Building a Strong Company Culture Webinar Takeaways
Although most businesses focus on the way they make money and their path to profitable results, how you incorporate and approach corporate and company culture are very important aspects when it comes to your success in business.
At Alley, our company’s culture places cultivating a relationship with your company and helping it on the path to advancement—from the inside-out. Especially during a time of online platforms and empty work offices, it has never been more important to keep the business together (and the people within it), even though they may be miles apart.
With our virtual event, “Building A Strong Company Culture”, we’ve given you access to real-world advice to help you cultivate a culture that can keep your company going—especially during a time like this.
In this event, our panelists, Kim, Amy, and Nicole, put their strategies under a spotlight to help others with their real-world experience and what they have come to find.
Strategies for Strengthening Company Culture:
Even if your company already has established values and missions—integrating those within the day-to-day life at your business is a whole other concept.
Obviously, this virus is a first for many of us—and places us in a position where even our baseline communication in our company is placed under test.
So, how do we focus on re-establishing that integration within our company? The keyword here is empathy.
Being able to give your team the open space to give feedback is extremely important—this opens channels when it comes to creating uniformity in your company and allowing that atmosphere to sink in around you.
You also need to be able to let leadership know when they need a break—or even ask if they need one.This can show empathy from the top of the line down to the minimum-wage employee.
In terms of other keywords, you also might want to let off on words that carry toxic overtone in both extremes—like “Hustle” or even being “Too kind”. These can create a negative culture and tone on both ends of the spectrum.
In terms of your team, you will need to consider what it will take to care for the staff that you do keep.
Learning how to create an empathetic company culture in your business means caring for your team, even if they’re far away from you and one another.
At Alley, our team is focusing on supporting our community digitally by sharing resources and hosting video events. We hope this event and our entire event series can help keep your business stay connected to the community, move forward in development, and grow with intentionality.
- Tech For Good Accelerator - The accelerator is a three-month virtual program with access to mentorship, enrichment programming, networking, and the support of our community resources for innovators looking to create positive change in the tech industry.
- #CloudInnovateHER Pitch Challenge - Digital - This pitch challenge aims to bridge that gap while bringing in a competitive edge to the summit with an opportunity to present technologies to create a sustainable impact in today’s world. Apply today to win $5000 in cash & cloud credits .
Noelle Tassey 0:00
Awesome. So thank you, everybody, and welcome to our panel. It's the first time we've done a countdown, so that was pretty exciting. Today we'll be talking about building a strong company culture with our amazing guests. So quickly before we do introductions, for those of you who don't know, I'm Noel Tassie, CEO of Alley. Alley is a national network of labs, accelerators, and workspace. And with our corporate partners such as Verizon, Microsoft, and AB InBev, we help startups grow and innovate through the power of community. A few quick announcements: you're going to be getting a follow-up email after this. Thank you so much for joining us and in the follow-up email, there will be links to participate in our accelerator tech for good in the Bay Area. You can participate as a mentor or as a startup. We've got really amazing resources lined up for that. So hopefully, you guys join us as well as the Microsoft Women in Cloud accelerator which we'll be kicking off later this summer. Lastly, tomorrow at 1 pm we're going to be launching our fireside chat series unfiltered. And this will be a conversation with Eric Guthoff, the founder of Human Advantage. So we're very excited for that. And now on to today's panel, so I'm going to queue in our panelists. Kim, do you want to take it away with your intro?
Kim Carver 1:15
Sure. Hi, everybody. Thanks so muh for— for joining us today. My background is all in media, predominantly sports, cable, and satellite television. I have worked in Hong Kong, Sydney, Singapore, and now I'm back in Denver. The last year I've been with Human Advantage and you're talking to Eric tomorrow, so that's great. Excuse me. I've been with them for about a year. Prior to that, I launched my own organization called The Leading Network, which is an organization that helps other organizations with their corporate culture. So I'm glad to be here. Thanks, everybody.
Noelle Tassey 1:55
Awesome. Thank you, Kim. And Amy, do you want to go next?
Amy Vezzetti 1:59
Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us. I'm Amy Vezzetti, I am the head of HR at Ro, which is a patient-focused healthcare technology company. We power three digital clinics. We have Roman for men's health, Rory for women's health, and Zero for addiction. I have been with Ro for about nine months now, getting closer to a year. It's hard to believe that, it goes fast. And prior to that, I worked at a few different places: Thrive Global, which is Arianna Huffington's startup around stress and burnout in the workplace. Tory Burch— joined Tory when it was a small company, a few stores, and stayed there for eight years through an amazing period of growth and transformation. And prior to that was with Pfizer, a big global pharma company where I also worked in Hong Kong; I didn't know we had that in common, Kim, and had a wonderful sort of start to my HR career there. So that's a little bit about my background.
Noelle Tassey 2:55
Terrific. And last but not least, Nicole.
Nicole Olver 2:58
Hi everybody. My name is Nicole and I head up the people function for a company called Conductor, which is an enterprise SEO Marketing Company. I've been with them for the last two and a half years at which we've had a very interesting journey. We were one of the acquisition companies with WeWork, and more recently divested from WeWork. So when we talk about culture, we've done it a couple of times. I'm originally from Australia, so another tying back to Kim, and have been in the US for the last 10 years.
Noelle Tassey 3:26
Terrific. So we're super excited for today's conversation, should be really, really fun learning more about the journeys that you've all been on in terms of building culture at your organizations and sharing some of those insights. I'd love to start with a question for all of the panelists, which is, what are the values and mission of the company that you're with currently and how you try to integrate that into the culture on a daily basis? I think a lot of us look at this is something that is really foundational to building a good culture and creating that kind of alignment around values. Kim, do you want to start off?
Kim Carver 4:02
Sure, sure. Yeah. So sorry, my voice is cracking today. So Human Advantage, our culture is certainly built on trust, which to me is the baseline. We are sort of scattered mostly East Coast, but with me here in Denver, so we have to have trust for each other. We are open, we communicate well, we have a— what I think is a really great foundational culture. It's probably one of the better organizations I've worked with and for with that kind of a culture. And we all came to Human Advantage with a background that's similar. It's a shift for me, obviously, but it's really exciting for me to work with a group of people that understand good culture and want to foster it and want to work with other organizations and help leaders grow. And we do diversity inclusion and leadership training and all kinds of wonderful things. So— so it's a great place for me to be.
Noelle Tassey 5:07
Amy Vezzetti 5:10
Yeah. So at Ro, our overall mission is to become a patient's first call for all of their healthcare needs. And that's really centered around sort of putting the patient at the center of how we design our products, how we think about the services that we deliver. And so when we had that as kind of our North Star and thought about the values that would really reinforce that— what would be the things that we would want people to always be reminded of are important things to be grounding themselves in or checking their decisions based on that. So that was sort of the overall filter that we used when we were coming up with— we have actually what we call "principles", which are sort of a lens through which you kind of make business decisions, right? So those are a little bit more externally-facing, although we apply them internally as well. And then we have a set of values which are more about how the team operates together, which obviously also translates into how things feel for— for the patient, for the customer as well. And so for example, prin— one of our principles would be "treating patients for life." We want to think about our decisions not only in the short term but also the longer-term value that they drive for a patient and their healthcare journey. Or "always look under the rock", which is looking for things that maybe, you know, and I don't want to lift this up, because it's gonna be messy and hard to deal with. But really, that's the right thing to do, because that's the right thing for the patient. So those are examples of a couple of our principles. And our values are things like "empathetic", we want the team to be a team and to be low-ego and to focus on understanding each other. Because we think that makes for a better workplace and better problem-solving. "Effective" we want people to know that you know, effort matters, but actually like effectiveness and outcomes are really important. So that's something that we're focused on as well like, what is the effect you're having? What is the outcome that you're driving with your work? So those are a couple examples of our both our principles and our values.
Noelle Tassey 7:00
And I'm curious— the decision to have principles and values, how was— how was that arrived at? And how did you guys decide to do that separately? Because I think, I know a lot of startups that actually, you know, most startups have like a set of values. And what you're describing as principles, I've heard presented as values of other companies and I'm curious how that came to be? Really interesting.
