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October 6-8, 2024 • San Diego, CA

Tag: How We Culture

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. 

Innovating Work Cultures: Leslie Laws on Thumbtack’s Virtual-First Transformation

 In today’s dynamic work culture, adaptability and innovation are essential. Leslie Laws, with nearly 15 years in HR and organizational development, leads Thumbtack’s shift to a virtual-first model.  

Ahead of her Culture Summit 2024 session, “Rethinking Work: Thumbtack’s Virtual-First, Not Virtual-Only Transformation, Leslie offers insights on reshaping work environments and the inspiration Thumbtack’s transformation can deliver. 


Could you introduce yourself and tell us about your role within the Culture space? 

“I’m a People leader who has been experimenting in this space within high-growth companies for almost 15 years. I’m now a VP, HR at Thumbtack, leading a team of HRBPs, DEI, and Org Dev leaders accountable for fostering a high-performing, inclusive, and engaged organization.” 

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

“My passion was ignited by the significant impact that good people management can have on someone’s work life. Influenced by thought leaders and innovative companies, my belief in the link between engaged employees, innovation, and business success has only grown stronger over the years.” 

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

“The best advice was to fully consider and understand opposing viewpoints when making decisions. This approach not only enhances decision-making but also enriches our professional journey, especially when shaping company culture.” 

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? 

“The unprecedented changes in the work environment over the past few years and the need to adapt and thrive inspired me to choose this topic. It’s crucial to remain agile and open to learning to keep pace with the evolving world.” 

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

“Thumbtack’s transition to a virtual-first organization is a unique journey with valuable lessons for anyone interested in successfully navigating such a shift. Our experiences can help increase the collective odds of success in this new work environment.” 

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

“I’m eagerly anticipating the opportunity to learn from my peers in the space, which is always an incredibly enriching experience.” 

Don’t miss the opportunity to learn from Leslie’s experiences and Insights! 

Mark your calendar for “Rethinking Work: Thumbtack’s Virtual-First, Not Virtual-Only Transformation” on Monday, October 7th, from 9:15 to 10:00 AM PT at Culture Summit 2024, San Diego!  

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 to Combat the Invisible Epidemic of Loneliness at Work 

Upon reading The Washington Post’s recent article on the growing public health crisis of loneliness in the U.S., we, as the founders of Make Believe Works, experienced a mix of emotions. We were heartened to realize that our business could make a meaningful impact in addressing this issue, yet saddened by our own firsthand knowledge of the pain and isolation that loneliness can inflict. As many of us culture enthusiasts well know, isolation and loneliness aren’t just limited to our personal lives, it also significantly impacts workplace morale and productivity, and contributes to quiet quitting and low retention rates.

At Make Believe Works, our expertise lies in crafting immersive and interactive experiences that foster creativity, collaboration, and connection. We firmly believe that by bringing people together in enjoyable and engaging ways, we can help alleviate the feelings of loneliness and isolation that plague so many individuals, while simultaneously cultivating the empathy and trust that teams need in order to thrive together.

One of the key ways in which our business combats loneliness is by providing a safe and supportive environment for individuals to connect. We understand that social anxiety and the fear of rejection often act as significant barriers to forming new relationships at work, particularly for those who already feel disconnected from others. That’s why we place a strong emphasis on creating events and experiences that are talent-agnostic, non-competitive, and welcoming, encouraging participants to let their guard down and engage with others naturally and comfortably.

Another powerful approach we employ to combat loneliness is by fostering creativity and playfulness. We believe that play is an integral aspect of human connection, and by harnessing our imaginations and embracing a sense of wonder, we can shatter barriers and create fresh opportunities for genuine connection. Whether it’s shaping our fondest memories out of clay or crafting symbolic gifts for colleagues with pom poms and feathers, our events are designed to encourage participants to shed their inhibitions and tap into their inner child.

Through enjoyable and low-pressure creative prompts, we empower individuals to connect with themselves and others on a deeper level, enabling them to share their unique perspectives and experiences. Our work with a diverse range of companies, non-profits, and schools has allowed us to facilitate playful yet meaningful activities that promote self-expression and community building both in-person and remotely. Witnessing firsthand the transformative power of these experiences has only fueled our enthusiasm to continue making a positive impact.

We are particularly thrilled to offer participants of the Culture Summit a chance to immerse themselves in our work through a half-day workshop in September. Central to this workshop are a series of imaginative activities that are both playful and impactful, aiming to help individuals connect internally with their own creative spirit, establish connections with new people, and foster a connected culture in the workplace. During the workshop, we will also deconstruct our approach to deepening trust, building connections, and accelerating collaboration, allowing participants to apply the insights gained to other real-life situations. By the end, attendees will depart feeling reenergized, rejuvenated, and connected.

