Article in Culture, We The Fueled categories.

We the Fueled x Hack Summit Labs: A Panel on Scaling Company Culture

Wouldn’t company culture be better with a bit more sense of purpose? We the Fueled and Hack Summit Labs present Scaling Culture: Purpose & People…

Wouldn’t company culture be better with a bit more sense of purpose? Hack Summit Labs thinks so, and We the Fueled agrees.

Hack Summit Labs works with businesses to create programs, initiatives, and movements that achieve social impact. The company focuses on helping people outside of the office as well — Recently, Hack Summit Labs partnered with a refugee resettlement agency to launch the HIAS Discovery Project, an initiative that creates new strategies and systems for welcoming and supporting refugees. 

Like Fueled, Hack Summit Labs aims to help companies improve team and company culture through dialogue and open discussion. The two companies united in early July for the third event of the 2018 speaker series presented by We the Fueled, a committee created by Fueled team members to foster conversations about inclusivity and diversity in the workplace and beyond.

We the Fueled Hack Summit Labs Company Culture
We the Fueled and Hack Summit Labs join forces to host a discussion on people, purpose and scaling company culture

Earlier this year, We the Fueled partnered with Vice Media to host a gathering of women in the fashion industry to tell their stories and speak on diversity in fashion. Continuing the theme of empowerment and healthy environment at the office, We the Fueled and Hack Summit Labs came together to present Scaling Culture: Purpose & People Panel.

The panel consisted of three experts from fast-growing venture-backed startups: Brannon Skillern, Head of Talent Management at IEX Group, Stephanie Mardell, VP of People at Button, and Michelle Leirer, VP of People at Animoto. With Amos Schorr of Hack Summit Labs leading the conversation, the speakers discussed their struggles and successes in promoting a sense of purpose amongst team members with the goal of maintaining health and happiness at the workplace.

We The Fueled Hack Summit Labs Company Culture
Amos Schorr (left), Michelle Leirer, Stephanie Mardell and Brannon Skillern

For those of you who couldn’t make it, don't worry — We the Fueled will be hosting another event in August. In the meantime, here are the key takeaways from the Scaling Culture panel.

Key Takeaways from Scaling Culture: People & Purpose Panel

Strong Team Values Create Strong Companies

Strong values empower employees to work with purpose and to be more autonomous. They help managers understand what to hold their people accountable for, how to do it, and why it’s important to do so. As organizations grow, values play a critical role in maintaining the sustainability of the organization.

Animoto, for example, has three unique core values: Humbletude, Betterfication, and Oomphosity. At Animoto, people are expected to be humble, to leave things better than they found them and to find ways to add their unique “Oomph” to whatever they’re doing. These values help their team members understand what’s expected of them and encourage the kind of behavior that people who fit their values want to engage in.

"When you think about your peers that you really admire, what are the qualities in them that you value the most?" — Michelle Leirer, VP of People at Animoto

Without values in place, hiring the right people would be much more difficult. Employees would feel less aligned with the organization, less purposeful in their work and be more likely to leave.

Tips for Implementing Company Values

Values should be emphasized as often as possible. If an employee is acknowledged for an achievement, make sure the company as a whole understands how this achievement reinforces the company’s core values.

"[Values] have to be everywhere and in everything...We are a video creation platform so we make videos about them, we've made props based on them, we have icons for them." — Michelle Leirer, VP of People at Animoto

Think of creative, unique values that employees can really relate to. If values don’t feel relevant or aren’t inspiring, it’s easy to lose the sense of alignment with the company.

Feedback is Essential for Growing Teams

Feedback helps leaders and managers stay in touch with what their teams actually experience. A strong feedback system helps reinforce positive behavior and helps people grow.

Feedback loops don’t work without the right company culture, however. It’s a problem if people are only given negative feedback or if they don’t feel their feedback will be taken seriously. If team members feel that offering negative feedback could compromise relationships — especially with superiors — they won’t.

