Company Culture: How to Capture Your Values

Have you ever walked into work and thought: I’m not sure who we are and why we do what we do?

While there’s no one way to run a company, and businesses operate differently from one to the next, every organization has a culture and exhibits values, whether explicitly stated or not. As a company evolves, it will have to reevaluate its processes and standards to accommodate its growing workforce.

Sometimes this means rethinking whether you are clearly communicating your values and reinforcing them day to day. Whether you’re a budding startup or a centuries-old conglomerate, there are certain key elements and factors that go into revisiting what you stand for, and where you’re headed next.

While culture and values flow from everyday decisions and behaviors, starting the conversation at the top is key to long-term success. If you do not have buy-in upfront from the heads of the company, staying on course will be difficult.

CEOs and their leadership team must exhibit the behaviors they expect of others within the organization. Actions speak loudest. Every choice should take your values into account. From how you evaluate candidates to how you assess and reward existing employees, decisions will be viewed through the lens of your values — Do we do what we say we do?

Ask the tough questions.

If you’re gently reforming or radically overhauling your company culture, the first thing you have to do is be open to change and that means being prepared to ask tough questions.

If you’re a founder-led organization, chances are they have a specific view or focus to convey. If the organization has been around for a while, you might have already established some values or themes. The most effective first step is to ask aloud:

  • What have we said (or shown) our values to be?
  • Have they been explicitly communicated?
  • Are they any unspoken values?
  • Why do we need to state our values? What If we did nothing?

You’ll want to dig into the details you uncover. Sometimes it’s easiest to accomplish this step by bringing in someone from the outside to help. An external facilitator who has been through this process before will offer an outsider’s perspective and help you find what you truly stand for. A good facilitator will tell you to stop, collaborate and listen. Pay close attention to the questions that arose in the earlier steps, specifically where people expressed confusion.

While approval from senior leadership is critical, there’s no better place to turn for input and insights than your employees. They live the culture every day and they know what it’s like to work there. Focus groups can provoke responses you might not have expected. You can also send out a targeted survey to discover what the focus groups might not yield — discomfort, shortage of faith, low morale and more.

Be willing to use a variety of methods to collect and capture information from employees. Some will be more forthcoming than others, but the goal is to get to a 360-degree view of the company. However, do not expect or wait for consensus; you will never get there.

Communicate, put into practice and reinforce.

You’ll want communication to not only come from the top down, but also the bottom up. When you have finalized a set of values, share the wisdom broadly in multiple ways: from senior leadership at company town halls and also between managers and employees in smaller meetings. Let your employees know what came out of the exploratory sessions and where they can find additional tools and resources to serve them better.

Some of what you say will stick, yet other messages won’t take right away. Make sure you’re committed to stay the course and reinforcing the message with action, through behaviors and future decision-making.

Continue to let your employees know you’re assessing the organization and you will report back when it’s the right time to move ahead. Respect your employees for having their say. Repeat the message in company updates and begin emails with, “Because you shared …” They will feel valued and therefore get on board.

AUTHOR:  Matthew Jagoda is the chief people officer at Shutterstock, a content licensing company that includes images, videos and music. 

Reprinted from WORKFORCE

5 Tech Leaders Step Up Learning and Development to Engage Employees

Companies with high employee engagement reap a number of valuable benefits: Productivity and innovation flourish, employee retention and loyalty grow. One key way companies can drive employee engagement and differentiate themselves in a competitive job market is through their learning and development (L&D) programs.

Millennials now comprise the largest segment of the American workforce, and a recent study shows that they rank training and development as the No. 1 most valuable benefit employers can provide. Leading tech companies today understand this and are creating new learning initiatives to drive employee engagement and job satisfaction. Pandora calls these programs their “B2E” (Business to Employees) initiatives. Salesforce, the thought leader behind Customer Success, has named them “Employee Success”

Here’s how five big names in tech use innovative learning and development programs to make sure employees are engaged at work, and how startups and mid-sized companies can borrow from their playbooks.

SALESFORCE: Innovative, Customized Learning Journeys

Salesforce customizes L&D to the individual employee to increase productivity and engagement. Dan Darcy, SVP, Productivity, runs enablement at Salesforce and describes his job as Customer Success for internal employees.

