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October 6-8, 2024 • San Diego, CA

Juneteenth Reflections: Instacart’s Path to DEB Excellence 

An Interview with Jennifer Sutton, Head of Diversity, Equity, and Belonging at Instacart  

We were thrilled to catch up with Jennifer Sutton, Head of Diversity, Equity, and Belonging at Instacart recently. In this exclusive interview, she shares her professional journey, passion, and what attendees can look forward to in her session focusing on Juneteenth Programming at Instacart.  


Q: What initially sparked your passion for the HR/Culture/People domain, and how has it evolved throughout your career? 

A: Over the last 17 years, I’ve had the honor of bringing diversity, equity, racial equity, and belonging experience across the tech and finance industries. Currently, I lead the Diversity, Equity, and Belonging (DEB) function at Instacart. 

As a business rep in my financial services days, I was tasked with campus recruiting to engage and attract talent for internships and full-time opportunities. From career fairs to information sessions, I thoroughly enjoyed those recruitment activities as I’ve always been passionate about forming and building relationships. Connecting with candidates at these events was key in helping to promote the company culture, thus attracting top talent into the industry. And that same passion and drive remain today. 

I believe that the true differentiating factor from one company to another is the people and its culture. In short, anyone can use their transferable skills to work at any company. But what keeps them bought in is the culture. How do they feel when they interact with one another? That keeps me motivated to evolve the conversation and promote the best company culture at every turn. 

Q: Can you recount the most valuable piece of work or culture-related advice you’ve received in your journey? 

A: Build your squad. Form a community of leaders and peers that will give you the good, bad, and ugly, and will support you on the hardest days while cheering you on during your best days. It’s important that your community is comprised of all walks of life. I believe that various lived experiences will keep me informed as the conversation around inclusion will evolve. 

Q: We would like to delve into the session you’ll be presenting at this year’s Culture Summit. What motivated you to choose this particular topic? 

A: Since 2021, Instacart has commemorated Juneteenth. It’s a significant date for us to reflect on, and I’m proud to share how we, as a company, have been recognizing Juneteenth throughout the entire month of June with programming and initiatives. 

Q: If you had to highlight one compelling reason why attendees shouldn’t miss your session, what would it be? 

A: If you’re looking for an honest reflection of what it means to support an evolving company culture, with real-life learnings, you don’t want to miss this session. I’m excited to share the work we’ve done to build our diversity, equity, and belonging function from the ground up, including the wins and powerful learnings along the way. 

Q: Finally, what aspects of the Culture Summit in San Diego 2024 are you personally looking forward to the most? 

A: The People! Any chance to meet and network with others who are just as passionate about their culture as I am is such a rare gem. There is no right way to support and champion culture. One can find out so much about what makes sense for their company culture by building on the learnings of others. Can’t wait! 


Don’t miss A Spotlight on Instacart’s Juneteenth Programming at Culture Summit 2024 this fall to learn more from Jenn Sutton. Learn more 

Ignite Your Sparkle: An Exclusive Interview with Charley Lapomardo 

Welcome to our latest Speaker Spotlight Blog!  

In this edition, we are thrilled to introduce Charley Lapomardo, affectionately known as “Sparkle.” As an Experience Facilitator, Charley is dedicated to helping professionals excel in their roles by fostering an environment where creativity and authentic expression thrive.  

Join us as we delve into Charley’s journey, their passion for workplace culture, and what you can expect from their highly anticipated session at Culture Summit 2024. 


Q: Could you introduce yourself briefly and share your prominent role within the Culture space? 

A: I am Charley Lapomardo (aka Sparkle), an Experience Facilitator helping professionals be and work their best. I am active in thriving culture-focused communities, including Culture Summit, Culture First San Diego, Covve’s Connection Crew, and Lesbians Who Tech.

Q: What initially sparked your passion for the HR/Culture/People domain, and how has it evolved throughout your career? 

