Culture Amp's Head of Community Damon Klotz talks about building a community of People Geeks.
(Edited for grammar and syntax)
Damon Klotz is part of Culture Amp's Community team. Here, he joins the Culture Amp colleagues to discuss People Geeks, Culture Amp community of people interested in people and workplace culture.
Bronwen Clune: Welcome to the Culture First podcast. I'm Bronwen Clune, Director of PR and Comms. I'm here with David Ostberg, who's our Director of Insights, and also with Damon Klotz, who's part of our community team. Welcome to the show, Damon.
Damon Klotz: Thanks very much for having me.
David Ostberg: Damon, would you be able to clearly articulate what the People Geek community is all about?
Damon Klotz: Yeah, the People Geeks community is a community that Culture Amp is really proud to foster and support. People Geeks is for folks who are passionate about the HR side of the world of work and excited by the data, analytics and technology aspects. Together, you get a People Geek.
The People Geeks community has been around for a long time. The term has been used at Culture Amp for quite a few years. My role is understanding what sort of things People Geeks want to be inspired by and learn from. We put on events, we have content, we have a People Geeks website. For me it's a really exciting opportunity to play in a space that I'm really passionate about, which is the HR and talent space.
Pathways to the present
Bronwen Clune: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to work at Culture Amp? You actually had an interest in HR and worked in HR, am I correct?
Damon Klotz: Yeah. I did a Bachelor of Business at QUT, in Australia. When it came time to pick a major, I didn't really know what to pick. I didn't really get good marks in my first year, so there were no clear indicators there. So, I asked my dad, "What should I do?". He said, "Do finance." I said, "Uh, I'm pretty sure I'm dyslexic. That's not going to work out well. What's this HR thing?" He said, "I think you'll be good at that." So that's the amount of research I did to pick my major.
A few weeks in, I started to really enjoy the subject. I went to the lecturer for the Intro to HR subject. I said "This is really interesting. How do I get a job in this to get more experience?"
She's replied, "You don't just get a job in this, Damon."
I continued, "Well, maybe I can get an internship?"
She countered, "I'll give you two pieces of advice. One, learn how to network. Two, cut your silly hair." I had hair down to my shoulders that looked like Russel Brand’s.
The next week, I went to a networking event. I still had the hair intact and actually got a job at my very first ever networking event. I met someone who was looking for an admin assistant in a corporate HR department. Two weeks later, I was working in a Queensland government department as an admin assistant in the learning and development team.
I did that for a year and a half while still finishing my degree full-time. Then I went into an HR graduate program in the Queensland government.
I had a lot of headspace and learning opportunities through those people to challenge things. I wasn't very good at being an admin assistant, so they actually brought me in to challenge perceptions of what the HR team could do there. That lead me to research technology and its impact.
Then, I started blogging about HR. I had a blog called The HR Rockstar.
David Ostberg: Is that still up?
Damon Klotz: It's still there, yeah, damonklotz.com.
So, that kind of lead me to a path around understanding social media and technology for my own brand and how to differentiate myself as a young HR professional.
Then, that led into an interest in how the HR department can understand technology. I started doing guest lectures at universities about how they could use technology and teaching young students about where HR technology was moving. That led to some consulting opportunities.
Eventually, I left the HR world completely to head up a role in digital strategy. It gave me a chance to spread my wings and take on a different challenge: working with a very large Australian private company and getting them to understand how to use digital technology.
I did that for about three years, and I was wondering what the next step was going to be. A friend of mine connected me to one of the founders of Culture Amp.
In 2014, Jon Williams, one of our founders, he actually emailed me on my birthday. He didn't know it was my birthday at the time. He wrote, "Hey, wanted to catch up. Sarah said you should maybe explore some opportunities with us."
I thought this was an amazing opportunity to blend all those worlds together. It was a technology company that wanted to head up the community space. I was really excited about the platform. It was doing everything that I was really passionate about when I was writing, helping HR teams use new technology to become better.
Bronwen Clune: Is there anything about HR that you found really compelling, compared to other things that you were doing? What spurred that interest on? HR is not something I'd imagine many young men in their twenties see as their future.
Damon Klotz: When I was in high school, the first internship I did was in a sports management company. I really enjoyed that. I thought that's what I wanted to get into. Then, HR took me by surprise.
I guess what I found interesting was how strategic and innovative HR teams at the world's best companies have this amazing experience to impact people's lives. We spend so much time at work—the work you can do in HR can positively impact so many people's lives—so long as it's not bogged down with administration and bureaucracy.
I always found the more innovative, strategic side very interesting. I was also very aware that I couldn't neglect all the different parts of the HR team.
