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.

Building Culture and Uncovering Innovation in Global Companies

Building Culture and Uncovering Innovation in Global Companies

Monica Adractas, Director at Workplace by Facebook

Hung Pham is the founder of Culture Summit, a conference that brings together founders, thought leaders, and culture champions to share insights, strategies, and best practices on transforming company culture from the bottom up.

4 Step Process to Bring Creative Ideas to Life

4 Step Process to Bring Creative Ideas to Life

Creative cultures have one thing in common, they have a lot of ideas!

The problem is most teams don’t have a finely tuned process in place to share, respond, and test their ideas.

This can lead to disengagement when voices are buried, and creative expression is stifled.

At Culture Summit, Hung and I ran up against the same challenge not too long ago.  Whether it’s enhancing the conference, or engaging the community – we both have lots of ideas. We realized that we approached design and testing differently.

Hung is passionate about Lean Startup, and I love Design Thinking.  While we had different tools and methodologies to work with, we didn’t have a unified approach.

And it created several head-butting and not so fun moments.

We recognized that we each brought a different approach based on our experience and instead of trying to enforce one style over the other, we looked at how we could embrace our uniqueness.

No matter what industry you work in, ideas are delicate.  When an idea is first born, it can be killed easily by the initial response.  Everyone has an idea-response they default to that is often unconscious.   This usually stems from previous experience in our careers.

Do any of these idea-responses sound familiar to you?

“Yes, but we’ve tried that before…”

“That won’t work because…”

“Have you thought about the implications of…”

“Ok, well it would have been good to mention this last week/month/year…”

These type of responses nip ideas in the bud when ideas need help to bloom. Most of the time it’s not even intentional.

Over the last month, we have been testing out a few different approaches to how we manage our ideas and came up with a process we love. We’re now feeling more inspired, engaged, and collaborating more than ever.

And we’d like to share our Culture Summit Creative Idea Management process with you.


Step 1: Recognize you have an idea and ask permission before sharing

Sometimes we get excited about an idea and can’t wait to share it.  It’s natural to say things in passing like:

“Ooh! What if we…” or “Hey! I was thinking it could be cool if…”

This kind of organic idea sharing is good, natural, and healthy to let flow, but sometimes, it’s not always the right moment to share an idea.

When a team is deep in implementation and execution, bouncing around ideas might derail productivity because of unintentional context switching.  We’ve found it helpful to do the wildly innovative thing and just ask before sharing.

Here’s what it looks like in practice.

Hung and I were working on conference topics when I had an idea about audience engagement.  I asked him, “Hey, I have an idea on how to create more facilitated networking, is now a good time to share?”

We were currently deep in a task, so the moment wasn’t opportune.  Instead, we put the idea on hold and came back to it later.

Practice tip: If you agree to put the idea on hold, be sure to loop back to it later. Think of it as putting your idea in a greenhouse.  It goes there to incubate, but if you don’t come back to it, it will wither and die.


Step 2. Understand that idea management has two parts: Divergence + Convergence

Brainstorming ideas is a divergent process.  In this phase, your goal is to come up with as many ideas as possible.  There are no bad ideas so let your mind run wild.

After you’ve got an abundance of ideas, then it’s time to converge or come together.  Select a few ideas to consider and test.  The diversity of ideas mixed together is where the magic happens.

Look over the list of ideas you have and use empowering phrases such as:

“What makes you excited about this idea?”

“What would the positive outcomes be?”

“Tell me more?”

“How did you get the idea, where did the inspiration come from?”

Here’s what it looks like in practice.

We were brainstorming ideas on how to engage with you, our community.  We created an idea board and challenged each other to add at least 30 ideas (good or bad) over the course of the week.

We then came together in person to sort and select our top two.  We looked over the list and asked each other questions about the ones that caught our attention.  It was easy for us to see where we had alignment and which ideas resonated with us the most.


Step 3. Assess ideas from multiple angles starting with the positive

Equipped with our top two ideas, we had completed the first phase of the brainstorming cycle. Now we needed to vet how to move the idea into implementation.  We used the Disney Method where we used three different perspectives to assess our ideas.

The three perspectives are:

Dreamers: Dream up the best case scenario if this idea is fully realized.  What’s the ‘shoot for the moon’ type of outcome you’d like?

Realizers: How would you bring an idea to life?  Look at how the idea can be put into action. What would be the first step? What are all the pieces that need to be considered?

Critics: Review the plan and search for weaknesses, obstacles, and risks. Discuss the pitfalls and how to address them.  Having pitfalls doesn’t mean you shouldn’t move forward.  Critics seek to improve the plan.

This exercise of the Disney Method helps everyone consider the multiple perspectives that help support the success of an idea.


Step 4. Get things moving forward

If an idea has made it this far, it’s time to test and put it in motion.  When we test ideas, we break the plan of action down into the smallest slice possible that allows us to get the most amount of learning.

Hung and I hold each other accountable by asking questions such as,

“Can we make this even smaller?”

“Are we gaining the most amount of learning from this slice?”

If the answer is no, then we make the slice bigger.

You can also create a spectrum, where you look at:

  • What is the biggest piece you could move forward with now?
  • What is the absolutely smallest?
  • And what would be in the middle?

I call this the Goldilocks Rule =)

Remember, people in your team will show up with different approaches and experience.  Supporting and building on ideas helps to create psychological safety and trust in teams.

Vanessa Shaw is founder of Human Side of Tech, through which she advises forward thinking thinking executives and HR leaders to operate their companies with a culture-first approach, so that they can turn challenge into opportunity when facing rapid growth, digital disruption and culture change.