Amy Vezzetti 7:23
So I think very early on, long before I was in the picture, I mean, this is really the genius of the founders and the founding team, and you know, the— the team keeping it alive. I think, really early on when it was a very small group of people, I think, like seven people, they sat down and did this exercise around, you know, what— what do we want to be as a workplace and what do we want to be as a company? And a much longer list than this actually came out of that. But over time, we have whittled this down to sort of the core sort of 10 that we think are most important. And when we stepped back as the company was getting bigger, and we had to find more scalable ways of communicating that and weaving that into the things that we do on a day-to-day basis, we started to look at them, and it became really clear that some of them were really, sort of were more principles were more specific lenses for making decisions or thinking about our business decisions, and others were more just a way of operating that could be applied really, more generally. And so as a way of kind of making them more memorable, we separated them out and as a way of also saying, like, "how do you apply these?" we separated them out if that makes sense.
Noelle Tassey 8:27
Yeah, that— that makes perfect sense. That's really interesting. What's your favorite principle and your favorite value?
Amy Vezzetti 8:33
I think my favorite value is magic. It's thinking about how do we take things a little bit extra further, make it a little bit more special? That's something that on my team, the people team we think about a lot. And also, when we're interviewing candidates, we focus on just those little extra details. Because again, in our business, we're trying to make something really complicated and usually not fun, which is healthcare, feel like a better experience. So those moments of magic matter both practically, but also just how people feel going through the experiences that they're having. And then from a principle perspective, I think this idea of "transparency drives better outcomes" is one of our principles. And it's something we take really seriously. We share a lot of detailed company information with the whole organization, we are really just forthcoming about what we're thinking about as a business, even when we don't have the answers or we're not sure where to go. When we put out our, like, sort of OKRs for the year or even building career models— we don't say oh, here they are, we don't do a focus group, here they are. We actually publish them and then they're open for comments for two weeks. So anyone, anywhere in the company can go in and ask questions, can make suggestions, and then we sort of go through this iterative process with the whole org. So that idea of "transparency drives better outcomes" is I think, one of my one of my favorites on the principles side.
Noelle Tassey 9:52
That's awesome. I think we're gonna come back to transparency in a little while because it's a— it's one of those values that when implemented properly, is powerful and if implemented incorrectly can be a train wreck. So definitely excited to learn more about that. And Nicole same— same for you in terms of your— your values and how you guys have been exploring that as a business and how it's changed? I know that— that cultural transformation has been a huge part of your journey.
Nicole Olver 10:25
Absolutely. So for us, I mean, we had those going into, you know, pre-acquisition, Conductor has been around for 10 years. So, you know, we did have all of that established. And then we had to do the work of integrating that into WeWork and find where the commonality was, and what are the pieces that resonated with us that we wanted to still champion within our culture? But then we also had to be respectful that we were part of a new one. And where was that? You know, where were the points where we were the same? I think they— we actually achieved a really beautiful result with WeWork in that they were very open to being accommodating that our culture had its own ecosystem and were very respectful of that. There was areas where we were still able to champion our own way of doing things versus aligning 100% in. And then when we did the divestiture, for the most part, the work where we had done it on our own was already existing, we'd already questioned when we went into the other company. So that work was able to live and breathe and continue on. But we also had this profound moment in time where we could question everything. What are the elements? If we're rebuilding from the beginning, again, what are the pieces that are really important to us? And it really solidified, you know, what was important to us from those cultures and values? And what are the pieces that were like, you know what, this doesn't serve our community anymore? We've become a larger organization at this point with 300 people. That's a different set of values and beliefs for us. So I think that this has always been our sort of North Star, we always say that we're "people first, customer first", and I know a lot of companies throw those words around, so it can feel a little meaningless. But for us, we really, really try and champion it's always been a goal state for us. I think in some companies, it becomes individualized very quickly where someone's like, "Oh, well, you said we're 'people first', but I didn't get that promotion" and you know, that sort of filters down to this individualistic mindset. Whereas for us it's this constant reiteration education that— good guys, this is for the greater good of all, every decision we make, every frame that we look through is through a people-first lens. How do we truly have impact on the most amount of people? And it really then permeates throughout the organization in every single aspect. So for us, you know, how we measure and what we look at things we call it "competencies", similar to you know, the other two speakers, but it's really nine set— or it's nine sets of beliefs that we have, which we then stripped down into behaviors. And then the third step that we do is we strip that down into habits. So what are those micro-moments of something that is repeatable, that can be seen, that you can then mirror and map to get a— how do you have— a lot of people can't articulate their high performers. When you break it down into habits, you can say exactly how a high performer is a high performer. Now you've got a model for how to hire. And if you take that sort of model and build that framework, then across your entire— from the beginning you hire someone to the moment they leave the organization, you then infuse that into all of those practices of interview questions, performance management questions, everything has that tie back to those competencies. You build something really quite strong that you can then really measure for, and actually get behavior change, which I think when you look at performance management models and the rest of those really struggled to actually get true behavior change, we actually can start to see that come into play.
Noelle Tassey 13:29
That's, that's amazing. And I'm curious, you mentioned that when you guys grew and— and during the exit from WeWork, there was a real like, taking stock of your values and you've discarded some maybe like core tenets that had no longer served you. I'm curious what some of those were? I think that that's, you know, another thing right? We don't maybe look at to prune as much as— as we might.
Nicole Olver 13:52
So I think for us the competencies work we had just completed— so for us, it resonated. We did have difference between how we work, how to find out what was right for our culture. So that was something where we had— we done the work together, but there was a separation. So that was something where we'd already started that thinking because we still had our individual culture going on. I mean, I think for us, they was such a large organization. I mean, there were 10,000 people at the time, and we were 300. So there was a lot in there in the way that, you know, we had to sort of integrate in that just didn't make sense for us. We— we were using technologies that were for really large organizations. And, you know, for us, it was like really peeling back to like, what do we actually need? What are— what is broken? What are we solving for? And that really helped identify that, but as far as the values not much exclusively, changed, it was probably just the way we did our work shifted slightly.
Noelle Tassey 14:46
That makes a lot of sense. So we just got a really great question and from the audience, and for those of you who are listening, if you have questions, please use the Q&A feature at the bottom, we love hearing from you. So I'm going to put this to the whole panel next. But this attendee asks: "we're talking a lot about performance management and by-the-book ideas/competencies, can the panel share strategies of implementable tips and ideas that enhance culture?" And I love this question because I think it's something that everyone struggles with, especially as you're scaling a business, you know, you can, I think there's, there's a really famous quote, and I'm blanking on who said it, but it's definitely a VC but that if you have to, like paint your values on the wall, you might as well not have them. And so, you know, I'm curious kind of how you guys would advise teams to— to go through that process of really making it part of the day to day fabric? So whoever wants to jump in on that, feel free?
Kim Carver 15:50
Sure, I'll start. So I love that statement that you just said if you have to paint it on the wall, you may as well not have it. Culture is— is huge, and difficult, and daily and can be, I mean, you have to be conscious of your path, right? And so I always like organizations to start at the base. What is their culture now? It's kind of what Nicole was saying with two of the— two organizations coming together. That's a great opportunity to do that, that examination. What is the culture now, and where do we want to take it? What's working, what's not working? And then having a conscious path, every organization is going to be different on that path. Trust is a baseline, communication, honesty. Those are the tenements that will get you there. but it is hard work. And if you're starting— and if you do that examination, and you're starting in a place where there's not trust, you're going to need to repair that first and then you can move forward with the rest of the pieces.