A: I’ve always been a connector, helping people feel safe to express themselves authentically, knowing they belong. As a user researcher at Wayfair, I learned that HR and employee experiences are often neglected in relation to customer experiences. 

 Driven by the desire to make a positive impact on the lives of my coworkers (our captive users), I became an expert student of workplace dynamics, large-scale enterprise systems, and the nature of leadership and power. Frustrated by the indirect influence of the research role, I shifted into an active embedded culture-building role. I created community gathering spaces, memorable group experiences, and process efficiencies to help my team work better.  

Now, through my workshop company, Sparkleworks, I focus solely on collaborative creative problem-solving. 

Q: Can you recount the most valuable piece of work or culture-related advice you’ve received in your journey? 

A: “What makes us special makes us strong.” Sure, that’s from Shrek the Musical and not a mentor, but it’s valuable nonetheless! 

Q: We would like to delve into the session you’ll be presenting at this year’s Culture Summit. What motivated you to choose this particular topic? 

A: Sparkling is my nature, and my purpose is to bear witness to the transformative power of that energy. The Applied Sparkle Workshop: Transforming from Stuck to Energized is among the tools I’ve developed which apply sparkle as a creative catalyst to break down ambiguous problems and generate solutions. I share these insights and resources abundantly, because it is life-giving to see people light up, inspired to take grounded action to build their best life. 

Q: If you had to highlight one compelling reason why attendees shouldn’t miss your session, what would it be? 

A: If you’re sick of soul-sucking meetings and mandatory team-building events, don’t miss this opportunity to unblock your creative energy and get a new perspective on complex problems

Q: Finally, what aspects of the Culture Summit in San Diego 2024 are you personally looking forward to the most? 

A: Creating new memories with existing and new kindred spirit connections in the Culture Summit community. 


Don’t miss Charley Lapomardo’s Applied Sparkle Workshop at Culture Summit 2024.  

This session promises to be a transformative experience, helping you have renewed energy and motivation to ‘Sparkle’ when faced with work challenges! 

Learn more about Charley by visiting their profile on the Culture Summit Website. 

Bridging the Saying-Doing Gap: Transformative Strategies for Cultural Consistency

In the quest to foster consistently great experiences across the employee lifecycle, Derek Newberry, a luminary in organizational culture and design, is poised to illuminate the path at Culture Summit 2024.

 As the Head of Organization + Culture Design at co:collective, adjunct professor at UPenn, and author of “The Culture Puzzle,” Newberry brings a wealth of knowledge and insight into the dynamics of cultural architecture.

His upcoming fireside chat, “Cultural Architecture: A New Approach for Creating Consistently Great Experiences Across the Employee Lifecycle,” promises to equip attendees with the practical tools needed to bridge the often pervasive “saying-doing” gaps within organizations.

Culture Summit caught up with Derek to learn more about his interest in this area and gain a preview to his upcoming session.


What initially sparked your passion for the HR/Culture/People domain, and how has it evolved?

“My fascination with organizational culture began at UPenn, where I received my PhD in Cultural Anthropology. I’m driven by the power of culture to unite people in overcoming challenges and achieving collective greatness.”

Can you recount the most valuable piece of work or culture-related advice you’ve received?

“The notion that humans are the ‘storytelling animal,’ as stated by historian Yuval Harari, resonates deeply with me. Great storytelling is crucial for leading and transforming organizational cultures.”

What motivated you to choose this particular topic for the Culture Summit?

“The pervasive ‘saying-doing’ gaps in organizations, especially post-pandemic, highlight a disconnect between stated values and actual behaviors. My session addresses this critical issue, offering solutions for realignment.”

If you had to highlight one compelling reason why attendees shouldn’t miss your session, what would it be?

“Attendees will gain actionable tools for aligning organizational behaviors with strategic visions, ready for implementation.”


