People Operations - Notes from Culture First Conference 2018

Culture First Conference June 12-13

This past week, Thao-Nguyen and I had the opportunity to attend Culture Amp’s first annual Culture First conference. The event was held in San Francisco. We are not customers of culture amp, and just want to share some of the learnings. :slight_smile:

Patty McCord - (wrote the famous Netflix culture deck)
Ted Talk

Performance and results are all that matter
Discipline and structure over policy and procedure

Talent: Amazing team do amazing work on time
Role of Management: Putting together amazing team a TOP priority

Have to calibrate with leaders: in the next 6 months, you have built the most perfect team.

  • What’s occurring then that isn’t now?
  • Meeting more or less?
  • What would you need to know how to do?
  • Work backwards from the delta
  • Always be moving company forward
  • Humans can hear anything if it’s true.

Behavioral questions for interviewing & finding people for the org:
Is what you love to do, that you’re extraordinarily good at doing, something we need someone to be great at?

Question - tell me something you did that you’re super proud of? These are the experiences that retain and engage.

Design for change:

  • Clarity
  • Honesty
  • Reality
  • Judgment (Trust team members to make the right call)

Transformation as an industry to fix inequality

  • Fix pay inequality
  • Confront problems head-on before there’s a problem

Always be asking - what’s the purpose of this activity, and do we do it well?

Consider throwing away things that don’t matter, such as policies

Action Item: envisioning where we are in 6 months, a year, 2 years and build team that has skills we do not to get there. (correlated to OKRs)

Susain Cain: A Quiet Revolution: changing how we work, lead and innovate

In typical large meetings, about 3 people do 70% of the talking.

How to address:

  • Introverts speak up EARLY
  • As a company, understand how people want to be calibrated and their temperaments

Advice for how extroverts should engage with introverts: engage 1:1 and give advance notice to prep

Book: Good to great

  • When introverts are engaged, they’re very engaged,
  • One way a CEO connected to his staff was writing personalized thank you notes
  • Know what’s in your suitcase

Action Item: When people start- have them create “I wish you knew” cards. Include:

  • Temperment
  • The way I work best
  • Role and soul profiles - light weight job description, their personal vision, how they like to be recognized
  • As a manager, it is your job to look at that person’s profile and deliver praise accordingly

An anecdote from Airbnb to open up in dialogue:
Elephants - big things in the room that nobody is talking about
Dead Fish - the things that happened a few years ago that people can’t get over
Vomit - sometimes people just need to get something off their mind and you need someone to just sit there and listen

Action Item: Incorporate and leave room for these topics in sprint planning, all hands meetings

Laura Pettit - Finding the right ingredients for organizational change

Employed to engage & improve career frameworks, retention, training, and development, cultivating a culture of industry experts - being the best place to work & brand presence

No data? Find some through workshops, interviews, surveys (they used survey money)

Some things to test for (symptoms):

  • Lack of business trust
  • Direction
  • Frustration
  • Market perception
  • Glassdoor reviews
  • Empowerment
  • Gender imbalance
  • Unity / values
  • Communication
  • Attraction
  • Development
  • Retention

Employee - value proposition: think about employees as customers, and analyze what they think we’re like

  • Be honest
  • Define what’s right for you
  • Clear about who you are
  • Look @ data to determine if we did this right

**Action item: survey: As a business, ask, what do we stand for? Questions to ask: **

  • What are things that make you proud to work here?
  • What makes you less proud?
  • If you could poach a team from any business, who would it be, and why?

Larissa Conte - Sensing power and cultivating organizational aliveness

Looking at culture from an ecological perspective

Ask questions to guide sensing. If we’re not sensing, then it blocks our listening.

In today’s day, sensing capabilities are atrophied. We think intelligence = intellect & sensing is not valued.

Sensing = power as you can feel relationships & what is going on in groups.

Sanctioned power often valued over personal power

  • Regimented rules
  • Someone given a role - sanctioned power.
  • Hold back sensing as you don’t want to lose your job :joy:

People champions caught in a double bind of standing for truth vs. keeping job. Need to redefine relationship to power.