For Salesforce, Customer Success is all about putting customers first. It means actively working to increase customer happiness, engagement, productivity, retention, and ultimate success. For Darcy and his team, Employee Success comes first.

“My goal is to establish the best sales training program in the industry, and then roll out this framework for training across all Salesforce departments,” Darcy says enthusiastically. Darcy’s team polled employees and discovered that Salesforce employees wanted personalized learning opportunities they could do at their own pace.

To deliver, Darcy’s team is adapting Salesforce’s homegrown Trailhead interactive customer learning platform for in-house employee training. Sales account executives still start their careers with face-to-face Salesforce Academy training at headquarters. Trailhead builds off this foundation by flipping the classroom model. Employees and managers design one-on-one learning journeys to meet each individual employee’s unique personal development needs and goals. With Trailhead, Salesforce is leveraging new training technology to increase both Customer Success and Employee Success.

YELP: Retaining Young Talent Through Learning & Development

James Balagot, head of Learning & Development at Yelp, uses L&D to increase engagement and retention. Each year, Yelp hires and trains hundreds of young account executives, who quickly are pursued by other companies. As a former Yelp account executive himself, Balagot understands that providing young professionals with valuable learning programs, a positive culture, and meaningful advancement opportunities is the best defense against attrition.

Yelp’s strong commitment to promoting from within is the foundation for the company’s L&D efforts. To keep engagement and retention high, Yelp executives actively mentor young employees and tell managers that employee development is their key priority. Balagot surveys employees regularly to assess their job satisfaction and engagement. Employee participation in L&D programming is optional, but the message is clear: Yelp wants employees to succeed and provides daily opportunities for learning. At Yelp, every day can be a school day so employees can continually grow and advance their careers.

PANDORA: A Clear Focus on Manager Training

Pandora is another company that recognizes mentorship and manager-employee relationships are key to employee job satisfaction. “The No. 1 reason employees leave is because of poor relationships with their managers,” states Matt Morgan, Pandora’s VP, Employee Experience and Development. His team carefully tracks two key employee engagement survey metrics to measure the strength of employee-manager relationships:

  • My manager really cares about me as a person
  • I would recommend my manager to others
  • Teaching new managers to coach, support, and manage their people effectively is Pandora’s primary L&D goal.

Morgan’s team creates all its own B2E content and training tools for new managers in-house to reflect Pandora’s values and culture. While the courses are required, Pandora makes all its manager training available online and on-demand, and makes sure each session takes less than 15 minutes to complete. Pandora successfully focuses its L&D initiatives on manager training to increase employee engagement and retention.

ADOBE: Online Leadership Training Drives Global Productivity

Adobe’s uses L&D to develop leaders. “At Adobe, when we talk about leadership, it’s leadership at all levels, from our newest college grads to our senior leadership,” says Angela Szymusiak, senior Talent Development partner. Three years ago, Adobe’s senior executive team identified five key leadership capabilities to cultivate in all employees:

  • Lead with Emotional Intelligence
  • Identify and hire top talent
  • Scale the business and drive growth
  • Innovate and drive change
  • Role-model the Adobe Check-in approach by delivering meaningful, timely feedback

Adobe’s Global Talent Development team designed Adobe’s innovative Leading@Adobe curriculum to accomplish these goals across Adobe’s vast organization of 14,000-plus employees, in 40 countries and 70 locations.

Because of Adobe’s size, the Global Talent Development team relied on technology, Adobe’s Web conferencing platform, Adobe Connect, and on-demand resources to deliver scalable leadership programming. The company now offers a curated on-demand suite of leadership development e-learning tools globally. Moreover, Adobe gets the content right—its 60-minute virtual Adobe Connect labs consistently receive net promoter scores above 90 percent (e.g., I would recommend this experience to my colleague).

Adobe also has reimagined its performance management model. It has replaced its annual performance review process with a frequent feedback loop approach called Check-In. Check-Ins have been embraced throughout the company and are credited with improving communications, employee satisfaction and productivity.