In Summary

Derek Newberry’s session at Culture Summit 2024 offers an unprecedented opportunity to delve into the mechanics of cultural consistency, ensuring your organization’s values are reflected in every action and decision.

Don’t miss this chance to transform your approach to organizational culture and bridge the gap between aspiration and reality.

 Join Culture Summit 2024 in San Diego on Monday, October 7,and attend , “Cultural Architecture: A New Approach for Creating Consistently Great Experiences Across the Employee Lifecycle,” 11:15 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. PT to learn more!

Human-Centric Design in Hybrid Workspaces: An Interview with GoFundMe’s Giana Rodriguez 

As Culture Summit 2024 approaches, we were thrilled to sit down with Giana Rodriguez, Sr. Manager of Workplace & Employee Experience at GoFundMe. Giana brings deep expertise in creating engaging employee experiences that build vibrant workplace cultures. We caught up with her and delved into her approach to managing employee experience in hybrid environments. 


Q1: Can you share what ignited your passion for HR and how it has evolved? 

“I have always had a passion for employee relationships and people strategy. I began developing people programs early in my career in the education and volunteerism space and have always taken an interest in ensuring strong cultures within the organization.” 

Q2: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received regarding workplace culture? 

“The work is about empowering others to succeed, which reflects your success. Once I realized that it was ok that my passion didn’t reside in one field, product, or mission, but was about helping the people doing the work, I felt liberated to follow that passion.” 

Q3: What motivated you to focus on ’employee experience design in a hybrid workplace’ for your session at this year’s summit? 

“Working environments look different from company to company and it can be difficult to find the ‘perfect’ Employee Experience happiness solution. My session is about anchoring Employee Experience work in a foundation that allows for flexibility and creativity while still tracking data and providing space for reflection and forward thinking. It challenges the idea that there is a ‘perfect’ solution, but rather a framework that focuses on meeting people where they are at and addressing their humanity first.” 

Q4: Why should attendees not miss your session at Culture Summit? 

The Workplace & Employee Experience model I will be highlighting can be used for any type of company, employee/volunteer demographic, and with any budget. The session is centered around building programs that are human-centered, easy to communicate value to employees and leadership, scalable, and flexible.” 

Q5: What aspects of the upcoming Culture Summit are you most looking forward to? 

“Connecting and chatting with all of the amazing people who are dedicated to such important work. I always learn new things when I meet people doing the same work and feel a part of something greater.” 


Giana Rodriguez’s insights into employee experience design are invaluable for anyone navigating the complexities of hybrid workplaces. Her session at Culture Summit 2024 will equip you with the strategies needed to foster a supportive and adaptive work environment. Learn more about her session ‘A people-first approach to employee experience design in a hybrid workplace.’ 

Second Chance Culture: An Interview with Michelle Cirocco 

We were thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Michelle Cirocco, Chief Impact Officer at Televerde and Keynote Speaker at Culture Summit 2023. She shared the importance of fostering a culture of second chances and her own transformative journey. 

Her unique perspective not only encourages businesses to rethink their hiring practices but also reinforces society’s need to change its perception of individuals with criminal backgrounds.  

Her words serve as an inspiration for others to become advocates for change within their organizations, promoting the transformative power of second chances. 

Learn more in our interview below. 

What initially sparked your interest in fostering a culture of second chances within the workplace?  

My personal journey sparked my interest in fostering a culture of second chances within the workplace. I served a 7-year sentence at the Arizona women’s prison when I got my first exposure to Corporate America through Televerde. This opportunity for a second chance was not just a lifeline but a complete transformation. It saved my life and opened my eyes to the untapped potential within the incarcerated community. However, the stigma associated with this community was a barrier that kept many of us in the shadows. I saw talented, capable, and qualified women who had built significant knowledge and experience while working for Televerde during their incarceration being sidelined in the hiring process after their release. They were cast aside because of a past mistake, and their applications were discarded when they checked the box indicating a felony conviction. This was a heartbreaking reality that I was desperate to change. I wanted to challenge this narrative and bring to light the capabilities and potential of these individuals who, like me, were seeking a chance to prove themselves. I wanted to show that a person’s past does not define their future and that the stigma of incarceration should not be a life sentence in itself. 