A new definition of power:

  • Ability to act / perform — energy
  • Authority to act / decision making control
  • Ability to succeed
  • Taking responsibility for ourselves - experience and direct energy

To change → Do inner work solo & inner work together


  • Take responsibility for power and patterns
  • Track things like curiosity, self-courage, truth telling, ego-tracking,


  • Create practices in being uncomfortable
  • Use rites of passage & deep work*

*Interesting idea - maybe for new office move? :smiley:

Every organization has an essence. As we grow, shed skin, new identity. Think about what serves now and what could change. Each discomfort contains info for its antidote.

Dr. Shannon Arvizu, Kelly Del Curto & Leslie Hopfinger - How to transform your millennial managers into epic team leaders

  • Peer Group Learning - get the new managers to share & learn from each other
  • Team Development Sessions/formal training on actual business needs
  • Team Heat Map (using Culture Amp as a tool)
  • Feed forward instead of feedback. (Ex: I have this situation, what do you think I should do about it? or what would you do about it?)
  • Create individual impact plan for each manager, and they pursue their improvements:
    • Goals you want to achieve
    • measurable growth you want to attain
    • what are the strengths & weaknesses

Pattie Money - Values that can scale

As an HR department need to create a plan that is holistic & drives engagement.

Engagement is not just HR. Ownership needs to rest at the right level. Great managers and leaders.

Engagement surveys:

  • Provide hard data
  • Ask questions of how managers are performing (need to obtain 75% positive or higher)
  • Categorize by department and themes
  • Develop action items out of most important themes
  • Departmental engagement readouts where each team does it individually
  • Give everyone access to all data, not just comments
  • People operations as the accountability partner
  • Bring engagement up consistently - a topic for monthly meetings and quarterly newsletter


  • Not just a perk - drives alignment & builds connective tissue

Words of advice:

  • Do less: focus on what is most important. Add value by keeping it simple & focused.
  • Build a holistic plan instead of fragmented
  • Get engagement on the executive agenda

Action Item: build a holistic plan for hiring OKRs that encompasses our top three goals

Adam Grandt - Originals: How non-conformists move the world

Thinks its less about outliers and more about cultures, where people can bring original ideas to the table. Creativity goes to die after creative ideas are thought up.

Ways to promote original ideas:

Take Risks on Novel Ideas

  • Why as businesses are we so risk averse?
    • Skewed incentives
    • Managers have templates in their heads. What has worked in the past is skewed and negatively correlated
  • Best to have broad experience and not deepest
  • Best forecasters of creative ideas are creative peers: people willing to take a chance
  • Trust creative peers to judge each other’s ideas
  • Look at the rate of idea acceptance, not performance & view it as a stock portfolio
  • An exercise/practice: As a leader/ manager - when presented with a new idea, spend 5 minutes thinking of all your own ideas. Rank from first to last and pick #2. (The number one is too close to your heart)

Develop Psychological Safety (to take a risk without being punished)

  • Allow people to raise problems without having the solutions (don’t say: don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions)
  • Allow people to criticize upward. Ex: Bridgewater Encourage negative feedback
  • Model for every other manager to do and allow the same
  • Created Warbles (From Warby Parker)- a doc to list problems, created by employees
    • Senior manager rank and rate the problems
    • Help to solve together
  • Idea: List out all the possible ways to kill the company
    • People are better at offense than defense
    • Nothing you cannot say
  • As a manager - a signal that you can take criticism (e.g. Ray Dalio asking for criticism & sharing with the whole company after he was called out by an employee for bad performance in a meeting)

Facilitate Knowledge Sharing

  • Do Entry interviews instead of an exit, ask the same questions and get perspective. Ask about how to improve hiring process, favorite projects you’ve worked on? what do you notice about our onboarding process, what’s your dream? how do we facilitate it? give a touch point for where to go, easier to customize the job for what the person wants to do
  • People need to know who can solve their problem
  • Challenge everyone to make a request and fulfill one

Make the Unfamiliar, Familiar

  • It takes 10-20 exposures to a new idea to get comfortable
  • Master the art of repetition & make it seem familiar on the first time as it is on the 12th
  • Build a bridge to something that has worked in the past

Put your Worst Foot Forward

  • “here’s why you should not invest”
  • Availability bias: harder for people to come up w negatives when you got to it first
  • Identify weakness & give counter arguments

*Don’t think of culture fit, think of cultural contribution. Does this person bring something that would enrich culture?

Action Item: Entry interviews. Really like the “how to kill the company” exercise too!

