It’s not the foosball table.
Intentionally scaling culture is the secret weapon that separates truly great companies from the rest. Creating exceptional culture goes far beyond HR, and gone are the days of free snacks keeping employees happy and engaged. How values are lived – or not – has an impact across the entire company. We gathered three exceptional operators who have mastered the art, strategy, and storytelling of culture to share with our founders lessons learned – from the earliest days of company building through IPO and beyond.
Office Hours are interactive, candid Q&A conversations and are not recorded. We capture the bottom line in a “Session Notes” format.
- Dini Mehta, Chief Revenue Officer, Lattice, has accomplished the seemingly impossible – scaling a sales organization from 7 to 120 employees with almost no attrition while building revenue from $5M to $100M+ in less than 4 years. Was her college mascot!
- Tracy Williams, Chief People & Diversity Officer, New Relic, has transformed culture through a strategic partnership with the CEO. Is a sneakerhead and loves her Jordans.
- Nairi Tashjian Hourdajian, VP Communications, Content & Community Marketing, Figma, has been at the intersection of storytelling and culture for nearly a decade, from early days at Uber to Figma. In her next life will be a hip hop A&R exec.
Culture means a lot of different things to lots of different people. What is culture and why does it matter?
- It’s the set of shared practices, norms, and how you make decisions
- It’s why people feel engaged – it’s how you scale
- Invest in your people and they’ll invest in you. People strategy is how you achieve business strategy. Culture eats strategy for lunch
- If you’re not intentional, you’ll work really, really hard – or you’ll fail
- Everyone in a company wants community, growth, and purpose
- Culture and values are like an OS for a company – when done well it brings and fosters efficiency. You’ll move faster
How to make values really lived?
- Build them into company kickoffs and all-hands
- Operationalize them: make them a part of the hiring process, review cycles, compensation objectives, etc. – if the operational side gets lost, values become just words on a page
- Consistently talking about what’s important to you as a company aligns everyone on an ongoing basis
- Think about and balance what values mean externally, how they show up to customers and partners
- Values often sound like they could be for any company – make them unique and they’ll stick. Make sure people know what they mean and how they are lived
- Recognize and reward moments/people when the values are clearly lived – from micro-moments like praise when values are lived to peer reward systems
Culture building in a remote/hybrid world:
- All people managers need to be on the same page. Enable, empower, and coach
- View culture as a product: what’s working, what’s not?
- At first, we were all skeptical that you could have a “real” culture remotely, but it’s been a total 180. It’s about how work is part of your life and not just adding to your day-to-day
- Create intentional moments to show who you are, and have some fun. Creative ways to connect and reward your team: company-wide week off in summer, a digital scavenger hunt, sharing a picture from your childhood – all ways to build real, human connection and have fun
- Adopt a decision-making framework so it’s clear how new ideas can be surfaced. When you go from 150 to 600 employees in a year, it’s natural that the early folks have earned trust and new folks may not feel engaged yet. Example: SPADE really helps in an async environment
- Create space for community conversations about what’s happening in the world – no agenda, just safe space. Exec team shows up and participates
How to balance culture and speed: hiring in hypergrowth
- You have to build an org where you value both. It’s easy to say that you have to grow at all costs. But it’s a short term win and ultimately not the right thing for your metrics
- Give people space to execute – sometimes you have to go slow to go fast. But it pays off – you’ll go faster in 6 months as a result
- You have to have full alignment from the board to the exec team to the people managers – otherwise, it’s a recipe for failure
- If you slow down in order to do things right, you’re not slowing down
- The hiring process as you grow needs to include questions about values to see if there is alignment. One strategy: ask candidates to share stories that show how they embody a particular value
- There’s no separate culture interview, it’s embedded into every interview
- Intentionally focusing on hiring talent from diverse backgrounds Does. Not. Slow. You. Down. If you want diverse talent, you need to go to diverse channels for sourcing
How do you reinforce values during the onboarding process and in the first 90 days, especially when 75% of the company has been hired in recent months?
- Find ways to constantly and creatively reaffirm your values – a welcome package with stickers, notebooks, etc. Onboarding buddy has a script to talk about them and what they mean at work. Show new people stories and examples in a sizzle reel pulled from All Hands and Off Site meetings
- New Hire welcome meetings: the CEO should talk about the values, then people will understand how important they are to the organization from Day 1
Hiring a sales org:
- Sales orgs are hard – a lot of practices are based on scarcity and fear-based incentives. What’s the org you want to work for? You don’t have to do it the way others have done it
- You as leaders own this – when it comes to culture and values you want sales folks to be aligned to you. Don’t be afraid to call it out like you see it – do not let moments of misalignment pass. Don’t compromise. You can’t make someone mission-aligned
- It’s common to think of sales people as mercenaries not missionaries. That’s why you see such high attrition, but don’t view sales people as quarter-driving machines
- You have to walk the walk as a leadership team. If a deal is good for sales but not for the company, walk away
On culture add vs. culture fit:
- Hire with intention. If you don’t want everyone to be the same and think the same, then you have to hire people who may not come from the same background or the same friend circle
- Unconscious bias seeps in. What does a “fit” mean? Think about whether they align to your values
- You also can’t just throw different people together and assume everyone will get along and it’ll all work out – people need to understand context and have a safe space to talk about differences. Create space for people to disagree
- Hire for competencies you know you’re going to need way before you need them, that’s what builds the engine
- The important work starts after you hire someone, so make sure people are included and feel like they belong
- Make your intentions as a leader known – repetition is key. If you say it three times a week, it’ll stick maybe 70% of the time. Have leaders truly understand the CEO/founder’s individual, real values – it takes time