Despite the awareness of the benefits, why do you think companies still exclude qualified talent from their hiring practices? 

Despite the clear benefits, many companies still exclude qualified talent from their hiring practices due to a combination of risk management and unconscious bias. The stereotypes associated with individuals with criminal backgrounds often overshadow their potential. These conscious or unconscious biases paint a picture of dishonesty, unreliability, and potential harm to the company’s reputation. This is a narrative we need to challenge and change. The reality is that people with criminal backgrounds are just as capable, hardworking, loyal, trustworthy, and dedicated as anyone else. They deserve the opportunity to prove themselves and contribute to society. By excluding them, we are not only denying them a chance at redemption, but we are also limiting the diversity and potential within our companies. 

From your experience, what are the business benefits of investing in “second chance” employees? How does it positively impact companies? 

Investing in second-chance employees brings significant business benefits. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Getting Talent Back to Work initiative and research released by SHRM, the SHRM Foundation, and the Charles Koch Institute, hiring individuals with criminal backgrounds can increase loyalty, lower turnover rates, and create a larger talent pool. These individuals often display high commitment and dedication, grateful for the opportunity to prove themselves. Furthermore, consumers increasingly demand total inclusion, making it not only a moral imperative to invest in this community but a business one. These individuals are not just employees but a testament to the power of redemption and the potential for transformation. They bring unique skills and resilience that can contribute to a company’s innovation and adaptability. 

Why must HR and culture professionals actively work towards building a culture that allows second-chance employees to thrive? 

It is crucial for HR and culture professionals to actively work towards building a culture that allows second-chance employees to thrive. This is not just about doing the right thing morally; it’s about smart business. True inclusion means not excluding anyone, including individuals with criminal backgrounds. By fostering a culture of second chances, we are not only giving these individuals an opportunity to rebuild their lives but also enriching our companies with a workforce that embodies resilience, determination, and diverse life experiences. We are challenging the status quo and pushing the boundaries of true inclusion. It’s about recognizing the potential in every individual and creating an environment where they can thrive and contribute to the company’s success. 

Could you highlight what makes your session at Culture Summit 2023, “How a Culture of Second Chances,” a not-to-be-missed session for Culture champions? 

Our session at Culture Summit 2023 How a Culture of Second Chances Will Help Businesses Thrive in the Future of Work is a must-attend for culture champions because it challenges the status quo and pushes the boundaries of true inclusion. It’s an enlightening exploration of the untapped potential within the incarcerated community and a call to action for companies to embrace a culture of second chances. This session will not only change the way you view hiring practices, but it will also inspire you to become an advocate for change within your organization. You will leave with a renewed perspective on the power of redemption and the potential for transformation. It’s not just about giving someone a second chance; it’s about changing lives and enriching our companies. 

In Conversation with Samra Zafar: Creating the Workplace of Belonging 

Welcome to an exclusive interview with Samra Zafar, a prominent figure in the HR/Culture/People space, who will be delivering a captivating keynote session at this year’s Culture Summit. Samra’s talk, titled “The Workplace of Belonging: Where Inclusion and Wellness Meet,” on Wednesday, September 27, from 9:30 am to 10:30 am PT. 

In this interview, we had the opportunity to catch up with Samra and gain insights into her inspiring journey into the Culture space. We also delved deeper into the importance of fostering inclusion and wellness in the workplace. 

Q: What initially attracted you to the Culture space? 

A: As an ambitious woman and a person of color, I faced numerous moments of exclusion and microaggressions both in my corporate career and personal life. These experiences resonated with countless individuals who reached out to me after learning about my work. This inspired me to delve into the intersectionality of human experiences, the science of inclusion and belonging, and how we can apply these learnings to foster equity and break barriers for everyone to thrive 

Q: How has your attraction to this space evolved throughout your career? 

