Highlights from Culture Summit 2018

Written by: Karyn Lu, Director, Digital Experience

Email: karyn.lu@fourwindsinteractive.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/karynlu/

Did you know that 65% of workers would choose to fire their boss over getting a raise? When I heard this statistic at Culture Summit (via Dr. Karlyn Borysenko, Zen Workplace) this summer, it spoke volumes to me about the huge responsibility managers have as culture caretakers. 

In my role as Director of Digital Experience and Chief Diversity Officer here at Four Winds Interactive (FWI), I’m really lucky that cultivating culture is a part of my actual job description; it certainly is the part of my job that makes me excited to come to work every day. I put a lot of thought and love into our team culture on a daily basis because I believe it to be foundational to everything we do, and to growing into who we are as a company.

 I was fortunate enough to attend Culture Summit this past summer and wanted to share some key takeaways with fellow creatives and culture champions. [Note: Now in its fourth year, Culture Summit is a wonderful gathering that happens every summer in San Francisco. It brings together culture champions from some of the world’s most admired companies, from startups to established companies. If it’s within your budget, it’s a conference I highly recommend as it’s single track and still small enough to feel genuine and accessible in every way.]

Key themes from this year:

  • Culture Adds & Augmenters – i.e., what to look for when you are making a new hire. I love that “culture fit” is quickly becoming an outdated term. At FWI, our company-wide training on Unconscious Bias has catalyzed incredibly insightful conversations on the way we interview and assess candidates.
  • Purpose – A theme articulated by nearly every single speaker. I cannot stress enough the importance of connecting every employee with a sense of meaning and purpose, as well as leadership that will champion a company’s purpose at every opportunity. It’s your company’s north star.
  • Psychological Safety – A recent Google study determined that psychological safety is the top indicator of high performing teams. Helen Russell (Chief People Officer, Atlassian) hit the nail on the head when she stated that a combination of psychological safety and trust is essential for diversity of thought and encouraging nonconformity. To this end, Warby Parker has done such a good job cultivating this, they have been able to get rid of all anonymous feedback. Here at FWI, I couldn’t be prouder that we have an employee whose role is focused around cultivating psychological safety.
  • Diversity & Inclusion – It doesn’t matter if you’re an organization large or small, this is an important conversation we are all having. And we are all learning as we go. Be aware that groupthink is the danger as companies grow bigger and more complex. If you’re a leader, do your homework and don’t ask marginalized people to educate you. And remember that simply having diversity does not guarantee psychological safety. I love that companies like Atlassian and Twilio have set up Inclusion and Belonging Indices.
  • Feedback & Communicating Change – Here’s possibly my favorite quote from the conference, on the topic of genuine feedback: “Waiting to talk is not the same thing as listening.” (Dr. Karlyn Borysenko, Zen Workplace). When it comes to communicating change, keep in mind you have to tell somebody something SEVEN TIMES before it really sinks in. So, the bigger the change, the more it has to be intentionally communicated.
  • Storytelling – I was pleasantly surprised to see this pop up as a theme. Many companies spoke to the power of telling stories to genuinely build relationships and bridges. In particular, companies like FedEx and 15Five noted that storytelling is really important to give context to change & paint a picture for the hard decisions that lead to change. Here at FWI, we are focused on building a ritual of storytelling through our internal speaker series.

A few things I wished I saw more of at Culture Summit:

  • More actionable ideas – like a playbook or a forum where people could share grassroots things they’ve done, that others can adapt. Culture ideas work best when they can become contagious.
  • More around the business case for play – playfulness at work ties into so many of the key themes that arose (promotes trust, psychological safety, creativity, collaboration, etc.), but only one speaker directly spoke on this.
  • More ideas on how to build culture across remote teams.

The big picture? It’s all about authenticity. Culture is not about perks or food or ping pong tables; it’s part of your company’s DNA and should be reflected in every decision & every hire. Culture is easy when things are going well–but how does it show up when your company and/or employees are going through a hard time? How gracefully you can transition from failure to success is perhaps most telling about your culture.

If you’re a fellow culture champion, I’d love to connect with you. And if you’re looking for some great additional concrete ideas, check out this recent post from our Denver Startup Week panel on “Designing Culture for Creative Teams!”

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