FACEBOOK: Culture Is the Key for a Rapidly Expanding Workforce

“Facebook’s key Learning & Development objectives are to promote respect and foster a culture of continual learning,” says Mike Welsh, Learning & Development partner and People engineer at Facebook. The company’s approach to L&D was designed to appeal to its talented Millennial workers who are hungry for autonomy, feedback, learning, and advancement. Facebook employees want personalized experiences, so the company offers many avenues for individual learning through on-demand classes and career flexibility. At Facebook, most of the learning happens organically within functional departments and is peer-to-peer and employee driven.

Facebook’s L&D team is most known for its innovative Manager, Leadership, and Positive Culture development programs. For example, Facebook’s Engage Coaching Program provides new managers with one-on-one sessions with an executive coach to help them develop effective people management skills.

Facebook’s FLiP (Facebook Leadership in Practice) program also receives rave reviews. The FLiP program goes deep into leadership best practices, case studies, teambuilding, and coaching circle exercises, where rising leaders receive feedback and coaching from their peers and Facebook executive team members.

Finally, Facebook’s nationally recognized Managing Unconscious Bias program trains employees to acknowledge bias in the workplace and build productive working relationships with co-workers. Facebook successfully uses L&D to create a culture that puts people first, and fosters employee engagement, collaborative relationships, and continual learning.

COINBASE: A Forward Thinking Startup

Some believe that L&D is a perk only big companies can offer. Three-year-old Coinbase, creator of the first bitcoin wallet, is proving that theory wrong.

Coinbase, a Series C company with just over 100 employees, is already using L&D to ensure high employee engagement. According to Nathalie McGrath, director of People, Coinbase has created meaningful L&D offerings without a big budget and proprietary programs. To date, Coinbase has adopted Facebook’s coaching circles model, implemented Code School on Fridays, and is exploring partnerships with Udemy to offer employees a variety of on-demand courses. Coinbase’s goal is to empower employees and promote employee learning and continual personal development even when the company is in startup mode.

Five Affordable Ways to Launch L&D Initiatives

While large tech companies may have the money to invest in best-in-class, proprietary L&D programs, many of their best practices don’t require significant resources and budget. Here are five tips companies of any size can implement quickly to bring L&D to their organizations without breaking the bank.

  • Promote in-house mentorship and coaching. Get informal mentorship meet- ups, coaching circles, and peer-to-peer learning off the ground.
  • Make online education an employee benefit. Edtech companies such as Udemy, Udacity,, and Coursera all offer a variety of affordable, turnkey B2B subscriptions for employee online learning.
  • Regularly track employee engagement and job satisfaction. Measure results and solicit feedback. Design and test new L&D initiatives. Strive to constantly improve these metrics.
  • Train new managers to lead, manage, and give frequent feedback. Employees are more engaged and productive when their bosses are good people managers.
  • Treat employees like customers. Make employee engagement, success, and advancement a key business priority. Leverage L&D programs to demonstrate your company’s commitment to its employees.

Embrace L&D to Drive Engagement, Retention, and Productivity

“Employee engagement is the one key metric business leaders can influence quickly to improve business productivity,” stated Jack Welch early this year. Salesforce, Pandora, Yelp, Adobe, Facebook, and Coinbase all have demonstrated how learning and development programs can be used to increase employee engagement. True star employee performers care far more about learning and personal development than free lunches, gym discounts, and ping-pong. Earn their loyalty and increase their productivity and job satisfaction by bringing meaningful learning and development opportunities to your organization.

AUTHOR: Ellen Wilson is a product marketing consultant who works with tech companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is passionate about learning and development and helping people advance in their careers.


When Employee Recognition Goes Wrong

Anyone who has ever felt ignored by their company’s “high performers” track or frustrated that only salespeople get bonuses is familiar with the curse of the failed recognition program.

According to a 2015 report from employee recognition provider Globoforce, 81 percent of companies offer some form of formal recognition program. But just having a recognition program doesn’t mean it’s working, according to Jim Hemmer, CEO of WorkStride, an employee recognition platform.

“Randomly handing out gift cards from your bottom drawer isn’t going to make a difference,” Hemmer said. Recognition initiatives are intended to make employees feel more engaged with the company and to drive specific behaviors that improve the business.

Many companies make serious errors when implementing recognition programs that cause them to have no effect — or worse, make people feel left out, undervalued or stressed from constant competition.