A: Over the course of my career, I transitioned from banking to psychiatry, combining the neuroscience of human behavior with the business world and authentic leadership. Our innate need to belong as our authentic selves drives us as human beings. This necessitates developing inner resilience, fostering workplace cultures that embrace authenticity, and implementing intersectionality and DEI in diverse workplaces. To unlock the power of diversity, we must first build psychological safety that welcomes and values the contributions of diverse individuals. 

Q: What drew you to develop expertise in fostering mental health within workplaces? 

A: My passion for fostering mental health within workplaces stems from a trifecta of lived experience, scientific expertise, and business acumen. Having faced trauma and adversity in my own life, I became fascinated with understanding the science of how our brains function and unlocking the power of inner resilience. Applying this knowledge to the workplace allows us to foster inclusive mental health and authentic leadership. By combining inclusion and mental wellbeing, we can create a sense of true belonging and empower individuals to reach their fullest potential. 

Q: Could you share your thoughts on the business benefits of fostering a psychologically safe workplace? 

A: The need to be part of a community is ingrained in the core of our brains—it’s not just a “nice to have,” but a fundamental requirement. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs places social needs, including attachment, belonging, and recognition, just above physiological and safety needs. When these social needs are met, we can reach the pinnacle of the hierarchy—self-actualization, innovation, and creativity. By establishing a psychologically safe workplace where authenticity is welcomed and included, we take a vital step toward cultivating a culture of innovation, creativity, and business success. 

Q: What is the biggest challenge for HR and Culture professionals post-pandemic? 

A: In the post-pandemic era, one of the most significant challenges we face is loneliness. Extensive research demonstrates the negative impact of loneliness and disconnection on our mental health. While technology enhances efficiency, it also diminishes opportunities for organic human connection—sharing stories, personal interactions, and common experiences. Studies indicate that in-person meetings create more meaningful connections compared to virtual interactions. (See LinkedIn article June 2023) . Balancing technological efficiency with building inclusive, human, and authentic workplace cultures poses one of today’s greatest challenges and opportunities. 

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

A: I believe we are moving towards more open dialogue and inspired action about things we traditionally left outside of the office door. In 2030, my hope is that we will be talking openly about mental health, understand the role of intersectionality, and end the stigma around these difficult but necessary conversations. 

Q: Why is your session a MUST-ATTEND event at this year’s Culture Summit? 

A: Mental health and DEI are often seen as separate topics. In my session, I will unveil the extensive overlap between the two—they go hand in hand. The intersection between mental health and DEI is where true belonging lies. By attending my session, you will gain profound insights into fostering a psychologically safe workplace, unlocking the potential for diversity and innovation within your organization. 

 During my keynote session, I will share eye-opening stories, enlightening scientific insights, and valuable business leadership lessons. Get ready to be inspired to take action today and join me at the Culture Summit 2023. I look forward to seeing you there! 

View further information on Samra Zafar’s Culture Summit Keynote: The Workplace of Belonging: Where Inclusion and Wellness Meet  here. 

“How We Culture” With Aubrey Blanche of Atlassian

Are you gearing up for the Culture Summit? Let us help you get in the mood by introducing you to one of this year’s speakers, Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diversity & Belonging of Atlassian.

Name: Aubrey Blanche

Position: Global Head of Diversity & Belonging @ Atlassian

What initially attracted you to the Culture space?

I honestly didn’t join this space on purpose, necessarily. I’m profoundly motivated by a sense that the world should be a fair and just place, and I’m flabbergasted when people just accept that it isn’t. When I joined the tech industry after dropping out of my PhD, I was shocked to find that I was one of the only Latina women I could find. When I started asking around for answers, I heard myths like “we’re a meritocracy” or “we don’t want to lower the bar,” which are just excuses the industry has used for years to justify discriminatory hiring practices and toxic cultures. That really motivated me to do what I could to make the system and therefore work culture and a substantial part of people’s’ lives better.