Amy Vezzetti 16:58
I guess, I mean, I totally agree with— I think a couple things I would say from like a really sort of practical, maybe in some ways obvious, but I'll say them anyway perspective is that I think at the end of the day culture is an operating system. Right? It's— it's— it's what it— what you should show up like in this workplace to be successful, to be aligned with where you're trying to go as a company. Culture is also sometimes those below-the-surface things that maybe you— you want to change, right? It's not always all good things. But it's, you know, we're focusing right now on what are the things we really want to show up at and where do we think we're going to be able to drive value and achieve our mission and achieve a great workplace if we show up with them. So I think like when you have those stated, things that you want to show up in your workplace, you have to figure out how to weave that into really all the things that you do, and it's a lot of small things. Honestly, it's a lot of small things that add up. I always like to say that culture needs to be like a drumbeat. It has to be something that's constantly going on. And not something that is like here today and gone tomorrow, and back in a week when you're at an all-hands and then you don't talk about it again until you do a review. If you really want culture to live, you have to figure out how you make that drumbeat. How does it show up across all the things that you do as a company, as a people function, as a leader? And so I talked to my leadership team a lot about this idea of repetition doesn't spoil the prayer, like you should sort of be sick of talking about it or feel like people have probably heard this from you before. Because if you don't feel that way, probably people aren't hearing it. So a really obvious example, when I joined Ro, I think we were really clear about what our values were. And then I went through orientation, and we never once mentioned the company values and orientation. So we were hiring like tons of people. And we were interviewing them for these values. And then when we were bringing them onto the company and saying, here's what you're here for, we weren't really talking about them and we weren't making them come to life, right? So, in weaving it into your orientation, reminding people like this is what it's like to work here. When you have opportunities for recognition, tying recognition to people demonstrating your values and living them. When you do career and performance conversations, it shouldn't just be like, how much of your target did you meet? But also, are you being a role model of our cultural values? Are you being a detractor of those values? Having those conversations as part of that dialogue as well. And having your— your founders or executive team find ways to bring that to life in your team. Whether it's again, celebrating when people are showing up in that way, or talking about when maybe that didn't happen, and how the outcome could have been differently if that was applied. So those would be maybe some of the practical things that I would say, I think we already talked about interviewing, like, interviewing for culture is not like, do I think this person would fit in here? Would I get along with them? It's really sort of saying if one of our values is magic, how can I ask questions about: "tell me about a time when you created something that you thought was really special and was differentiated?" Or you know, it's finding what are the questions that are going to actually help you understand, like, have people done this before or are they wired in a way that that will be something that they'll be motivated to— to show in your company?
Noelle Tassey 20:04
And I, you know, I'm curious. So I love, first of all, I love all that, and thank you so much for that entire answer. So the last piece that is really interesting to me, I'm sure a lot of founders who are on this call right now are probably thinking, that's awesome, especially the interviewing part. But I didn't do that when I hired my current team or I inherited part of my team. Do you think that just the act of like, asking those questions can bring that out in people? And even if maybe you didn't hire for it? And how would you advise a founder to go about doing that?
Amy Vezzetti 20:36
Yeah, I totally think that you can. Actually, it's interesting— Michelle, who's part of Ro, and I think is in the audience, right now we were talking about this. And she was the first employee Ro and I was talking to her about like, how have things evolved since you— we're two years old, so we're not that old, but a lot has changed in two years. We went from eight people to almost 300. And one of the things that she said to me, which I thought was really interesting was you know, we were interviewing people and like everyone seemed great. But interviewing for the values or incorporate— incorporating that in just helped us really identify like, which was really like the great match for us, right? Like, everyone has talent, everyone has things that they can bring to the table, but you're looking for a specific person that's going to bring something that you're saying is a priority for you. So she actually mentioned that when we were talking this through. And I thought that was a really good insight from you know, she was acting as a hiring manager saying this, it helped me identify like, sort of who was the right one for us in a different way than when I wasn't asking those kinds of questions. All of these people seemed like they had great things they could bring.
Noelle Tassey 21:38
I love that. And Nicole to you, kind of same question around how to— how to implement this from a cultural perspective?
Nicole Olver 21:47
Yeah, I think it's really interesting. I mean, especially from my side of the house, I'm always on the people side, right? And I think there's a lot of leaders and a lot of organizations that view that as HR's job, right? Like it's sort of like: "okay, culture, that's you." And I think that's a real mistake, you know, and I mean, look, I love this space, I love talking about this space, but it shouldn't just lean on to your people function to fix culture. I mean, you know, Amy said it, Kim said it too, like, culture is really just how you do your work, you know? From our side of the house, we'll help give you the frameworks and you know, the sort of the models of how to do that. But it really should be championed by the leaders. And I mean that the entire executive team, you know. Our CEO champions this space, and he— he has a real— he has a real understanding and a real position in how this should be done. And I think that's really helpful. It's not just an HR function to think about it. So it really is a partnership between the— the founders of the business as well as the executives and then the people themselves. I think this is where we really forget that we are mandating these principles and ideas upon them. But hey, do they work? Do they resonate within the culture that has— the way that people are actually doing work? Is that actually truthful? So you know, Amy mentioned this before that, you know, they'll put out there, they've got their ideas and their goals and they'll get everyone to comment on it— same with your values, same with your culture. They need to have a perspective and a way to feed in because otherwise it will not be championed and it will not be created in the way that you think it is. If it's not actually bought— there's no buy-in from the people themselves.
Noelle Tassey 23:14
And I mean that— that's so spot-on, and really interesting. We just got a question that is almost exactly what you're just talking about. So in terms of getting that buy-in from your team, and the importance of that, somebody is asking for advice. What do you do when you feel like your leadership talks about culture in one way, trust, honesty, collaboration, etc., but they don't actually exhibit those values themselves in their leadership? So I think this is a great question because a lot of employees at various times in their careers feel this way. And it kind of touches also on the role of the leadership team and like senior team members in terms of setting that culture. So in theory, you would hope that a culture with transparency as a value would be able to facilitate this conversation in a constructive way. But I feel like that is not always the case. And I just love to hear all of your thoughts on that.
Kim Carver 24:07
[laughs] I guess I'll go first. It's a hard place to be, it's incredibly difficult. And I think we've all been at places where that— the culture values are set as one thing and then not acted out. And, you know, from that vantage point, it makes it incredibly difficult if you feel like you aren't a fit, right? You feel like you should be because this is— this— everyone's saying the right things, but they're not doing the right things. And that's hard, that's hard to advise. I mean, you— you can have conversations with your leadership and make sure that they feel like you know, make sure that they understand that you feel like they're not emulating the culture that they're talking about. That's risky and difficult, but if they really value trust and open communication, then that should be a safe space. But as a leader, for sure you can lead your teams and your— act in accordance with what you believe the culture should be or is being touted with your colleagues and those that are, you know, a layer under or, you know, with the rest of the group. Dealing with management in that place is very, very difficult. At— you know, it is what it is eventually, maybe you'll have to change rolls, maybe you'll have to change organizations. But, you know, you need to find a place where you fit, and if you're finding that it isn't necessarily fitting you, then sometimes it's okay to seek somewhere that does fit you but I would do what you could to try and make sure that you're acting in accordance with what you think that culture looks like. And communicating with leadership that to meet a little— you need to see a little bit more action of those cultural values coming from them.
Noelle Tassey 24:29
And Amy, you know, you were talking about transparency earlier and how you guys practice that in terms of publishing your values, and kind of having that exchange of ideas with the entire organization around them. So I'm curious how you would advise leaders to create that space for that conversation and how to keep it constructive? I think that we— we talk a lot to founders who struggle, you know, some founders have that balance perfectly, and they've got a culture where that kind of transparency and communication flows really naturally. And others, for whatever reason, are failing to hit the mark and then they open up, you know, some sort of feedback mechanism like that and everything kind of goes off the rails. So especially to that second group, what— what advice would you give to help them shift into the first?