High-Potential Rewards

George Marc-Aurele learned this lesson the hard way when he joined digital media company CPX Interactive, or CPXi, in 2012 as its chief people officer. At the time, the New York-based firm was growing rapidly, and Marc-Aurele was brought on to help develop a more mature human resources culture and improve the overall employee experience.

At the time, the company had no formal recognition program, so one of the first steps Marc-Aurele took was to implement an end-of-the-year reward for high achievers. The idea was to reinforce the desired “performance culture” of the organization, Marc-Aurele said, but it wasn’t entirely well received.

“People were upset because some people got recognized while others didn’t,” Marc-Aurele said. However, this wasn’t all bad. “It spurred a lot of conversations about what was important to the company.”

Marc-Aurele dropped the program after the first year. Instead, he decided to work with employees to figure out what they wanted from a recognition program. He surveyed employees about the words they felt represented the CPXi culture, then formed committees to hone those words into six core values: accountability, uncommon ability to achieve, rapid adaptability, caring community, balance, and curiosity that pushes boundaries.

“It was critically important that we put the words into the language of the culture,” he said. “Otherwise it would have just been words on a wall.”

Once the values were defined Marc-Aurele returned to the idea of a recognition program, this time rolling out a game-based, peer-driven program where employees get points for demonstrating the company’s core values on a day-to-day basis and for nominating other employees for recognition. They can also get points for completing recognition challenges, like writing a blog about their achievements at the company or posting a selfie in their company T-shirt outside the office.

Moreover, employees can trade the points in for prizes, and there is an end-of-the-year raffle for a $1,000 plane ticket voucher. “It took hold really quickly,” Marc-Aurele said, adding that the prizes are less important than the opportunity to give teammates a shout-out.

Within a few months of rolling the program out, employees had given out hundreds of nominations. Marc-Aurele highlights nominees in the “Monday Missive” email the company sends out and in weekly meetings to spur ongoing participation. “People have a psychological need for recognition,” he said. “Having this program in place has made CPXi a better place to work.”

What Should Be Recognized?

Many recognition experts agree that peer-based programs can be the most successful because they address many common challenges recognition efforts face.

For instance, when employees are empowered to recognize their peers, they are more engaged with the initiative and feel value both in giving and receiving acknowledgment. It also lifts the burden from managers to be constantly looking for the right behaviors to recognize.

That all helps to make a program stick, said Kate Ondrasik, director of internal communications for Orlando Health, one of the largest health care service providers in Orlando, Florida. And that’s exactly what Ondrasik was looking for two years ago when her team was asked to come up with a replacement for the company’s outdated, management-driven recognition program. The old system was paper-based and relied on managers to recognize “champions” in the workplace. “It had a lot of problems,” Ondrasik said.

The old program, which had been in place for years, was also time consuming, requiring managers to fill out and submit paperwork for every formal recognition. Additionally, the values they were supposed to recognize were vague, making it difficult to identify specific behaviors that define a champion.

“It eventually evolved into awards being given to people for being ‘nice’ or ‘helpful,’ ” she said, and only a very small number of people were recognized every year.

This is a common problem with recognition programs, according to WorkStride’s Hemmer. When recognition programs become confusing, vague, cumbersome or not well marketed, they become a burden rather than a benefit. Ultimately, only a few managers take part and nobody really knows who’s getting rewarded or why.

“If you are going to build a reward program, it should be easy, flexible and build affinity back to the company,” Hemmer said.

Ondrasik eventually ditched Orlando Health’s old program and turned to employees to figure out how to replace it. She reached out to the company’s “team council,” which is a group of employees who apply for annual positions to help shape the company’s culture. The council in turn surveyed employees about what they wanted in a recognition program, reviewed other programs, and talked to recognition vendors to come up with a plan. It came up with a new recognition system named Applause Central.

The new program is designed to reward seven behaviors focused on things like respect, ownership and inclusion. Using the WorkStride platform, all 15,000 employees can publicly recognize each other for demonstrating any of these behaviors. Rewards vary from “kudos,” which anyone can give, to gift cards of up to $20, which managers are allotted on a monthly basis.

Because the program is run both online and through a mobile app, people are more likely to use it. “Having a mobile feature was key because most of our employees don’t sit at a computer,” Ondrasik said.