How has that attraction evolved throughout your career?

Most days, I wake up and can’t believe that I get to go to work and help people all day. But what really keeps me excited is the constant challenge the issues I solve are systemic and culture is constantly evolving, which means that there are always new things to learn and ways to continue improving.

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

Practically, I’d probably still be a researcher, perhaps still looking at the use of private military contractors in counterinsurgency. In my dream life, I’d curate and own an independent bookstore that was a gathering place for the community and had a really excellent tea and snack selection.

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

Culture is fundamentally how people interact and get work done. Defining exactly what culture is, is a bit difficult, but we’d likely all agree that we know how it feels. At Atlassian, we talk about the fact that our values stay the same but that our culture is constantly evolving. I think that helps us move past damaging concepts like “culture fit” and instead look for people who are excited to work in line with our values: with candor and directness (Open Company, No Bullshit), a sense of fun and consideration for your teammates (Play, as a team), and willingness to go the extra mile to make things better (Be the Change You Seek). We’ve built these values into our interview process and our performance assessment, which helps our culture align to those values even as it’s changing as we scale.

What are some common misconceptions about culture?

The biggest misconception is that you would want to look for “culture fit” in a teammate. Empirically speaking, culture fit is really just a morass of unconscious bias and helps ensure that teams have low innovative potential and huge potential for groupthink. Teams are better off looking for people who align with the type of work practices you’d want to encourage and add something new – a perspective or competency – that wasn’t there before.

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

“Culture is what you repeatedly do, what gets rewarded and punished.” I think this is incredibly valuable because it’s easy for us to define culture by how we want it to be or based on some abstract principles. But if you take it from that lens, we’re all accountable for our actions and their impact, and it’s really empowering.

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

Delete referrals. Knowing someone is not a job qualification, and indexing on people very similar to who you already have on the team builds a homogenous, exclusive culture.

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

Every choice you make about the design of people processes and business influences your culture. Do you prioritize hiring from elite schools? Then you are actually just providing opportunities for people whose parents are economically privileged. Look for geniuses or rockstars? You’ll likely hire many more straight White men because fixed mindsets about talent cause us to rely more on stereotypes than objective data in evaluating candidates. Spend more on the beer than learning & development budget? That’s what your values are. All of those things are choices and ones that leaders actively control. Make sure you’re choosing intentionally and aligning yourself with what you truly value.

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

I hope that we are having a serious conversation about how to build roles that give people balance and fulfillment. I’d love to see companies intentionally designed for individuals’ full-life wellness, and helping people learn and grow in ways that are important to them.

What are you excited most for at Culture Summit this year?

I’m always excited to learn what other amazing practitioners are doing in the space, to get ideas and increase my knowledge. Also, kind of hoping for some excellent book recommendations.

“How We Culture” With Michelle Lee and Jenny Gottstein of IDEO

Are you gearing up for the Culture Summit? Let us help you get in the mood by introducing you to one of this year’s workshop facilitators, Michelle Lee and Jenny Gottstein of IDEO’s Play Lab.

Name: Michelle Lee

Position: Portfolio Director, Design For Play @ IDEO

Name: Jenny Gottstein

Position: Design Lead, Design For Play @ IDEO

 

What initially attracted you to the Culture space?

Michelle: Early in my career, I switched from the aerospace industry to toys because I needed to understand how my work could create positive emotional impact. Seeing a child deeply engaged with a favorite toy energized me in a way that couldn’t be matched by the launch of a satellite that, while amazing in its own way, was virtually invisible to the end cell phone user. My days in the toy industry taught me that through human-centered design, I could inspire joy, creativity and optimism.