"We have to change the mindset around feedback into making it simply information." — Stephanie Mardell, VP of People at Button

Creating a feedback-driven culture is critical for the sustainability of any organization, but it’s not easy if people don't feel comfortable enough with each other in the workplace.

Stephanie Mardell noted that at Button, offering feedback is a natural element of being part of the team. "You need to establish a culture that provides a safe space for people to speak boldly and honestly — which is one of Button's values — and allow people to use that value when they want to speak."

However, to promote productive, honest communication at Button, feedback can't be submitted anonymously.

Being able to provide anonymous feedback might seem like the best way encourage more people to share their thoughts, but if employees are given a safe, supportive environment for expressing their opinions, they know that they will not be attacked or judged. In fact, understanding who certain feedback comes from can help company leaders make smarter decisions about addressing concerns and solving problems.

Tips for Creating a Feedback-Friendly Company Culture

It’s important that employees are given clear guidelines for how to both offer and receive feedback from the start, regardless of which platform the company uses. New hires should know that their input is valued, especially seeing as they can offer fresh perspectives into company practices.

"Having a culture of feedback is not just a culture where managers tell people what they did wrong, it actually should be going up, down and sideways." — Brannon Skillern, Head of Talent at IEX Group

Make sure that feedback is not a taboo topic. Bring up feedback in company or team meetings and encourage open, productive discussion about the comments that people have. When people don’t feel that they will be singled out, they will be much more inclined to share their suggestions

Bring Out Employees’ Inner Rockstars Through a Solution-Oriented Culture

While it's critical to have a company culture where people feel comfortable sharing feedback, it’s equally if not more important to encourage people to come up with solutions instead of merely bringing problems to the attention of the team.

"You would be so surprised at how many teams we've created within our organization because some raised their hand and said 'Hey, I see a gap in the organization, here's what I think my title should be, here are my responsibilities, and here's how this fits into the growth ladder.'" — Stephanie Mardell, VP of People at Button

It’s normal for employees to feel that more general problem-solving is out of scope for their daily tasks, but if they are given a chance to be creative and to tackle something new, they might find that problem-solving will start to become ingrained into their work ethic.

Brannon Skillern from IEX Group emphasized the importance of employees with strong problem-solving mentalities who spot and tackle problems before they evolve into larger issues, and it’s rare to find another company leader who disagrees.

Tips for Promoting a Problem-Solving-Oriented Work Environment

Next time your company unites to discuss company-wide feedback, open up the conversation for suggestions and solutions from everyone. Maybe even assign a problem to each team, and give everyone a few days to put together a solution. It might be hard to get people to take a break from their existing workload, but it also shows employees that they are valued for their solutions outside of their sphere of expertise.

Acknowledge people who take initiative. While company leaders might have a particular system for addressing and solving problems, they don’t always have time to focus on every problem that may or may not have been brought to their attention. Encourage employees to work together to create solutions that work for everyone.

We The Fueled Hack Summit Labs Company Culture
The event also featured pizza and cocktails, which can be great additions to a problem-solving brainstorm session

Values, Feedback, and Solutions — Tools for Scaling Company Culture

The highlights of the Scaling Culture panel start to paint a picture of a larger strategy that holds sense of purpose as its endgame. At the end of the day, employees are in the best position to scale company culture, and as a result, they are the key players in keeping the human element alive.

Start with creating strong company values, and making sure employees understand the identity of the company. When employees feel that their values are aligned with those of the company, they can feel a sense of purpose and connection with their colleagues.

Once the members of a company are united by mutual values, maintaining a supportive, feedback-friendly environment should come naturally. Feedback is essential to the progress of a company, and understanding and addressing issues should be everyone’s responsibility.

Finally, once a strong feedback system is in place, employees should be encouraged to slide into problem-solving roles and not to just leave their issues in the inbox.

While technology and tools can take over some of our tasks, it is the job of the people to promote a sense of connection and community at the workplace. When a community is strong, each member is valued for their contributions and skills, and when people know their worth, they can work with for the good of themselves and of the company, with purpose.

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