To promote the program, all nominations are posted on a digital leader board and on a scrolling news bar on the company’s intranet. Ondrasik’s team is also always looking for opportunities to promote the program through the company newsletter and in team meetings. The employee council also chooses a champion from that week’s nominees to showcase in a video interview on the company portal.

“They always have a lot of options to choose from,” Ondrasik said. For example, one week they featured several neonatal intensive-care unit staffers who used their own wedding dresses to make christening gowns for babies who wouldn’t survive. Another week they interviewed a trauma center employee who gave his shoes to a homeless patient when he got discharged.

One of the great benefits of the peer-based system is that employees are more likely to see their colleagues going the extra mile for patients. The platform gives them an easy way to acknowledge that. Ondrasik said one of the most popular features of Applause Central has been the simple thanks that anyone can hand out.

In the first 10 months, employees and managers gave out 82,815 recognitions, 88 percent of which were nonmonetary, Ondrasik said. “The data tells us that including nonmonetary awards is key to success of recognition.”

Bribes Don’t Work

Many HR leaders find that money isn’t the most valued part of employee recognition and might often just be a throwaway expense. “Gift cards and prizes feel like bribes, and you should only use bribes as a last resort,” said Kris Duggan, CEO of BetterWorks, a cloud-based goal-setting software program. “Bribes don’t change behavior, which is the whole point of recognition.”

Duggan discovered this two years ago, when BetterWorks was trying to fill a few key executive roles but couldn’t give the base salary that competing companies were offering. So he created a base-plus-bonus compensation package just for those new hires, with incentives for meeting key goals.

The rest of the company just received public recognition on the company’s social network via “cheering” and other acknowledgments given by peers and managers. The result: “The people receiving the ‘bribes’ didn’t perform any better than the people receiving cheers,” he said.

As a result, the company is phasing out all base-plus-bonus salary packages and focusing more on encouraging peer-to-peer recognition and teaching managers how to celebrate their people and provide real-time feedback that reinforces the right behaviors. “You have to pause and reflect on what you’ve accomplished before you can move onto the next thing,” Duggan said. “A lot of companies skip this step, but I think it is the lifeblood of any recognition effort.”

George Hu, founder of the social recognition platform Peer and former chief operating officer at, has a similar sentiment about tying financial gains to recognition. “Giving people gift cards has no impact,” he said. “And it can be demotivating when the same people get recognized over and over.”

Instead, Hu prefers to reward people with access. As the COO at Salesforce, when he saw that an employee was going above and beyond, he invited them to sit on a management meeting or gave them opportunities for one-on-one mentoring. He also encouraged managers to do the same. “It’s more valuable because it gives them entry into a new relationship and makes other executives aware of them,” Hu said.

Managers in these situations used Chatter, the company’s peer-to-peer social engagement platform, to find employees who are frequent recipients of praise for additional mentoring. Every quarter, the leadership team invites the top 30 recipients of praise to the worldwide management meeting where they get a chance to build relationships with top executives who they might otherwise never meet.

Because these employees are chosen based on the number of acknowledgments they receive, it takes bias out of the process, Hu said. In one case, the data drew Hu’s attention to an engineer who was extremely shy and introverted but had been recognized more than 100 times in one quarter for mentoring new hires. “The recognition program helped us identify him, and now he’s being developed as a leader,” Hu said.

Hu noted that retention rates among those employees who were rewarded with access and mentoring was “through the roof,” reinforcing his belief that development and encouragement hold a lot more value than a gift card. Hu is now applying that model at Peer, which links feedback with performance and recognition.

“Recognition and feedback go hand-in-hand,” Hu said. “You have to approach them both together if you want recognition to have an impact.” While most recognition programs have some redeeming value, Hu added, putting extra time and thought into what, how and who leaders recognize can go a long way toward making these programs worth the effort.

How to Make Recognition Stick

There are a few steps talent leaders can take to be sure their recognition programs have the effect they desire.