Jenny: Before working at IDEO, I worked at The Go Game for 7 years (first as a game producer, and later as director of the game design department) as we designed team-building games for companies around the world. It was an eye-opening experience – I saw firsthand how much culture contributed to the overall success of the company. After a while, it became easy to spot the teams that were driving that success.

Here was the key indicator: they played well together! They cheered each other on, they complimented each other’s strengths and worked collaboratively to find creative solutions to curve-ball challenges. All of these teams, no matter what industry, had the same magic ingredients: Trust, laughter, curiosity, risk-taking and creativity. Based on those observations, I knew I wanted to design playful opportunities to help teams tap into those magical ingredients. 

 

How has that attraction evolved throughout your career?

Michelle: I’ve had the fortune of being a designer at a time when the role of design has greatly expanded. Previously seen as a way to make products more aesthetically pleasing, design has now evolved into design thinking – a method that is being widely applied to meaty challenges that extend to systems and organizations. We now create impact not only through products, but also through organizational tools and processes. This includes teaching teams to use design thinking themselves. One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is seeing team members light up when they realize that they can be creative and have fun while tackling some of their company’s biggest challenges.

Jenny: As a game designer, I know how to design for a healthy competitive spirit that will produce outstanding results. But I’ve also seen that, when unchecked and rooted in individualism, competition can be disastrously toxic. At IDEO, one of our core values is “Make Others Successful”, which is why the company’s culture is so vibrant. Watching my colleagues embody this value every day has been a huge inspiration, and has reinforced my passion for designing experiences that help people bring out the best in each other.

 

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

Michelle: I’d probably be co-writing a children’s book with my kids. I love the idea of a role where there’s limitless potential and room for creativity. This should be true of most job opportunities, but children’s books are boundless, letting you imagine the craziest characters and adventures. Add in some pretty rad co-workers, and it makes for one amazing work environment!

Jenny: Wind-tunnel dancing.

 

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

Michelle: Culture can be difficult to define because it’s so much greater than the sum of its parts. It’s how a group behaves, what it believes, what’s acceptable and what’s not, but more so it’s a feeling you get when you’re surrounded by a certain group of people that drives how you act in those surroundings.

In game design, we talk about the concept of emergence. In emergence, individual pieces come together and interact to generate something new that could only have emerged through those interactions. If you think about this in terms of culture, culture isn’t static. It continues to evolve as different players interpret and act upon elements of the culture that have previously been established. The role of HR gets really interesting here, as HR can help shape culture by hiring, recruiting and elevating individuals who may reinforce an existing culture or push it in a new direction.

There’s definitely room for different interpretations of culture. Just as I think of culture from the perspective of game design, others will have their own ways to approach culture.

Jenny: Culture is like a party. When it works, EVERYONE wants to show up. When it feels forced, everyone makes lame excuses to leave early. Like a party, culture should be thoughtfully designed, and yet no one should feel like they are forced to attend. It’s important that everyone can co-create the party experience!

 

What are some common misconceptions about culture?

Michelle: Many people look to management to establish culture when it can actually be influenced by anyone in the company. It also doesn’t need to be established through company-wide policies, values or traditions. Individuals contribute to culture through how they interact with others on a daily basis.

Another misconception is that play contributes to culture only by providing breaks from productive work. In fact, integrating a playful culture into key aspects of work can make for greater creativity, innovation and satisfaction.

Jenny: Culture is not an “add-on” feature, nor a switch you can turn on or off with happy hours and perks. It’s a practice that has to be exercised every day in every corner of the company’s operations.

 

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

Michelle: When David Kelley first started IDEO, he talked about never wanting to employ more people than could fit on a single school bus. While the company now has more than 700 employees, it still feels like a small company. This is largely because David set the stage with his early vision. Within IDEO, different locations, disciplines and portfolios are empowered to create their own subcultures within the larger company culture, enabling them to have their own flavors while still holding human-centered design and IDEO’s company values at their core. Each group is like its own school bus in a fleet of buses all headed in the same direction.