Amy Vezzetti 26:57
So I think, um, you know, everyone is different with how they like to receive information, but also how they like to provide feedback, right? Like, I have worked with people who are totally comfortable being— like having a courageous conversation saying: "I feel like this is not— is not reflective of this value, like, why are we doing it that way?" Right? And then I've also worked with other people who have just as valid of thoughts but don't feel as comfortable giving the feedback in that way. So I think the first thing I would say to leaders is, remember that like if you really want to know how people think you have to ask and sometimes asking has to be in multiple ways, right? It can't just be like an all-hands: "does anyone have any questions?" And if no one says anything, that means everyone's fine, because not everyone is at a stage in their career or their personal journey where they feel comfortable or safe doing it that way, right? So I would advocate for like multiple avenues to get feedback from people. So ask questions, do one on ones with people like if you have Donut for Slack and you can have random coffees with people for 15 minutes and just get to know them because that builds trust, right? If you are open to this, and comfortable putting in place some kind of a survey mechanism where you can see how people feel, where they maybe don't feel as exposed because it's anonymous. Like at the end of the day, you can choose what you want to do with that information. But I personally think wouldn't you rather know how people feel then sort of have it out there and not be aware of that? So I think one of the things I would say is, be— think about getting feedback from multiple avenues, and realizing that getting the feedback doesn't mean that you have to agree with them, that you even have to act on it. But knowing it is something that I think you probably will never regret. Because if you know, you can choose what you want to do with it. If you don't know, you don't have that choice, and you don't know where that will go. I don't know if that makes sense. But—
Noelle Tassey 28:43
Definitely. I'm curious, so I was speaking to one of my friends who is a founder/CEO of a growing company, and they had just— they just did something like this is an anonymous feedback survey and to say that they got roasted is something of an understatement. What advice would you give to founders who are getting that kind of difficult feedback in terms of how to take it with a grain of salt and integrate it into their approach going forward? So I think that it's quite challenging.
Amy Vezzetti 29:16
I mean, everyone— everyone's got some bad feedback on a survey at some point, like, it's never fun.
Noelle Tassey 29:24
Nicole Olver 29:25
Yes. So— I— my founder is really unique. He will literally read out every question and answer, honestly. I mean, I think a lot of founders run away from it, and they'll be like, "[gasps] we can't talk about this, like, we could never say this." And I think it's a mistake, you know. I think I found it really confronting when I first joined the organization, and some of the questions were just so intense, and he'd be like: "look, okay, I own it, like, you know, if this is coming across in this way, like, first of all, let me apologize that it was ever interpreted." You know, just being really authentic and being vulnerable is so profound and creates such a shift in the organization. I mean, I—we have what we call like the, you know, the ask CEO sessions, but then we extended it to ask the executive team. So you want to talk about accountability, you're going to be sitting up there and having to answer really tough questions, and not just be defensive. I mean, the goal of that is to really start to rebuild trust, if trust has been broken. And to be like, you know what, I totally got that one wrong. You know, I'm really sorry, guys, it never was meant to come across in that way, or that was never the intention with the project we were trying to do if people weren't involved. You know, I think that that just humanizes your executive team too. But it also does create an accountability function. So that is something that we've always done. We do not get the questions. Every single question gets answered, which I think again, is very unique. I've worked in a lot of companies where particularly from my side on comms, we're sitting there vetting the questions like, oh, that one's a little too crunchy, or nope, he is obsessed, every question gets answered. And I think when you talk about, you know, we throw out trust like it's just some really easy thing that gets created. I think there's a lot of distrust in leaders and there's a lot of distrust in companies. When you start putting it all out there and giving real answers that are really, really crunchy— people— you start to rebuild that trust again. And you'll find that people don't pivot to anonymous because I've gotten to a point where it's like we need to ban "anonymous" guys like, I think we're doing a— particularly the younger workers a disservice by not giving them the muscles to stand up and question leadership. You know, I think that that is a part that is really important in your career development. Now, maybe you're not comfortable doing that in front of the whole company, again, to Amy's point you find different avenues. Maybe they go through the people ops channel for those questions, and the people ops team stand up and ask those ones where they didn't feel comfortable. But I think— and we say: "look, guys ask tough questions. There's no— we're not going to give you retaliation on this. But we do want you to learn how to do it, and we want to be accountable to you." So once you communicate that and actually honor it, then I think you can have some really exciting things that happen in your organization.
Noelle Tassey 31:52
I love that. I especially love the emphasis on answering it kind of in-person. That's something that's— that's worked quite well for us and my favorite town halls are the ones where people ask really tough questions like, we've gotten all kinds of questions from like, you know, as a company with a DNI focus, how are we going to address that on our board? And, you know, as we've addressed it inside, unity and things of that nature. We also do 360 performance reviews, and I think— I get reviewed, as well, as part of this, which is, like, terrifying and amazing. And so, we had, we had somebody read— read mine in front of the team and give me my feedback, which was exciting. Um, I totally loved it. Anyways, which, you know, kind of brings us to another point, which is performance reviews. So everybody, or most organizations, as they scale, implement some kind of performance review process. How do you really see the integration of your values as an organization and your culture into that process and find a way to do that where your employees feel good and empowered, coming out of it, but also actually get the feedback that they need? Because you definitely don't want that to go the same path as you know, some of the tough questions for leadership conversations. You want to be a little more caring in that. So that's for all three of you.
Kim Carver 33:15
I mean, Amy said it very well and that you build— you build the questions in the review process. And that's where your focus is. But, you know, I'm sure everyone's had this conversation in the past, that review shouldn't just be quarterly or yearly or, you know— this should be an ongoing forever conversation. And employees should know that they're on the right path or moving off their path that they should be coached back on the path and, and this— this communication needs to be continuous so that when the formal review comes around, whenever that is quarterly, by, you know, yearly, or yearly, there are no surprises and really, it's a tweak. And it's a critical process, it really, really is. A lot of companies sort of pooh-pooh reviews. But if you, as an organization are very specific and thoughtful about the ongoing conversation, you'll improve your culture and you'll get your employees heading in a very positive, fruitful path.
Amy Vezzetti 34:22
When I joined Ro, it was interesting, they had just completed an engagement survey. And so I had all this great data to go into, actually, I asked to see it before I joined to make sure I knew what I was getting into. And actually one of the like biggest pieces of feedback in that survey was "I wish we had a review process." There wasn't— we're— again, at that point, we were less than two years old. And what people were saying is like, I feel like I get day-to-day feedback, and that's great, but I kind of want this moment in time to step back and talk to my manager about like: "where am I going from here?" And: "Hey, we're moving into mobile, I'd want to— I want to start working on that." What— whatever the case may be right? There was sort of this missing, bigger, more focused question. around like, really, how am I doing? And how am I valued? And hey, what do I want you to hear as my manager about what I care about and what's working for me and not. And so that was one of the first initiatives that— that I worked on coming in was what— what is our review process? If you want, we try not to call it a review. But that's really, you know, kind of what it is. What does that conversation process look like? And so, how we incorporated our values, I mean, we, we definitely have our values in there. So in addition to talking, we have a set of sort of like seven questions that you answer for yourself, and then your manager also answers about you, and then you meet to discuss sort of both of your views. And that was one important component was that self-reflection. It's not just here, what does my manager think about me, but what do I also want my manager to know about how I see things and how I feel, right? That's an important part of it. And I think that speaks to the transparency side of our culture like wanting that to be really explicit like we expect managers to hear from employees as well as employees to hear from managers as part of this conversation. The values themselves are in there in terms of, you know, on a scale— do I live— am I a role model of this value? Or am I living counter to it? And what are examples of that? And then I think the way that we wove the promotion process into our review process is that anybody in the company if they feel like they're ready for the next level, or the next title, can raise their hand and say: "I think I'm ready, and I want you to consider me." And you need to— whether you nominate yourself or your manager thinks that you should be ready, there's a business case form that has to be sort of filled out, a set of questions. You have to have a letter of recommendation from other people in the organization that you work, with at least one other person. And then there's a cross-functional panel that comes together to— first without knowing what each other thinks about them read all the cases and sort of do a preliminary red, yellow, green. Like I think this is a strong case, I think this is like a case I have questions about, or actually, I see some things here that for me would say I don't think this person is really ready to be recognized at the next level or to move to the next job. And so there's sort of like this blind consideration of the— of the package, and then people come together and there is a calibration session where we talk about them and say, if we're making this decision in this team, in this case, is that consistent or inconsistent with this decision we're making on another team to try as much as possible. Knowing that every person is different, every job is different, to make— use a similar lens for what we're saying is criteria for kind of, "it's time to be recognized at the next level", right? So that's an example in our process of how we wanted to bring transparency into it. Like you don't have to sort of wait for your manager to tell you they think you're ready, you can raise your hand and say: "I want to talk about this and I want to be considered" and you can put yourself forward regardless. And then we have that transparent discussion across all the teams. So it's not like: "Oh, I'm in marketing, I'm gonna decide when marketing gets promoted," and "I'm in people and I'm gonna decide when people gets promoted." I need to have support from that whole cross-functional team to— to make those decisions. And then being transparent with people about the outcomes and if they weren't approved, why? And what is the plan for them to think about what's next? So those are a couple examples of how we wove our values or our principles into the way that we're doing— doing that at Ro.