  1. Ask employees what they want. When employees help shape the recognition program, it’s going to reflect their voice and values, said George Marc-Aurele, chief people officer at CPX Interactive.
  2. Make it social and peer-to-peer. “When people see others getting recognized, they want to get in on it, which makes it grow organically,” Marc-Aurele said.
  3. Make it easy. You want a system that allows employees to give recognition at the click of a button, said Kate Ondrasik, director of internal communications for Orlando Health.
  4. Broadcast leadership commitment. Put a video on the intranet of the CEO talking up the program as a way to promote it,said Jim Hemmer, CEO at WorkStride.
  5. Use recognition as an opportunity to mentor. “All recognition is good, but access to new development opportunities is a lot more valuable than a gift card,” Marc-Aurele said.
  6. Don’t “set it and forget it.” Promote the program via company communications and social media, highlighting winners at meetings and on the website, and sending reminders to keep people engaged, said Cord Himelstein, vice president of marketing for Michael C. Fina.
  7. Let future employees know you care. If you have a great program, talk it up on your website, on social media and in recruiting and onboarding efforts.


Reprinted from TALENT MANAGEMENT magazine






How to Refresh Your Engagement Surveys

As the third quarter moves along and the end of 2012 doesn’t seem too far off, many HR departments are planning budgets, preparing for performance reviews and, of course, gearing up to administer the all-important employee engagement survey.

While many organizations have firm engagement measurement practices in place, some could use a refresh on the design

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and nature of the engagement survey, according to Joan Dasher, employee engagement practice vice president at BlessingWhite Inc., an employee engagement consultancy.

Here are four ways to thin out and refocus engagement surveys to produce more actionable results.

1) Put less focus on external benchmarks. While many engagement firms specialize in offering industry-wide external benchmarks, Dasher said these often draw the focus away from a firm’s own engagement practices. “[They] get stuck looking at analysis and paralysis [of industry-wide data], and they’ve lost focus on their data and what they’re doing to drive their scores up,” she said.

Still, Kevin Kruse, author of We: How to Increase Performance and Profits through Full Engagement, said while firms shouldn’t spend too much time comparing against external benchmarks, there is value in it. “I think clearly one of the benefits of choosing one of the large survey companies out there is you are now entering into their vast research pools so you can get comparable [survey scores] to your industry,” Kruse said.

2) Design surveys with fewer questions. Some engagement surveys can include up to 90 or 100 questions. This is too much, Dasher said. When employees are faced with having to spend a half hour to an hour going through an engagement survey — and fatigue begins to set in — participants may tend to blow off answering questions honestly.

Instead, consider scaling back the survey to 20 to 30 questions. Pick the most actionable and important questions. Kruse said firms might also consider breaking down these surveys into different segments and giving them more than once or twice a year.

3) Give surveys more often. Fresh data is vital to get real-time results to provide actionable initiatives, Dasher said. Further, annual surveys have questions pertaining to issues that are no longer relevant to a firm’s current engagement challenges, Kruse added.

Providing surveys more than once a year — maybe even twice or three times — enables HR departments to

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measure engagement in a real-time environment. This makes the value of the results and consequent actions more meaningful. “If you’re getting more actionable data, you’re able to tailor it more to the business imperatives,” Dasher said.

“The more frequent[ly] you do them, the more often you can track trends” and take action, often on items that maybe weren’t as relevant a year or even six months ago, Kruse added.

4) Make sure surveys are tied to business strategy. Lastly, ensure that questions are truly directed toward actionable, valuable data that has a direct link to strategy. Some firms may have gotten lost in the complex analysis of external benchmarking and long, lethargic surveys of old, Dasher said. The easiest way for HR departments to avoid falling into such a trap is to make sure a proper definition of engagement is established from the start, since definitions may vary by company, Dasher said.

“Many organization talk about engagement, but they never define it in a way that everyone understands it,” she said. “We believe engagement is achieved when employees are at maximum contribution and when they’re getting maximum satisfaction. It’s a combination of the two.”

For Kruse, the important thing is that front-line managers take an active role in managing engagement on an individual level beyond the survey period.

“The real magic in engagement surveys is to get the results down to an individual level, and to make sure that managers are doing their action planning with their direct reports,” he said.

In the end, any engagement measurement is ineffective unless there is accountability on the part of front-line managers. Without HR departments doing more to provoke such front-line accountability when it comes to engagement, “managers won’t care,” Kruse said. “They will go back to being managers of tasks instead of being leaders of people.”

Reprinted from Talent Management magazine.

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