In the Play Lab, where the Design for Play team resides, puns are commonly mixed into everyday conversation, fun surprises will be left on desks, meetings will conclude with purposely awkward high fives and prototypes are often seen flying through the air. On top of this, you’ll find a team that loves to collaborate, isn’t afraid to throw out crazy ideas, is quick to prototype and truly believes that all ideas belong to the group. Having smaller subcultures such as these creates a sense of pride and connection that feels authentic and right. It also enhances an employee’s sense of stake and purpose, in the smaller group identity as well as the company as a whole.

Jenny: The managing director at one of our IDEO locations is a huge proponent of hiring “unicorns” – people who don’t necessarily fit in a prescribed role, but have a unique perspective and combination or quirky skills. Each time he hires a unicorn, he tells them “The only way you will fail here is if you conform. We hired you because you DON’T fit. The whole point is for us to grow in new directions – you can help us change our DNA.” I think that’s brilliant because it flies in the face of hiring ‘good culture fits’ which can lead to homogeneity.

 

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

Michelle: One practice that often gets missed in the race to constantly innovate is taking the time to reflect, celebrate and look beyond your walls. This can take the form of an annual review to look back and see how much has been accomplished over the course of a year, but it can also be accomplished through smaller gatherings that happen quarterly, monthly or weekly.

Every Tuesday, our location gathers over lunch. The meal is cooked fresh by James, a beloved member of our Experience Team, giving the event a very personal flavor. Katie, another member of the team serves as MC, providing her own energetic and quirky flair that have become critical to our culture. The next hour is filled with individuals sharing lessons from recent projects; inspiration from personal trips, local events or global news; celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries; and occasionally a heartfelt, if slightly goofy, award for someone who has gone above and beyond. In a world of emails and Slack messages, there’s still something very magical about physically coming together in one space.

Jenny: Listen for laughter! Studies have shown that laughter increases creativity. Wherever laughter is, innovation is not far behind.

 

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

Michelle: Cultures can be designed, just like products and services can be designed. At the heart of it, it’s about creating positive human experiences.

When we design, our first step is to build empathy – taking the time to listen and observe. Next, we identify opportunities. What elements of culture are already bubbling up from different sources? What’s resonating with your employees while aligning with your company mission? What can you continue to nurture and grow? Also, where is your company facing challenges and how could culture help address these challenges?

From here, don’t be afraid to prototype. Rather than make one big statement about culture, try small experiments to see what works and surface leaders who are excited to build your experiments into larger agents of culture change. Finally, iterate to create a stronger culture over time that can evolve with your company’s changing needs.

Jenny: You can’t mandate culture, and it won’t change over night. You have to till the soil, tend to it with TLC, and have patience until culture blooms organically.

 

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

Michelle: Technology advances are putting an abundance of data and information at our fingerprints. Over time, it will be interesting to see how those tasked with shaping workplace culture embrace these new tools. As we can track more and know more, there will inevitably be discussions about how to do so responsibly, balancing quantitative data and statistics with the understanding that our jobs are to support complex human beings who shouldn’t be simply distilled down to numbers.

Jenny: Play audits and laughter metrics as key performance indicators! Inquire within for details… 😉

 

What are you excited most for at Culture Summit this year?

Michelle: I’m extremely excited to meet with others highly invested in creating positive human experiences at companies across a wide range of industries. Knowing that we may be facing similar challenges, I look forward to opportunities to mindmeld and cross-pollinate ideas, discovering amazing ways that individuals are approaching culture at their respective organizations.

Jenny: I’m excited to play with all of the brilliant culture designers in attendance! Looking forward to sharing what we know about leveraging play to design vibrant work culture, and learning from others in the room. Please come find us before, during, or after our workshops. We can’t wait to meet you all!

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.
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“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.
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“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.
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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

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!

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