Make Believe Works is firmly committed to addressing the hidden crisis of loneliness at work. Through the provision of safe and supportive environments for connection, and the transformative power of play and creative expression, we can help individuals feel more connected, supported, and valued. We take immense pride in the work accomplished thus far by our team and eagerly look forward to collaborating with Culture Summit as we collectively explore new and innovative approaches to tackle this pressing social issue.

(Check out Make Believe Works workshop on Wednesday, September 27th at 1 – 4:30pm PT)

The Imperative of Work-Life Balance: A New Era for HR and Culture Professionals

The global pandemic has spurred profound shifts in the workplace, compelling 58% of employees to reevaluate their work-life balance  [View Bain Report]. As HR and Culture professionals, it’s become imperative to understand, adapt, and lead this change, or risk losing valuable talent.

Work-life balance is no longer about segregating professional and personal time. It’s about integration, understanding the fluidity between these two spheres, and allowing for a more human approach to work – a transition from work-life balance to life-work integration. Learn more about work-life integration in this article from timetackle.com

Why This Matters

The pandemic’s influence on work and personal life has altered the employer-employee relationship Employees now seek companies that acknowledge their human needs and adapt their strategies accordingly. As HR and Culture professionals, we have the responsibility to foster a culture that supports these needs. It’s time to reimagine our strategies and create a more human-centric approach to talent management. Learn more about new attitudes of employees post-pandemic in this ehstoday.com article.

Guiding the Change

Flipping the switch to life-work balance demands a new framework. It calls for dynamic leadership, clear boundary setting, flexible work models, and a genuine appreciation for time off. This transformation underpins the creation of a more empathetic workplace that not only retains but also attracts top talent. People are moving towards work-life integration to gain more harmony in their life.

Learn from the Experts at Culture Summit 2023

To successfully navigate this new landscape, join us at the Culture Summit 2023, where industry experts will guide the conversation into new approaches to work life balance.

Keynote: Flip the Switch: Work-Life Balance

Monday September 25, 3:45 pm – 4:45 pm PT

  • Claude Silver, with her extensive experience and unique role at VaynerMedia, as Chief Heart Officer, brings a wealth of knowledge on creating a human-centric workplace. Marta Riggins, an authority on Employer Brand & Employee Engagement, offers invaluable insights into how to engage and retain talent in this new normal.

Together, they will discuss the switch from work-life balance to life-work balance, sharing actionable insights and strategies to implement in your organizations.

This is a rare opportunity to learn from the industry’s best and redefine your approach to work-life balance. Join us at Culture Summit 2023 and be a part of this transformative conversation.

Register for the Culture Summit 2023 here.

5 Reasons you should attend Culture Summit 2023

As the world navigates these unprecedented times, the role of culture champions has become more critical than ever before. Mass layoffs have left organizations struggling to maintain a positive and engaging workplace culture, leading to demoralized employees and quiet quitting. 

In the face of such challenges, people professionals are faced with the daunting task of restoring their company culture and re-engaging their workforce to ensure their organization’s survival and success.

In light of this reality, here are 5 reasons why this year’s Culture Summit is a ‘Must Attend” event for HR, Culture and DEI professionals

  1. Our theme of “Re-Engage” – This year’s Culture Summit has chosen the theme of “Re-Engage” to illuminate the challenges facing today’s culture leaders and discuss approaches to address them. In these difficult times, transparency, equity, and trust should be at the heart of all staff interactions. Our conference will provide the tools to help you rebuild your company culture and grow.
  1. Reduce the cost of quiet quitting – Did you know that up to 67% of US employees and 85% worldwide could be quietly quitting? (Source HR Daily Advisor) This can be costly for businesses. According to The Conference Board’s recent study, quiet quitting costs US businesses $450 to 500 billion annually. Learn more. Using the latest techniques to re-engage with staff is vital to reduce the impact of quiet quitting for your organization.
  1. Gain access to the latest data, strategies, and frameworks – The industry leaders at Culture Summit 2023 will share the latest data, strategies, and frameworks to help you rebuild your corporate culture and reconnect with your workforce and provide you with practical strategies you can apply in your workplace.
  1. Hear from leading culture and DEI professionals – This year’s event will feature leading Culture and DEI professionals from a cross-section of sectors, including Claude Sliver, Chief Heart Officer of VaynerMedia, Danny Guillory, Chief People Officer at Glassdoor, and Dr. Jenny Woo, Founder of Mind Brain Emotion. New speakers will be announced shortly! View a sneak peek at our lineup here.
  1. Build your Brand: If you’re interested in sharing your experiences with 15,267 culture champions or building your company’s presence among this audience. Attendance is a must!

Register before June 1st, 2023 and get over 25% off in-person and streaming attendee tickets. REGISTER TODAY! 

 PS: If you’re interested in getting your company in front of 15,267 culture champions, Apply to be a sponsor today.

“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!

“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.