Noelle Tassey 38:11
And Nicole to you, I just, I noticed you were going to talk though.
Nicole Olver 38:15
Yeah, so I was just gonna— I'm very similar, you know, again, to Kim's points, and then also the implementation that Amy really identified, very similar. I think, you know, as a founder, it can be really confusing, because there's as many HBR and Business Insider articles about why performance reviews are no longer necessary as there are that they are. I think, just ask your people, you know, I think they will give you the data and tell you what's happening and what they need. And I think it's really interesting. I, like Amy, very similar feedback in our organization. I think all the leaders like we communicate all the time, I have really effective one-on-ones and then we're constantly hearing: "I want more structure, I want more feedback." So we actually had to implement something that we thought: "oh, no, doesn't everyone just want the constant communications?" I think that that only works if you have a culture that has very strong communication and accountability. If you have that, then you cannot do reviews. If you don't, then I think you need that structure until you've got your managers trained up enough to be able to handle not doing reviews. There are some excellent tech solutions out there if you are overwhelmed by the thought of doing a review cycle, what questions to ask, how to think about it. At our company, we again, we weave in these competencies. So again, we have these nine competencies. Seven are for everyone two are for people managers. So that is really woven into every aspect of the performance review questions. So again, there's that reinforcement of those competencies. But again, the tech solutions are awesome. There's some that are just a weekly check-in so you've really built up a picture before you're even getting into review cycle to Kim's point, no surprises. You've already had those conversations, they're really quick. But you can also do this on Google Docs. If you don't have the budget to really roll out a comprehensive tech solution, you can do it in Google Docs. You can just ask questions, Survey Monkey, you know you can— you can do that. But it is just really— it's really important to think about the questions you're asking it should tie back into your culture and values. But then they should also— you should also train your managers in how to have these conversations because we're going through it right now. We actually reopened the review cycle because everyone— we had to retrain managers about how to build their reviews, because all the questions were so blurry, like— it would be like: "Kim, you did an amazing job." Okay, now, what does Kim do with that feedback? You said amazing, what does amazing mean? "It's amazing what Kim thinks, and I think a completely different—" You know, really getting managers to understand how to give feedback is just as important as rolling out a review process. So we actually, as I said, we unlocked it, resent it back, taught everyone how to do it. And now they've got a little bit of extra time to really give thoughtful advice. Because, again, otherwise, we're not solving the problem, as Amy mentioned, people want more good feedback. If you're not giving good feedback, then you might as well not do it at all.
Noelle Tassey 40:56
Definitely, and I think listening— listening to the team on that as well in terms of what they need is so crucial and such an important part of this. I think so much of what we talked about has come back to that theme of communication, transparency, really listening to— to your team, and understanding what they want. It's always interesting to me how much people want reviews. And even if like, when review, time comes, it's a little bit scary and people are uncomfortable. And you kind of hear this, like, "oh, I wish we weren't doing this." Everyone ends up pretty happy, and they got what they wanted, which is at least a way to measure progress. So we're gonna do one more question before we get to managing culture through the current crisis because we've got a lot of audience questions about this. And it's a super important topic. But before we get there, we've got a lot of people on the line who are trying to build companies and cultures to scale and in a culture that drives scaling, but also that is resilient through that process, and that can shift with it. I've worked at many growth-stage startups and the thing that always surprises me even though you know it's coming is how quickly your culture shifts with new hires. And somebody told me once— and I think actually, in my experience, it's even faster than this, but somebody told me every time your company doubles in size, it's a completely different culture. And— and that can be a really hard transition for employees who are experiencing that and mourning the loss of the culture that they were in where they were happy that this is like a new one that they formed. But I just love to hear your thoughts on that your experiences with it firsthand, and kind of what advice you would give to founders and CEOs in terms of navigating that and keeping a consistent core set of values to keep employees engaged throughout that process.
Kim Carver 42:40
Yeah, I've been through that a couple times with content launches throughout the world where you start with, you know, 13 people, and pretty soon you're 500. And it does shift. You're absolutely right. And it's— and it's hard. So I think with the baseline group, that culture is so easy to manage because there's so few of you. And having the— the values and the constant conversation about what this looks like and what we want it to look like and how we choose to show up every day and how we want to relate to each other and how we want to behave and how we want to treat each other and what our conversation looks like. And— and the two-way feedback. How does that look for you? What is— how do I— how am I showing up? All of that you have to continually build those layers. And if the organization builds too fast in terms of number of people, you just have to be diligent in pulling those rings out and checking in with each layer as it goes. And you —may be doing that for a while to try and rope all that back into that culture. But it's important work to do. And it's hard. It's possible, but it's hard.
Nicole Olver 43:56
I can jump in. I think— I think one of the things that you should set up if you're a founder is that the only certainty you're going to have is that it will change. You don't want your culture to stay the same. You know, I think there's a lot of sort of historical employees that live through the lifecycle of the company and I hear it all the time they'll come to me and be like: "Nicole, the culture has changed." And I'm like: "good! Maybe it needed to. Like, that's not a bad thing." Like, I think the earlier you can get employees comfortable with change, the better they'll be at it. You know, I think it's like when you think about hiring and they say we want the culture fit. I actually banned the use of that in my company, because I think A) it's really offensive to the people you're bringing in that— now they— whoever they are, whatever perspective they bring has to be like whittled down into what already exists within the company. I like the language of culture addition like you're going to bring something new to the recipe that's not already there. That really is important when you think about diversity and inclusion initiatives. And being open to that and having a culture that's open to that because if you don't, you can't even think about diversity and inclusion. But I think it's really getting your employee population comfortable with change. Now it could be for the worse, that may happen. But then get up and own it, talk about it, you know, get the feedback and be willing to act upon it. You know, if you are asking questions and the culture is becoming quite toxic, you have to get ahead of it. You have to be up the front really driving, we ask these questions because we think it's important we have this conversation. We're going to build a team that is from the bottoms up, we're going to fix this, we're going to work out ideas and solutions together. I mean, this stuff isn't rocket science, but somehow we make it and we get all confused and discombobulated along the way. But it really is just having that communication and be willing to act and then have some form of accountability.
Amy Vezzetti 45:35
Yeah, I agree with all of those things. And I think —100% like if your culture isn't changing, that's probably not great. Because if you're succeeding as a business and you're scaling, some things have to be different by definition to make the business work, you know, compared to eight people to 300. It's a different animal. One of my favorite analogies that I ever heard about, like helping people come to terms with change— is thinking about like, how can you make change like an ambulance, right? Like so if you're driving down the road and you, in the distance hear an ambulance or you start to see the lights in your rearview mirror, you know that you need to slow down, pull over, the ambulance is going to pass you then you can get back on the road, you know what to expect. But if you're driving and that same thing happens and a Ferrari zooms by you're all rattled, and you didn't expect that and your heart is racing and you somehow feel upset that that happened, really, but it's actually like the same thing. It was just a fast vehicle that came and passed you, right? But with an ambulance, you see the signals, you know what to expect, you're preparing yourself for that. And so I think that's one thing I would say is like to just not underestimate storytelling and, and helping people get the signal of like, what is coming? Explain like: "we're going to be hiring 50 more people and our culture is going to change and here's the good thing about it. You know, the long hours you're working maybe won't be as long because there's going to be more people to help." People have probably seen that article from First Round a while ago around "give away your Legos" like people can't wait for there to be more people to do the work. But then when they come, they don't want to give away their Legos and have other people help them do the work. Like that's a normal human reaction. And like, the more you normalize that and say, you're going to go through this like period of getting used to this, but like on the other side of it is something good because it means our company is growing, it means you're growing, it means you're doing different things. The more you can tell that story and normalize that I think it's more like the ambulance where when it happens, people, you know, they might be a little bit concerned about it, but they kind of know like: "oh, it's normal that I feel this way, and actually, we're moving in the right way." And then the other thing I would say is that— don't underestimate like just the power of having ongoing feedback. Like we use an engagement survey. Whatever you use, you can use Google Forms like, always ask the feedback on an ongoing basis, like you might add or change some questions, but like, understand what perspectives are over time, what's changing what's not. Some of those changes are valid, some of them aren't, but you're not going to know if you're not gauging that. So that's the other thing I would say is like, keep measuring what your people are saying and how they're feeling. And when you see things in that feedback that you're concerned about, or that you feel like need to be addressed, like, a survey is sort of step one. The next step is, like have conversations with people. Either do focus groups or have team leaders have conversations with people to dig into what people are really saying. And if there are real issues there, like Nicole said, of course, address them, own them. But sometimes it's just really putting things in context for people and helping them understand like this change, doesn't mean you'll never get to do "X", it means this is how we're structuring something now or, you know, whatever the case may be.
