“In a Culture First company, HR is an enabler, not a blocker.” ~ Julie Rogers, Global Head of People and Experience, Culture Amp
Culture is everyone’s responsibility
As Culture Amp grew, we explicitly chose not hire a HR person because we believed it was important for everybody to be responsible for the culture in a Culture First company. But eventually we reached a point where we needed to equip our people with better tools and processes to continue to grow the culture.
About 18 months ago Julie Rogers took on this role. In Julie’s words,
“HR’s role is to create a foundation and environment where people can do their best. This includes leaders who are enabled and empowered to lift up the people around them. People not only understand the company’s mission, but how their work plays into that. HR helps create space for them to develop and grow in their current role and into roles they may not have done before.”
This approach puts our people at the heart of what we’re trying to build at Culture Amp. In a Culture First organization you need to put a lot of time and energy into allowing HR to equip the rest of the company with the skills they need to actually deliver the culture.
It’s important to remember that culture is not HR’s responsibility, it’s everybody's responsibility. HR just happens to be trained in how to help others go on that journey.
But delivering world-class HR programs isn’t something that just anyone can do. You need someone who is willing and has the courage to innovate, experiment and take risks to build a culture that people have perhaps not seen before.
Hand-in-hand with this ethos is the ability to be open to learn and adapt. There’s a lot of research that is constantly evolving the way we approach HR, like positive psychology and growth mindsets. It’s challenging to stay abreast of it all, which is why HR in a Culture First company must be a group of lifelong learners.
Everyone cares about HR in a Culture First organization
In a Culture First company everyone cares about what HR does. According to Julie this comes with its own challenges,
“Everyone in Culture Amp has an opinion about HR because they care so deeply about what we’re trying to achieve. We don’t have to justify our existence, everyone in Culture Amp is a HR person in one way or another. Because we produce a product for the HR community, there are also many people within the organization who have a depth of skill and background in many of the things we are trying to achieve. This means we have to always communicate on the front foot, ensuring that everyone is looped in so they are aware of what’s coming up.”
Some people who have worked in more traditional HR struggle with this approach when they first come to the organization. For example, Culture Amp looks different by design - we don’t have a standard hierarchy that rolls up. This requires people to have a level of comfort with ambiguity, but HR has traditionally had the role of removing ambiguity, not creating it.
We expect our people to thrive on a level of ambiguity because we’re making some of it up as we go along. We’re always experimenting with things and that gives some people a level of discomfort. That’s why communication is so important. Keeping everyone in the loop helps give them a level of comfort.
HR also has a unique role as our first customer
An interesting aspect of the role of HR, not just in a Culture First company, but at Culture Amp specifically, is that we build software to help companies make better decisions about their people and culture. Our People and Culture team has a dual role - not only are they helping us build a better culture and company, they're actually the first users of our product. It’s a role they enjoy according to Julie.
“It’s amazing to be part of a team who want to know your thoughts. I get to do fun things like user testing and am able to contribute to the development of our product by providing feedback with empathy. In HR we place a strong emphasis on pushing our product features to their limit so we can help ensure that our use cases are solid. I recently thanked a designer for redesigning the dashboard in a user friendly way and they told me that they actually have a persona called Julie who is based on myself. They were building the dashboard specifically for me. Now that’s pretty special!”
Building a Culture First company is an adventure. We’re innovating and taking risks to try and create a place where everyone belongs. There’s a whole new world opening up, and it’s exciting to have an innovative HR team on this journey with us.