What is Culture Amp? What is Culture First? Culture Amp Director of PR and Comms Bronwen Clune, Director of Data and Insights David Ostberg and Head of People Julie Rogers will introduce themselves and answer these questions.
The Culture First Podcast is released bi-weekly and explores what it means to be a culture first company. You can find out more about how to subscribe at CultureFirstPodcast.com
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Bronwen Clune: Hello and welcome to the Culture First podcast. I'm Bronwen Clune and I'm the Director of Communications and PR here at Culture Amp.
David Ostberg: Hi, my name is David Ostberg and I am the Director of Data and Insight team.
Julie Rogers: I'm Julie Rogers and I'm the Head of People at Culture Amp.
Bronwen Clune: So before we kick off, we should give everyone some context about what Culture Amp is. David I'm going to put you on the spot and have you explain that to us.
David Ostberg: Culture Amp is a people analytics platform that enables companies to measure and understand what their people are thinking and feeling throughout the entire employee lifecycle. So, really all the way from when a person is a job candidate through their onboarding through their interactions with managers, coworkers, leaders all the way through when they leave the organization.
Bronwen Clune: One thing before we get started is to establish how we all we ended up being here. Julie if you want to go first and tell your story of how you came to be at Culture Amp.
Julie Rogers: Sure, I have a deep history with Culture Amp. I've been using the platform itself for about five years. So, working on the people side of the business for the last 20 years in various businesses over time and surveying employees; Actually having a platform to go ahead and use to survey our people and not just the platform itself but the data get on the other side was awesome. So, when I knew there was an opening here to work at the company and play in the space that is my space that I like to play in ... It was a no brainer. So, I had the opportunity to come in and join the team here and about three months later here I am.
Bronwen Clune: And David how about you? How did you become someone, a CAmper. A CAmper is what we call ourselves. We should probably say that. How did you become a CAmper?
David Ostberg: A Culture-Amper. So, this is actually the third start up I've been with in my post-grad school career. The last two companies I was at was focused on using predictive analytics for personnel selection. How people are hired, behavioral measurement, predictive statistics, those kind of things. Great field. Really cool. There's a lot of legal stresses and it's a very high stakes industry. One of the things I did at my last company over the last couple of years was develop what we called PHIT, Post Hire Intelligence Technology. It was various tools to measure how people are feeling and what they’re thinking, what they’re saying at various points in their lifecycle and I felt like there were so many rich stories there and so much to learn. I really started getting excited about that. I was just getting burned out on personnel selection. Decided to leave that company, take some time off. I was thinking about potentially starting a company that really focuses on understanding the lifecycle. I thought, "OK, I should probably look at who's in the industry, who's out there" and looked at several players in the space. There are some great tools out there, but when I first ran across Culture Amp - just the people, the concept, the philosophy and the mission. It was like, okay, this is where I need to be. So it was maybe a month later and I became part the team. I'm really happy about it.
Bronwen Clune: My story sounds so much more boring than you guys. I was actually in San Francisco. I worked as a journalist and editor and I was here covering a story and I bumped into Jon, who is one the co-founders. He was telling me they were looking for a salesperson and I was like, "Well, I'm a journalist." You couldn't get further from a salesperson. But as we started talking, they were looking at the kind of stories that were coming out of the data at the time. The more we spoke the more we realized it was good opportunity for me to join the company. So I did, not knowing much about people analytics, HR. Not knowing a lot about data even at that stage. But it's certainly been an interesting journey for me. I feel something that pretty much aligns with things I find meaningful. We have a great mission here at Culture Amp. Yeah, that's my story.
I guess, when did you realize you were a people geek? A people geek is another term we use quite often here Culture Amp and we describe it simply as someone who uses data to drive company and culture decisions. Is that how you describe it?
Julie Rogers: Yeah, definitely. It's interesting because I would have pegged myself as a people geek really early on. I got my degree in anthropology. I was always curious about people systems and behaviors and interactions. You know, in terms of the evolution of how you use that information in order to inspire business decisions, that really, the profession of human resources and the people profession has evolved and changed a lot.
When I started working in HR, I came in on the tail end of when it used to be called "personnel." Which was effectively an administrative function. I feel very fortunate that my career has evolved at time when the entire profession has evolved. The ability and really the expectations to go through and use that data has changed over the years. I think I would have called myself a people geek in my younger years, in my academic years. It’s evolved and changed over time in terms of being able to actually use that data in order to drive business decisions. People geek has evolved for me overtime too.
Bronwen Clune: You were always a people geek.
Julie Rogers: I was! It's true.
Bronwen Clune: What about you David? Were you born a people geek?
David Ostberg: Possibly. I think so. Although I was born a very, very shy people geek. I think when I first realized I was like, "Okay this is what I'm into" was really what drove me to go to grad school in Industrial Psychology. When I came out of undergrad I was wanting to learn more about business so I started applying to sales jobs and one that I was particularly was excited about ... I had gone through 3 rounds of interviews, things were feeling really good and the hiring manager came on and said, "Things look great and we're excited about this last step. We just need you to take this test." I was thinking, "Alright that's cool. I'm good at tests. This should be pretty straight forward."
He hands me this test. I completed it in about ten minutes or something. It was this paper and pencil test because that's the way they were done back in the day. He said, "I'm just going to score this. I'll be back in a few minutes." He went to his office and ten minutes passed and he came back out. He looked disappointed and he said, "Yeah, I'm sorry we can't hire you. You failed the test." I was like, "What are you talking about?" He was like, "We're not allowed to hire anyone who doesn't pass this test." I asked him what this test was and he said it was personality test to see if you're going to be a good salesperson. I was surprised. I'd never heard of that before. I left feeling pretty defeated and that stuck with me.
I started doing some research about this test. Is it legal? Does it make sense? Is it actually accurate? I was talking to some people and a friend said, "Oh, I just took this industrial psychology class about a personnel selection test. You have to find out if it's valid." I was like, "What does that mean?" So she gave me her textbook and it was the first and only time in my life I read a textbook in about a week. That was it. It was like, "Wow, this is amazing. This is about measurements and predicting behavior." I've always been a math and data nerd. Yeah, that was it. I think that's when I really realized this is what I want to do and this what really gets me excited.
Bronwen Clune: I've worked in a lot of jobs where we've used that measure/learn concept. I worked in a startup incubator. For me, the fascination was around using that sort of approach not just for purely commercial decisions but applying that to the people in your company. To try and make things better for them. To engage those people more. One of the things we try and build in those companies is great cultures, great dynamic teams. That's often the reason why companies fail or make it. It's kind of been an alignment of a number of different things to realize what I am is this people geek. I didn't know the term until I started working here. What about you guys? Did you come across it before, Julie?
Julie Rogers: You know, only really in relation to Culture Amp. But it's interesting. I've called myself a geek for a really long time I think because of that intense curiosity around behavior and what drives the behavior of people and humans together in systems or individually and how that actually plays out. Where can you go through and help inspire and motivate people. I think that degree of geekiness is something that I have embraced and owned for a really long time. I just didn't know it was called people geekiness.
David Ostberg: Likewise, I hadn't heard the term. I was actually at one of the HR tech conferences when I saw Jason McPherson, our chief scientist speaking. That was my first real exposure to Culture Amp's personality and there were some people geeks stickers there and I saw it and thought, "Oh, that makes sense to me. I might need to pursue this company."
Bronwen Clune: One of the other things we're going to talk in this podcast is, in fact, the name of the podcast. It's Culture First. We have an idea of what that is, what it embodies and how we actually act as a culture first company. We're going to explore those ideas in this podcast. What does culture first mean to us? Julie?
Julie Rogers: Oh gosh. I think it means so many things. When I think about what's culture ... Sometimes it can be fairly specific and personal. Personally when I think about culture first, I think of a business that's values driven and that leans on values as their North star. It looks for values fit. Wide open to perspectives that are going to challenge and add to the business. I think of a business that's actually got their backs for their people. That we're not making business decisions at the detriment of our people.
Bronwen Clune: One interesting story I've heard, which is before I started, was when we were originally looking for series A. We'll speak to our CEO Didier Elzinga a little bit more about this. One of the discussions the founders had was can we take funding and remain a culture first company? There always seems to be that tension between building a commercially successful company and building a company that looks after your people. Originally, they decided that wasn't something they felt they could do but then they met Felicis Ventures who became our series A funders. They were very aligned in what they wanted to do. That's also an interesting evolution for us. Those sorts of decisions aren't just a given and I hope we continue to ask those kind of curly, prickly questions throughout things.
Julie Rogers: I think there’s an evolution of what Culture First means too. A company that's 5 employees is going to have a different definition of what culture first means versus a company that's taking on external funding and that has grown to 50 versus 100 versus 500 versus 10,000. There are just different versions of what that's going to be. In the same way culture evolves over time, where your values actually remain the same. They are your core, your anchor; culture changes.
Bronwen Clune: And your values can evolve too though. Can't they?
Julie Rogers: I think what it looks like in action might evolve? The values themselves are really the core anchors. Maybe we explore that in a future podcast.
Bronwen Clune: What do you think, David, about culture first?
David Ostberg: One of the core things you have to think about is when you're making big decisions. Particularly those hard decisions. As an organization, you want to think about a culture first company will think about how is this going to impact our people? That is a key component to the decision to you make. Maybe even above that, around what's the financial impact or short term impact?
For us, at least, I think culture is strongly related to how we interact with our clients and what we do and how that impacts them. But I think it's also a good point to share our values because they are so core to how we act. So those three values are learn faster through feedback, trust people to make decisions, which is huge here, and have the courage to be vulnerable. That last one is really important to me. Particularly in the sense of ... There's so much to accomplish, so much to do in our work lives and so many people get burned out and stressed out because they aren't able to be authentic. They have to put on this mask and this different persona. Having the courage to be vulnerable, just really truly be your authentic self even if it's not what you think other people at work might want you to be.
I think that's one of the things that really contributes to the diversity of personalities and perspectives and backgrounds of the people that here at Culture Amp. The people here are my favorite aspect of what we are.
Bronwen Clune: I think that having courage to be vulnerable is one of the things that I really want to explore here as a well. How much we are willing to share about us and things that we face. I'd like to think that we are going to be as transparent as we can be and really help people along that journey with us to figure some of these things out. Does that sound okay to you Head of HR?
Julie Rogers: Absolutely! That's interesting. I think that people often look to the people team, the HR team, to decide what can we actually share?
Bronwen Clune: PR too. Can we say that?
Julie Rogers: Or what's HR's reaction if this is said out loud? To be honest, my default (unless there's solid legal reason not to say something) is to say it. If it's not the most appropriate thing, well, talk through it but let's not have this stuff be back channeled or the elephant in the room. Let's actually get out and talk about it. But I think that's actually a large part of sharing that vulnerability and being culture first is actually being able to have those conversations even if they’re a little not comfy.
Bronwen Clune: But you've also touched on the fact that people always look to HR for these things and I guess they do. In order for a company to be successful it has to be something that's embraced by everyone. The making of decisions isn't just top down. Everyone is thinking about it. Everyone is asking those questions and assessing how we are and going according to those values. We're a funded start up. We still have a lot of commercial goals to hit and how do you that and people first.
David Ostberg: How do you do that across four time zones? With offices in different places. Is it a culture first thing to expect people to be joining all hands meeting at 11 pm and 6 am? How do you communicate? How do you share those difficult decisions or those big wins across locations? I think that's something I'm really interested in seeing. How are we going to handle that? How are we going to stay aligned with our values and continue to grow the culture in a positive way across different groups. Because I think each location have its own little vibe.
Julie Rogers: Yeah, maybe some context to what David just said. Anyone who isn't as familiar with Culture Amp as a company. We're an Australian company. We're headquartered in Melbourne and most, about 56%, of our employees are actually headquartered or are in our headquarters office.
David Ostberg: Did you say approximately 56%?
Julie Rogers: Approximately 56%. Data, data, David. I'm a geek OK? But we do have offices in San Francisco. We have remote employees, we an office in New York, and we're just opening up an office in London. So again, we have 73 people who work for Culture Amp now. That's a fair number of people but spread across four distinctive geos in order to communicate across. A little context for where we're coming from in that discussion.
Bronwen Clune: It's interesting. In that number, how many are we at? Did you say?
Julie Rogers: 73
Bronwen Clune: I was, I think, employee number 14 and I started 18 months ago. That's a pretty massive growth. Julie, we should chat about how this crazy idea to do this podcast came about. You and I were tasked with making Culture Amp one of the most culture first or THE most culture first referenced company in the world.
Julie Rogers: In the world. In the universe, as a matter of fact.
Bronwen Clune: Just a small OKR for Julie and I to achieve by the end of the year. And we were chatting about it. You were just listening to the Serial podcast, I think.
Julie Rogers: Yeah, I'd been listening to the Serial podcast and it was my second week here at Culture Amp. Bronwen and I were having this conversation about what does it mean and how do we ... A) we have to make ourselves the most referenced company as a culture first company. My OKR was, specifically, to go through and figure out what culture first means within the context of Culture Amp. Then we thought, "Well clearly we're connected at this hip on this one." I think we might have had a little moment of craziness. What did we talk about? We could do a book. We could do a blog. I'm listening to Serial. We can do a podcast.
David Ostberg: Well, I remember walking around the corner in the hallway when you two were meeting and I stopped and you both stopped and looked over at me and you had wide eyes and these sinister grins. I said, "What?" You said, "We're doing a podcast."
Julie Rogers: And you're in it.
David Ostberg: I was like, "Okay."
Bronwen Clune: One of the things, in that conversation, we realized that in order to be the most referenced culture first company in the world, we actually had to be the most culture first company in the world. So we wanted to explore that here openly and transparently on the podcast, the process we go in doing that. We'll be taking a run on that journey and hopefully by the end of the year we'll have a magic formula for all of you.
Julie Rogers: Or at least to have an opportunity to explore with us what it means and what it doesn't mean within the context of Culture Amp and some external people who will come in and share their experience of what it is to be culture first and not culture first.
David Ostberg: I'm excited to get other people's perspectives on what are they doing because we've got some amazing companies in the area and some incredible minds.
Bronwen Clune: We'll be bringing in some guests to the podcast as well. People who we work with and people we don't work with. Anyone who has an interesting story to contribute to get in touch with us, as well. That's what we plan on doing here.
Julie Rogers: How do people find us, Bronwen?
Bronwen Clune: They can email firstname.lastname@example.org, which is a new email that's about to be set up for us. Special. Those are all the challenges we're facing that we want to discuss here and discuss openly and vulnerably. Pretty vulnerable for all of us. Given our history of podcast experience, obviously.
Julie Rogers: Which is none.
Bronwen Clune: Thanks for tuning in to the Culture First podcast.