Nicole Olver 48:31
I have one little piece extra to tie off what Amy said. I think however you respond when a customer is unhappy, do the same to your people. Think about it in the same way. Like we have whole Customer Success teams that literally are there for the customer. Yet we have these tiny little people teams who are supposed to do the same sorts of things. I think it's really important to have that same mentality: how you would treat a customer, we should be treating people the same.
Noelle Tassey 48:57
Yeah, I love that.
Nicole Olver 48:57
Hopefully, they're treating them well. Let me just say that.
Noelle Tassey 49:02
Otherwise, you're gonna have two really big problems on your hands.
Nicole Olver 49:04
Noelle Tassey 49:06
And I love that— that "give away your Legos" article that said— that speaks like so directly to, you know, a pain point that a lot of employees who are attracted to early-stage, fast-growing businesses experience. Pretty much anyone who's been in one of those environments at some point in their careers run into this and being able to tell that story in a way that's relatable, is— is super helpful. So we've got, I believe, six minutes left. And I want to end with a question about COVID. But before then, I think somebody mentioned in this conversation I can't remember which of you the— the idea of a toxic culture. This is something we hear about a lot I think a lot of founders are becoming very sensitive to like is the culture that I'm building, shifting, and going in that direction? You know, I'm noticing that certain things are happening within the business and it feels like maybe it's toxic or this person is toxic. And I'd love to just sort of hear from all of you. You know what your thoughts on that are just as a concept, and then also how you've addressed it or how you would advise somebody to address it in terms of both evaluating the problem, and then resolving whatever the underlying issue is.
Kim Carver 50:22
Well, first, if the founder is aware of it, that's 100% fantastic. Because that's not always the case. But assuming— based on your question, assuming the founder is aware of that and interested in changing it, that's— that's a road that is achievable from there. So— so then they have to identify what behavior is happening or what's going on, and then the conversation within the organization continues, right? So why are these things happening? Is there a business change, or was there growth, or is somebody disgruntled for one reason or another? What— what's happening within the business that has created that— that issue? And then work to resolve the situation from there.
Amy Vezzetti 51:09
Yeah, I would say like, first and foremost, you have to have the leaders' awareness and buy-in that that's a problem because like, otherwise things will not change. And so I would say like, having a leader who will acknowledge those things and say: "I want to work on them" is absolutely critical. I think it's interesting, like in the last, I don't know what, five years, we've seen much more coverage, at least in the media, I don't think necessarily things have changed, but we just see more of it, around like the liability that a toxic culture or negative culture really is for a business in terms of both the bottom line and in terms of employee well-being and engagement. And so I think like, at least intellectually, a lot of leaders understand that maybe more today than they did a number of years ago because it's— it just gets more exposure than it did before and it's had real— real outcomes for some companies. But practically how you address that is, you know, being willing and able to make tough decisions like sometimes that's about a person who operates in a way that is creating issues. Sometimes that's about, like, holding on to something too tight that needs to be done in a different way. I mean, it really depends on like, what is it that's making your— your culture toxic? But I think having a leader who is aware of it, is willing to work on it and is willing to make sometimes tough and painful decisions along the way to course-correct is, is really what has to happen. And I think like, you know, that has to come with the partnership of the leadership team to— to support that and make that happen.
I just want to add a really quick thing. not addressing toxic culture can make it 10 times worse. And those people who were emulating the culture that they would prefer might leave or get spoiled by the broth. And so it's— it's critical to deal with it.
Nicole Olver 53:04
I'll take the COVID question because I think that that's, you know, really a very topical, in front of mind for a lot of people. I think particularly as the audience is predominantly leaders themselves, and you think about culture in a time where it's unknown, you know, think of a pilot, he can't promise us there will be no turbulence on your flight. We are all in turbulence right now. And I think everyone's reacting and trying to work out how quickly we can get out of it and what it looks like on the other side. We don't know, and I think any leader that's going in with certainty and telling their team: "we'll be back on this date" is really it's— it's unhelpful and it will actually deteriorate trust within your organization. I think just leading with that: "look, I— we don't know. Here's what we do know. When I do know things, I'll tell you immediately." I'm in New York— Governor Cuomo has been doing a really good job of just creating a space of honesty even though he doesn't have all the answers. Not to get political, either which way you feel, that's fine. But I think he's doing a really good masterclass on leadership. I think— you know, it's really important that you control as a leader. You can control what happens in that week. And that's really important. Create rituals and routines that you can stick to that give people some sense of safety, even though it is—you're in a plane in turbulence, like, what can you do that will help someone calm through that? And give people you know, maybe it's petitioning work, so people feel a sense of accomplishment. But I think it's really important that you understand that you can't control that. And don't pretend that you can, because that will, of course, your employees will smell that immediately and feel really uncomfortable about that. But rituals and routines are really important. And then I think the leaders make sure that you— you know, use the metaphor of the plane, put on your oxygen mask away from your team, it's really important that they don't see you freaking out because they're going to take all their cues from you. And as a leader, it's your obligation to do that, to be in control and kind of have it together you can be vulnerable and say where, you know, you're, you're struggling with that but you do need to have some sense of not freaking out in front of them because they will then take all their cues from you.
Noelle Tassey 55:00
I love that— that nuance there around vulnerability and still being in control. I think this is something— we did actually an entire panel on this the other week, which I think is up on our site. But it's— it's something that's so hard to balance, especially in a crisis when you're trying to lead with empathy and create space for people. So Kim and Amy, same COVID question over to you guys before we wrap up.
Kim Carver 55:23
I was just— I was at— I have a 13-year-old, and a 14-year-old and I've been asked frequently how they're doing. And I have one child with a preference for extroversion and one child with a preference for introversion. And of course, the child with the preference for extroversion is— he's got four phones going and he's playing Fortnite with his friends and there's constant communication. And the child with a preference for introversion isn't connecting quite as much, or as often, or in the same way. And interestingly enough yesterday, which is great. But— but I'm constantly reminded that people need to be asked how they— how they want to communicate. A lot of people would hate this forum— being on camera, their voice being recorded, whatever it is. And so I think it's important for leaders to reach out, probably email, phone, text, whatever, however, they know that person is comfortable and have that real-time conversation of: "if we have a team call, do you want to talk? Do you want to have your camera off?" And that's okay, I think we need to be conscious of personality preferences right now more than ever because this is— this is harder for others— for some people than others.
Noelle Tassey 56:35
I love that around communication preference. I feel like something that I keep hearing from so many people is that like, video chat is just like a net positive in and of itself. And it's kind of like yeah, like sometimes. I mean, this is great, but Zoom burnout is real. And, and asking though— I actually had an employee today like, tell me like: "hey, you know, I love connecting every morning, can we just do it over Slack, please? I'd be so happy if we never had a 9 am call." And I was like: "totally! Me too, actually." Amy over to you.