When I was working in a large company, I spent a lot of time, doing employee relations, workforce relations and the legal side of it. Very early on, I was interested in if you blow up the idea of what an HR team should do, what are the amazing things that we actually can do. How can we positively impact someone's employee experience?
Bronwen Clune: These days, Damon travels around the world running our People Geekups.
David Ostberg: We're lucky to have you here in the office today, because we don't get to see you a whole lot. It's really cool how much you travel in your role. I'd love for you to talk about where you've been over the past year. All the places you've visited; all the people you've met. Also, what is your take on the similarities and the differences in the HR space around the globe?
Damon Klotz: This 2016 calendar year alone we've done, I think, 40 People Geekups. I've been to probably over 35 of them. We've done them in Melbourne, Sydney, San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver, Denver, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, London and Austin. We've got plans to do it in Paris, Berlin, Auckland, and Singapore. Los Angeles is going to be at the end of this month.
What's really exciting about this job is doing something at scale that I used to do in one city.
When I lived in Brisbane, Australia, I used to run small versions of meet-ups on my own. I had a LinkedIn group called HR Rockstars for anyone interested in being an innovative HR practitioner. I'd go to a bar with nine or so young HR professionals, buy everyone a drink, and just talk about the work they were doing and how we could all help each other out.
Now we get to do this at-scale. We have 150 plus people coming to our People Geekups in cities all around the world. We've had thousands of attendees already this year. To be able to do that and to be able to showcase my passion about why this is an amazing community and why it's so important, is great.
At some, differences are strikingly obvious. At others, it's like, "We're all talking about the same thing." If you look at the US, on the west coast, they're like, "We need more systems and processes." They're trying to grow so fast. They're trying to understand how we do things so well. On the east coast, they're sometimes more traditional companies that have been around a little longer. They're like, "Tell us about all the innovative west coast things that they're doing." Then, in a place like Chicago both meet in the middle. There are smaller start-up companies doing interesting things alongside hundred-year-plus industries that have got systems and processes they’ve been using for a long time.
Some of the conversations are exactly the same, regardless of where in the world we are. Others times, I’ve got to say "You guys need to talk and share your learnings."
Both our online and our offline communities offer that chance for people to share and to learn.
Bronwen Clune: One of the original Culture Amp missions was to build better people geeks. This community was a massive part of that. Community is so important to us at Culture Amp. To me it's one of the things I'm most proud of. I love that we've got this great community of people talking about these things.
How important is that, and how are we growing that community?
Damon Klotz: It's a great reflection of the company that we're trying to be. Culture Amp loves our People Geeks community because it connects our company to the global talent market. It's an authentic connection that actually shows our domain expertise.
We have so many amazing people with domain expertise here at the company. One great way to showcase how much we care about the industry that we operate in is telling people, "We only hire people geeks here at Culture Amp. You can talk to anyone, regardless of what role they are, and they will geek out with you on that subject."
Our People Geekups are a great way to showcase that to the world. It's a great opportunity have people from different companies speak alongside people from Culture Amp. It's a great chance for everyone in the company to meet customers and potential customers and connect with that wider talent market.
It’s also really amazing for someone like me to get to head up this community and put my name on it. This is something I used to do for free, at night, in my own time. Now, to do that on behalf of a company that really gets it is really amazing.
David Ostberg: It's been amazing to see the community grow. One of the things that I love is that we have incredible access to real talent, knowledge and expertise in so many different realms of the HR space. Right now, we are working closely with dozens of clients to understand how they act upon what they learn from the system, and we’re incorporating that into the platform. It's really cool to be able to leverage the knowledge of the community in that way. By bringing the community together, it creates a focal point for discussion, sharing information and engagement. It's a great thing.
Recruiting from the Community
Bronwen Clune: Another thing that's happened is that it's become a great recruiting tool for us. That's actually how you came across Culture Amp, wasn't it David? At a Geekup.
David Ostberg: Yep. I saw Jason McPherson, our Chief Scientist, speak at an HR tech conference. I knew straight away, "That's someone that I'd love to work with." I started researching Culture Amp, came across the People Geekups, and got involved. I could see, "Hey, this is an amazing group of people."
You know, we've gotten some great people on board through these events.
Damon Klotz: When you look at all the things that are important for a company to grow and succeed, one of the key components is hiring great people. The recruiting process is non-traditional: it’s not a case of come in, have one interview, have a second interview, and see if it's a good fit. Candidates get the chance to come along to events, to meet clients, to meet people who also care about the space, to meet other Culture Amp employees. It’s a great way for them to evaluate, "Do I want to be a part of this? Is this something that really excites me?" It's a great opportunity for people to learn more about us and for us also to learn more about them.