Tatyana Mamut, Culture Risk: The 5 Hidden Risks threatening the health of your Org and how to manage them

Scaling Risk

  • Inflection points at 40 people, 140-150, and 700
  • Becomes harder to keep people in mind
  • Need to have systems in place
  • Move toward clear career paths & communication / coordination processes
  • Try to see weeks & months ahead to design accordingly

Fragmentation Risk:

  • Cultures and subcultures
  • Create a dominant culture that is unifying OR keep separate and instead manage the interfaces between teams
  • Think of what are the meetings and communication channels that they will interact in and not

Attrition Risk

  • You need to be a great company to come out of and be from
  • Risk only when not managed proactively
  • Need to pipeline plan to not just replace but think of new people we’ll need
  • attrition, if planned & designed, can be a great way to refresh the org

Conformity Risk

  • homogenous at the top and high level

Stagnation Risk

Think of a company as an approach - formed around principles that help people in making decisions. Create mechanisms that reinforce those behaviors. Eg. V2MOM

Lindsay McGregor -The Science of Total Motivation - How to craft high performing cultures
How people respond to different incentives
Reward: 53% positive
Praise: 81% positive
Control: 89% (no praise or reward)

Two kinds of performance

  • Tactical - execute plan created by good strategy (do you have a clever plan)
  • Adaptive - how effectively fo you diverge from the plan created by the culture

What drives performance?

  • Why we work determines how we work

Motive spectrum: work, identity/values, external forces

Direct Motives

  • Play: doing an activity because you love to do it
  • Purpose: caring about the impact of your work
  • Potential: second order outcome - is it a stepping stone for your career

Indirect Motives

  • Emotional Pressure (guilt)
  • Economic pressure - working for a reward or to avoid punishment
  • Intertia - showing up today because you did yesterday

Improve performance most through direct motives - with play being 2x more impactful

Shape holistically why you go to work

  • How your role is structured and defined. Cross-functional teams with collaboration, understanding the problem to solve, and room for experimentation to see what works.
  • How the talent system works - is everyone learning skills?
  • How do teams work - agile vs. not
  • Governance
  • Our identity and community

TOMO = Total Motivation: Potential, purpose & play

Action item: hold a discussion with team members to see where they find play, purpose and potential.

Megan Wheeler - Optimizing the Remote Experience

Around 79% of employees would be more loyal with flexible work arrangements
Work is not a place, it’s an activity (this could be a culture)

  • Communication: inclusion habits - what perspectives haven’t we heard? Have remote peope speak first. Have a team playbook of who we are, how we work, add inclusion habits and teach them to new team members.
  • Belonging: social exlusion triggered via distance. Ritualize facetime - frequency beats length! Add photos and choice markers. Try out always on telepresence. Camera to always see whats going on in the office
  • Fairness: ask what do you think would be fair in this situation, what do you think about _____ _____ policy, when did you feel like life is unfair? Set expectations from the beginning
  • Opportunities for Growth - increase the visibility of projects - like a mandatory demo. Recognition tools. Or show & tell at the weekly meeting.
  • Trust-results oriented work environment? Depending on OKR?KPI? What’s the definition of done/ Train managers on roles, responsibilities, checkpoint & results based metrics
  • Growth-Regular 1:1 with managers, lunch and learn? increase the visibility of projects, recognition tools like Taco

Action item: have a team tree in the new office or some visual rep of the people not in office. Or get a token for each team member (rubber duck example) customized to that person’s interests. Pick one of the above and focus on it for a time, instead of trying to do all of it at once

Christopher Good - Behavior by Design:
Suggested seeing where people’s favorite places were both quantitatively via censors and qualitatively via questions

People’s favorite in his experience were spaces with an emotional impact instead of functional. These spaces tell a story about a company and what we value

We form deep work relationships based on proximity

Proactive vs. structured-

  • Agile: broader relationship where you know everyone but lightly.
  • Structured: “resident” struggled with change and movinf

Consider a space as neighborhoods where everyone has a place, but they don’t own it.

Things to strive for:

  • Autonomy: choice and ownership of choice. Everyone needs choice and ownership of choice - ability to use space as they choose for the right task
  • Empowerment: an org to say we’re creating space for you and okay to use then
  • A sense of community across spaces

Fogg Behavior Model:

  • Behavior = motivation + ability + trigger

Suggested reading:
Book: Powerful
Book: Good to Great
Book: Principles (Ray Dalio)
Book: Originals