Amy Vezzetti 57:11
Yeah, I mean, I think you know, for us maintaining a sense of our culture, even though obviously the workplace itself has been really upended is, you know, a few things have been I think, important. One is that the things that we can keep constant similar to what Nicole you know, mentioned, we do like we still do our all-hands, we do it virtually, we still do, we have something called Founders and Jam, where every Friday, you can like come into an open session with the founders and talk about whatever is on your mind, whether it's what's good on Netflix, or how do I feel about this product launch that we just did. And, you know, we've found ways to keep those rituals that we have in the office like maybe a little bit differently, but alive and sort of part of if you want to still be able to do that and connect in you have the ability to do that. So I think trying to maintain some sense of normalcy around like you will still have access to information about how the business is doing, you will still be able to hear from leaders and connect with them. Like we have office hours, my team has them, a number of teams have them, we still keep those. So you know, knowing that sometimes that's going to work for people to attend or not, if they're dealing with distance learning with their kids or something else is going on in their life. They— they can't be there, and that's okay, too. And then I think, you know, trying to implement other tools for people to be able to connect if they want to. Again, these are optional things like we have at least once a day, we have some more low-pressure event that is not like showing up and presenting something. But if you just want to connect with people and talk, or you want to do a stretching session together, like offering some ways for people to sort of connect with each other, if they— if they want to. And then encouraging team leaders to really know what's going on with the individuals on their team and having them let us know if there's things that people need support with but also just telling them like be really empathetic being really, as everyone has mentioned here, willing to do things differently for different people's circumstances. So I have three little kids, a one-year-old, a three-year-old and a seven-year-old. And for me, the mornings are bananas, because I'm trying to— they want to see me they want to hang out with me, my seven year-old has to get on distance learning, I don't want to have a call with anybody until like 10:30, right? Or I have other— we have a— one of our doctors has a newborn and for her when her baby is— she's trying to get her on a sleep schedule, she doesn't want to do a 5 pm call, right? She needs to be off. So knowing what everybody's situation is. Some people who maybe they're not in the stage in their life where they have kids at home, but like, want to be able to do their exercise class or just have a glass of wine and not have to worry about work at that moment at you know, 6 pm when they're relaxing. Figuring out what those things are for the individuals on your team and making space for that is I think also something that is important.
Noelle Tassey 59:58
I love that and I mean I know that we've got— we're going a little bit over on time. So some people may have to drop off, and panelists, I don't know if any of you have a hard stop. I would love to just do like one or two more. We got such great questions and from the Q&A, and I'm also curious. So, Amy, you brought up something there that really resonated with me. It's just like, sometimes, especially like, in the season, you just have that moment of like, I'm going to take this morning for myself because I'm trying to, you know, run a school, a daycare and a zoo all at once, and this is just not happening today. I'd love like, if anyone has any examples of like, a time when they took that, like, I'm just, I'm off, it's 3 pm, don't call me, I'm gonna, you know, sit on my fire escape and have a glass of wine. I did that. If the rest of you have an example of a moment like that, because I think we're trying to create a lot more space for our team to just say like: "hey, this is— this is crazy. I'm not going to be more productive in a crisis just because I'm working from home. And, you know, please, just like let me do literally anything else for the next three hours. I'm going to walk my dog around the driveway."
Nicole Olver 1:01:13
I think, you know, for like— like Amy, like Kim. I've got two kids— three and a one-year-old. It's insane. Like my husband and I were just having a conversation that you know what the three-year-old needs and the one-year-old needs are so extremely different. And we're not early education teachers, you know, we're parents, we're doing the best we can. We're both executives, we're trying to do the best we can. It's insane. Like, you know, we tag-team hours, you know, he's got the kids right now so I can do this, like, you know, we're really kind of sharing the load as much as we can. I think as leaders, you need to be empathic to that, like, I can't give 120% right now, I will die if I try and do that. It's just not possible. You know, but then having said that, I manage a team and they don't have kids. You know, my kids might cry, come into the meetings and pull my hair and do all sorts of things on camera, but they understand that and I think they give me that allowance. But my VP she might message me and be like: "I need to go for a run." I'm like: "please, this is so important for your mental health." You don't have to have kids to get the allowances. And I think that is really important to remember too. We're still humans living this, some people are really cool with resilience and adapting to change, and then others are really freaking out. And I think it's really important to understand that each person and what they need may be different. You know, I had someone reach out and be like: "Nicole, I'm just really fuzzy." And I'm like: "yep, you need to take the afternoon off. You might just be overwhelmed today. That's okay. You probably just overloaded looking at a screen this intensively and not having that moment where you'd normally have someone walk over and talk to you and you take that eye rest, you know?" Like I think just reminding particularly younger employees that that is okay, and being the kind of leader that doesn't just look for the obvious things like oh, your child is screaming on you, you need a break. Like someone might just not be as verbal but they're giving you those signs. It's really important to turn around and go: "Just close your computer for the afternoon. We'll deal with this tomorrow. You need a break, go, and do something else. Be yourself." But be consistent. Don't just reward those that you see. Be really— it's really important you check-in.
Kim Carver 1:03:04
I think it's also important to be gracious in reading email. What you might— when somebody might have come over and said: "Hey, Kim, will you do blah, blah, blah?" and walk away, now they might just shoot a quick email. And email can be interpreted so many different ways. And so I think we need to be, as we read them, assume good intent, instead of going down a rabbit hole. Because when we're isolated and we have this idea: "well that was written negatively, and what are they thinking? And what have I done?" and you could get down this massive spiral. And so being gracious in— in reading and digesting material right now is important until you can speak to that person and say: "Well, what did you mean?" And so you know, everybody just step back from that because I know that's— that's a place I've gone down. [laughs]
Noelle Tassey 1:04:01
Yeah, for sure. I think I think we've all gotten that per my last email: "Oh, oh dear!" So one of the really great audience questions was just around— so I like this as a question I think it touches on a larger issue. So outside of Zoom, happy hour/video check-ins, have you been able to create culture and fun during this time? Which is a little bit of what we've talked about. I think there are a few things here though, to unpack in addition to just what's like a good idea that maybe people can bring back to their own teams. The other thing is, we've talked a little bit about culture and positivity almost interchangeably in this conversation. And I think that's like a very interesting idea that you know, how much— how much of the culture you're building has to be about positivity? And how much room is there for just the full spectrum of like, this sucks sometimes, you know? And then creating space for that, but still keeping the conversation on track and steering away from anything too toxic. And then the other is just if you guys have anything fun that you've done with your teams. We did a baby shower today, which anyone who logged on early saw I had a great Zoom backdrop from and that was really fun. We played a game— guessed which baby pictures belonged to which employee so that was a fun Zoom thing that we did during the time. But anyways, and it was totally organized by our team. So a different team member hosts it every week, it's really fun and they come up with a game or a party or whatever. But, yeah, so both of those questions to you guys: the larger question of positivity, and like how interchangeable that is with culture, and then also just anything fun that— that you are doing during this time.
Amy Vezzetti 1:05:49
I have one— Oh, sorry, go ahead, Kim.
Kim Carver 1:05:51
Oh, no, no, go.
Unknown Speaker 1:05:53
Amy Vezzetti 1:05:56
A fun— a fun thing that— actually, I think asking your team like, not everyone will want to give an idea but like asking your team if they have ideas. So we rotate on my team, like every week, a person volunteers and says like, they're going to choose an activity for us to do or an icebreaker question for us to use. So, me personally on my team, like I had just hired half of my team like two weeks before this all happened. And so I'm sort of dealing with not only like, you know, trying to stay connected with people, but also like building trust in the team getting to know each other where they don't have the advantage of like the informal stuff every day. And so like pretty early on, we decided, like, we're going to dedicate at least one of our team meetings a week to just like getting to know each other, just like fun conversation. So every week, like a different person— I'll say: "who wants to volunteer for the next one?" So I started and then sort of asked the next person to volunteer, and they come with like a different icebreaker question, which are simple questions like: "what's like a family tradition that you really cherish from your childhood?" Or "what's something that you've never done before that you hope you can do in the next year?" I mean, they're simple questions. But it has been like a really good way for our team to just like in a simple way get to know each other a little bit better. And then also like knowing what different people on our team are interested in. So like one of the people on my team likes to read star charts. And so she said: oh, people can send me their birthdays. And every week I'll read like a different chart, and you can get to know different personality characteristics, right?" On another team— on a different team, in my company, someone is really into bread making. So he did like a sourdough starter virtual class about how you can make your own sourdough starter, right? So sort of— it doesn't have to be like fancy or big. It's just really like authentic ways to connect with people that I think has been the most powerful for us. And it's like 20 or 30 minutes. It's also not like: "I have to be on this— another Zoom call for an hour." And so that would be something that I would say for us is simple. but has been really, really good.
Noelle Tassey 1:07:58
I love that. And I love the crowdsourcing element. Like when we switched— at the beginning of there, I felt like this whole burden of like, you're like the cruise director for every meeting, and you have to make sure everyone has fun. It's like no one wants to hear me talk this much like literally no one, not even my dog. And— and so kind of being able to farm that out and give everyone an opportunity to shine is super cool. And I mean, for me at least has been a lifesaver. My team is a lot more fun than I am. I also love the star charts thing. And I think there are probably at least two people on the Alley team who are listening to this right now who are like: "yeah, we're doing that." So—
Nicole Olver 1:08:32
I think you know, when you say like, you know, you have that sort of collaboration from within, like, we found that there were people who wanted to do things. So like one of the girls on our team is getting her yoga teaching certification. So she does— every week she does it for an hour, she'll do a teacher training yoga session for everyone. And I think things like that are good because A) it comes from the people. You're not having to you know, if you don't have a lot of money on hand, you're not paying vendors to do it, but also, like she gets to get her certification. Everyone doesn't have to look at the screen and be engaging with content. They're doing a yoga class like, you know, things like that are really good. So the positivity thing, like right now, our company has a speaker coming in, you know, she works with mental health and substance abuse. And I think that's a really important conversation to be having right now a lot of people are home alone, they aren't as perky and positive right now, like, it's really hard. A lot of people are drinking more. You know, as a parent, I'm definitely having a little more red wine than I used to, you know? Like, I think people— I think that's something we need to think about on the other end of this— what we come out of it looking like. I think there will be some substance abuse issues, I think there will be some real conversations that need to be had at a company level about people. And I think that that is something that is really important to get ahead of and start having those again, those tougher conversations around. How are we thinking about this guys? How are you navigating it? And not pretending that everyone's doing okay, and wants to do a quiz night and, you know, talk about their families and— maybe they just need a break. But, you know, I think those things are really important. The other part of your question about it being positive. I think you have panelists who are really like, you know, optimistic and we present in that way. But I think if you think about the challenges, I think all three of us would have really tough times that our company has been through. If I use us as an example, like being spun into WeWork, not everyone was in line with that, you know? It took a lot of work at the executive leadership level, every single person being involved, to have that conversation, and giving space for everyone to have that reaction to that. I mean, we were on a path to profitability, now we're spinning into a company, what? Like, you know, there's a lot of shifts that happens with that. And I think culture can have a real profound impact. But then again, if you've set up these principles, which I think we've all spoken about today, you'll have a much better shot of navigating it when it's really tough because it's really easy to have a great culture when things are going well. It's awesome to have ping pong tables and quiz nights and all sorts of fun things. But when it's really hard, like right now, all of that is being tested. And if you've built something that's true, then it will you'll— you'll navigate it and you'll get ahead of it and you'll do it together. But if you're starting to see cracks, then it wasn't really there, to begin with. And I think that's a pretty confronting thought as a leader, but now is when it's really going to get tested.
Kim Carver 1:11:04
Yeah, I often say culture at maybe an accounting firm is going to be different than culture at a Disney park. And that's good. And you'll need some Disney employees at the accounting firm, and you'll need some accounting employees at the Disney park. But what they need to have in common, you know, a baseline of trust and communication and all those good things that we talked about today to make it work. And culture doesn't necessarily have to be all bells, whistles, happiness, it just needs to be a baseline— a working set of criteria that everybody can agree to and move forward with. And so the— so that's the positive culture thing. I was thinking about Amy when you were talking about— both of you, Nicole too, when you were talking about sharing as a group, I love that. But then I again go to those with a preference for introversion and how would they cope with that? And we do some— I do lots of calls with friends at the moment, which has been great because I'm catching up with people I haven't talked to in ages. But some of those friends don't want to talk. And so they say, oh, here's a funny video that I saw, or here's something that— you know, they share content, instead of it being them, it's about them, making us laugh in a way that they don't have to be on camera. And I thought that was really an interesting way of connecting, but not, you know, being the center of attention. And the other really cool thing is what's happening with your employees at Human Advantage, we know each other pretty well. But what is happening now is you're actually building trust, and you're getting to know each other on a level of humanity that— that will bond that trust. And so that's going to be a really cool outcome that may have taken a lot longer to get to if we were all sitting in one place and not having to work at it.
Noelle Tassey 1:12:57
Yeah, I love that and it's such a nice kind of capstone to come back to, that concept of building trust and how to keep— how to keep doing that in this time. Awesome. So we're gonna end with just a lightning round of one question for each of you, which is, what is the worst corporate value you've come across in your career and why? And the— and then we'll— we'll let everyone get back to their afternoon of trying to run their life during a pandemic.
Kim Carver 1:13:33
Financial success above all else, and why? Because you miss the people aspect completely.
Noelle Tassey 1:13:40
Yikes. Doesn't sound like a fun place to work, also. Yeah, that's a tough recruiting tool. I'm not sure I'd be sold on that. Amy or Nicole?
Nicole Olver 1:13:57
I am struggling to give one example. But I think it's like remember that like companies like Enron had values, right? Like, you know, I just looked it up because I was sort of curious. It's like communication, respect, and integrity. And now it's like laughable, right? So it's like— and but— it's not to say that their values were wrong. It's just how they were living them out was incorrect, right? So it's like, I think, I don't think I've seen one specific one that like, that is awful. I think you could align to what ultimately happens to companies, and then they become the problem, right? So I think it's really how— what— what your pathway is to actually really truly implement them and how they're felt is really important.
Amy Vezzetti 1:14:36
Yeah, I mean, I agree. It's not one that comes to my mind, I mean, the one that came to mind, when you said that was like "hustle", which I think was— like a pretty common one that a lot of startups would use. Which if people have that, I'm not saying it's necessarily bad, but I think the reason that it made me think of it is that there's this like, you have to look at like the flip side of every value, you have too and say like, are there unintended messages that could potentially be sent or certain things that could be justified because that's a value that is actually not what you mean, right? So like, "hustle" shouldn't mean that people burn themselves out and you know, have to take medical leave, because they've been working 80 hours a week. It shouldn't mean that you get something done at all costs, right? So knowing what your values are and what the potential misinterpretation of those values could be, I think is so, so important. Even a simple value that we had in one of my previous companies around "kindness", it was interesting, like at a certain point that became code for "I can't give anyone negative feedback", which is absolutely not what the intention was, and was a huge problem for us, right? And we really had to, like do a lot of change management and education and— and putting programs in place to sort of help people understand that like, giving feedback is— does not mean you're not kind and this isn't what kindness means. So I think always understanding what the unintended impact of a value could be and making sure you mitigate against that is something that is important to think about.
Noelle Tassey 1:15:51
I— you know, I relate so much to both of those. The value I had in mind when I was asking this question was "brutal honesty" which is the inverse of your kindness example. It meant that people went overboard with feedback and then like frankly, it was a good value and it was one of the strongest cultures I've ever worked in like this company was really— is still really incredible in terms of how they build culture. But that was used as a shield for you know, just frankly being unpleasant at times. And so how to course-correct for that, and then I love that you said "hustle" that was— that's a word that's been removed from every single piece of marketing copy that we have as a company but it was a value at one point. I think it was probably on the wall in our old location. And now it's just banned for exactly that reason. Sometimes it's more important to have a glass of wine and log off early than it is to hustle. So we are—our emails, the sign off used to be "Keep Calm and Hustle On" so I could end with that but I— keep calm and hustle on. Thank you all so, so much. This was really, really fun. And I certainly learned a lot. I hope for our audience members as informative as well and we'll have a recording up on the site and going out in an email. So, thank you all again. Really, really appreciate your time and take care.
Kim Carver 1:17:17
Thank you. Bye.
Amy Vezzetti 1:17:18
Bye. Thank you.