David Ostberg: Likewise, potential job seekers can learn about and connect with our clients. Several people who have come to Geekups have found positions within clients.
Damon Klotz: In July 2015—at our very, very first ever People Geekup—there was someone who had just moved to San Francisco from Australia. They’d attended one of my guest lectures about HR technology, then saw that I was coming out here to San Francisco. She came along to our first Geekup and we connected her with one of our amazing People Geek ambassadors who was looking for a job. Four weeks later, at the next event, they came to tell me, "I met this person at this event, and we've hired her, thanks so much for connecting us."
David Ostberg: That's great.
Damon Klotz: Yeah, from the very first event, we were like, wow there's something really special about this. Everyone was saying it to us. When you look at our customer lists and the people that we work with, it's the who's who that's out there. If you can get them together in a room to share something and be a part of that sort of shared goal and community, great things happen.
People geeks online
David Ostberg: Do you see the same thing going on with the online presence of our community? For example, the Slack channel: how does that compare to the face-to-face meetings?
Damon Klotz: Our community has a full-circle approach. Some people only join us for certain parts of that circuit. Others are with us the whole way around. For those who can come to offline events and conferences and can be a part of our online community, that's amazing and we really nurture those people.
Other people might be in other parts of the world. We've got people reaching out to us from China and Ireland and eastern Europe. They want to be a part of this as well, but they can’t all make it to offline events. It's important that we provide social and online ways for them to get involved.
Our Slack channel is public, so if you go to peoplegeeks.com, you can just sign up. Nearly a thousand People Geeks have done so already.
It's a very organic, self-sustaining community. I don’t tell everyone what to talk about. The conversation is great and organic. People are helping each other out and people are creating their own channels.
It's great to be able to provide interested people with resources, opportunities, and ways to connect, regardless of where in the world they are.
Bronwen Clune: I love that Slack channel. I pop my head in every now and then. There's always interesting conversation.
For a long time, HR was an isolated and sometimes lonely profession. Having that opportunity for people to connect is fantastic. Ultimately everyone is trying to solve similar problems in their companies. That's been a real revelation to me. That’s something that a lot of people have thanked us for.
Bronwen Clune: We've had a few dramatic Geekups. Do you have one favorite Geek-up?
Damon Klotz: Drama, yes. We had two ambulance visits to our first two Toronto Geekups, so they were definitely eventful. You can write the playbook on what makes a great event, but you don't really factor in what happens when an ambulance turns up. Luckily in the HR world, there's a lot of people who are trained in occupational health and safety and first aid. We have a very supportive community, which meant that there were no major incidents.
In terms of favorite Geekups, at the first few ones it was great to see things happen and grow.
The first Geekup was incredibly stressful. I don't have a background in event management, so it was a learning experience. For example, the catering was delivered to the wrong building. Just being able to overcome those sorts of things was interesting, and it definitely made me more resilient. I learned a lot.
At one of our Austin events, someone came up to me and said, "I've been a part of a professional association who's been running meet-ups in Austin for five years, and we can't get 15 people in a room. You come here for the very first time—with no office here, no presence, just buzz—and you get 60 people”. He's like, "You're definitely on to something."
In terms of favorite events, Canada stands out. We don't even have an office there. To go to a place like Canada and have 120 people turn up to an event in Vancouver really says something about how much value people see in Culture Amp.
Bronwen Clune: Oh wow.
David Ostberg: Yeah. How have you made it happen? If someone wants to put together a successful community event, what would you say are the top things that they need to think about or do?
Damon Klotz: Set expectations around what's going to happen if you turn up to an event. The rule of thumb that we've got is, would we want to attend the event ourselves? Put on events that you actually want to attend. Put together great content and great panelists. We get amazing people to speak at these events. Create an experience that people actually want to come back to.
Bronwen Clune: Cool, thanks Damon. That was very insightful. We hope everyone takes the opportunity to join our community online or come along to one of our People Geeks. Where can they find out about them?
Damon Klotz: Peoplegeeks.com.
Bronwen Clune: You can find out about our next events. We've always got one happening somewhere in the world. Hopefully you can attend. If not, check out our Slack channel. Where can people can find that?
Damon Klotz: Head to peoplegeeks.com and follow the link to subscribe to both of our online community initiatives. There's the People Geekly—our weekly newsletter—and the People Geek Slack channel. Slack is great for real-time communication, collaboration, and inspiration from fellow people geeks all around the world.