the easier it is to implement, but that’s not true. In fact, some very large, significant changes, like a CEO succession, can be fairly straightforward because there’s so much information around the topic. Organizational change is hard or easy not based on the size of the change, but on the ambiguity of the change process.

“Companies will often send out a press release about what a big change it is to replace a CEO, but most of the time it’s not a difficult change because it comes with a very well known playbook – we know what needs to be done and how to accomplish it,” says Mamut. “What makes a change hard is when there’s no playbook for it and it’s ambiguous, uncharted territory. You don’t know if you have a full commitment from other leaders to head down the same path, and the machinery and mechanisms aren’t there to support the change.”

 

2. Small changes can actually be more difficult to implement

Even with a clear playbook for change, small changes can often be more difficult to implement than large ones because we assume we can accomplish them under the radar, without looking at the big picture. But we can’t.

“If you try to change one or two small things at a time, the immune system of an organization will respond and show up to attack the changes,” says Mamut. “Small changes fail because people don’t take the time to design the larger holistic playbook and the context into which those changes will fit. If there’s a big goal you want to achieve, you may have to change everything all at once in an orchestrated and coordinated move rather than making small changes over a period of time.”

 

3. The most powerful change is changing how people spend their time

Whatever particular change you’re planning for your organization, try to focus on what impact it will have on how people spend their time at work. Not only will that give your team a definite example of how the change will affect their work but it will make it clear that the change is a holistic one, meant to impact everything about the way they do their job.

“The number one thing that makes a difference in creating sustainable culture change in companies is when they have certain agreements or encouragements about how time is spent,” says Leanse. “The most powerful change is getting your team out of their time rut of easy work and meaningless checklist items in favor of real, deep thinking. Companies that can change that can change everything.”

 

4. You can’t “Do it right and be done”

Implementing a big change within an organization requires a lot of planning, and that planning can be painstaking work. But no matter how much effort you put into the coordination and strategy behind the plan, the rollout of change is the beginning of the work, not the end. Going through the process with an open mind and a sense of persistence will yield insights, integration, and value.

“When change isn’t easy right away, people tend to want to say, ‘I did it right, and it didn’t work, so I give up,’ and the business world tries to reinforce that kind of thinking,” says Leanse. “But when you’re implementing a really big change, you’ll never get to a point when you can say, ‘My work here is done!’ Real, lasting change is built on asking hard questions and embracing and reacting to input, even when it disagrees with yours.”

 

5. Successful change is always top down

The first step in making any culture change within an organization is to get buy-in from the leadership team, but it’s even more important when it comes to driving big change in a large organization. The board of directors down must understand and commit to the plans for change (and why there’s a need for it) in order to give the change the support it needs to be truly transformative.

“Middle managers are always looking for stories of how a small team did something big in a bottom-up way, but it’s very rare,” says Mamut. “I’ve worked with CEOs on large transformation initiatives – including the transformations at Life Technologies and Procter & Gamble – and it’s always led by the top and coordinated with the support of the board of directors.”

How can you initiate this kind of support? Focus on getting an advocate on the board of directors: “Find at least one person on board who understands the change and can guide the conversation for the entire board around it, asking questions like, ‘Will we need to change our metrics of success, including our financial metrics?’” and ‘How are we going to assess the success of the C-suite for the next 2-3 years for the investment?’” says Mamut. “This person needs to not just be on board with the plan – no pun intended – but actually drive the strategy around it.”

If you’re on the verge of driving big change within your organization, we hope these tips will help get you in the right mindset to be successful. And of course if you have any experience to share, please let us know in the comments!

Sarah is a HR and HR marketing and technology writer who analyzes and condenses cutting-edge research and data to help leaders and HR professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and business performance. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR.