Company Culture Events
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How to scale culture: Advice from the Head of People at Slack

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Alexis Croswell

Senior Content Marketing Manager, Culture Amp

The third Culture x Design was held in Melbourne on July 20, 2016 and featured a keynote from several experts including Dawn Sharifan. Dawn leads the People team at Slack Technologies in San Francisco, and considers herself a lifelong learner and a passionate student. She is a Human Resources leader, with over 15 years’ experience in both public and private organizations, from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. She is also a member of the faculty at San Francisco State University where she has been teaching the next generation of HR professionals since 2014. Dawn earned her MBA from St. Mary's College of California, and a pilot's license from the FAA. Her life maxims are: 1. Self-Awareness is the key to everything; 2. Personal Growth is a b*tch; 3. Be kind.

Culture starts with the CEO and is shaped by everyone

Slack's culture starts with their CEO, Stewart Butterfield. He holds the company accountable for sharing the stories, symbols, and traditions of Slack. Company values shouldn't be marketing speak or words on a forgotten poster, it's actually what people live and do. Slack values are empathy expressed as courtesy, craftsmanship tempered with playfulness and thriving in ourselves and others. As Sharifan said, “We fundamentally believe that our culture is our competitive advantage. It is what allowed us to pivot from a failed gaming company into the fastest B2B SaaS company ever.”

Be Intentional About Fostering Connections

Once an organization grows to around 400 people, employees give up trying to meet everyone. We need to be intentional about connecting people. One initiative Slack has put into practice is having iPads in the kitchens of its offices - so that 'water cooler moments' can happen across countries. This allows them to "export" their culture in a fun way. 

Small Moments Capture Culture

In the early days at Slack, people had the idea to dress up as co-founder Cal Henderson who wears khaki shorts, flip flops, and a plaid shirt, every day. As Sharifan tells it, the story is he was filling his cereal bowl in the kitchen took about two minutes to notice that, “Oh my God. Everyone's dressed like me.” The next year, it was a challenge to do it a gain. Nearly 300 people from Slack's offices or remote locations around the world sent in pictures of themselves dressed up as Cal. Sharifan says, “Culture happens in small moments, but these are the stories we tell. This is how we unite our teams across and around the globe, by having some fun. This is the playfulness.”


Slack Halloween or Slack Halloween or "Caloween"


More Tips to Nurture and Scale Culture

  • Invest in technology - Find a video conferencing product that works for your company
  • Prioritize all hands meetings - Slack recently added closed captioning to their company-wide meetings to ensure that everyone could understand what was being talked about
  • Encourage employee travel - Working from other offices builds empathy 
  • Combine local customs (and laws) with company values - Slack's global parental leave policy has no waiting policy, and is built to support employs while factoring in local laws and custom 
  • Interview for values -  Slack has a set of questions that seek an understanding of values during the interview process. 

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