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The Employee Experience Platform | Culture Amp
Culture First 2019
Lexi Croswell, author

Lexi Croswell

Writer, Culture Amp

The second-annual Culture First conference welcomed over 1,100 Culture First community members to Pier 27 and Pier 29 on July 29-31. This year started with our first-ever Customer Connection Day, featuring sessions dedicated to the Culture Amp product vision, interactive workshops, customer case studies, product masterclasses, and a celebratory reception.

The full community joined in on the Culture First experience for days two and three of the conference. We're thrilled to have hosted another successful event for our community.

For those who attended, relive the highlights here. For those who couldn't make it, see what Culture First was like and be sure to get a spot for the next event.

Enjoy this recap of the second-annual Culture First conference through the eyes of our attendees.

Day 01 - Customer Connection Day

Steve Hopkins, Director of Customer Success, Culture Amp, and Brit Ferguson, Lead Customer Success Coach, Culture Amp, welcomed customers to Customer Connection Day. Culture Amp CEO Didier Elzinga followed and set the stage for what's to come.

The next act: Leaping from insight to action

Rod Hamilton, Chief Product Officer, Culture Amp

Rod provided an overview of the Culture Amp platform, highlighting how you can connect the dots between employee engagement and performance to uncover new opportunities for growth and development in your company. He showcased these development and retention opportunities through Culture Amp's new Foresight Engine.

InVision’s journey to design a more human experience at work

Mark Frein and Srinivas Krishnamurti

Mark Frein, InVision’s Chief People Officer, shared how they used design thinking to deliver a progressive people and culture strategy to 800+ remote employees. He was joined by Srinivas Krishnamurti, Director of Product, Performance, Culture Amp, to dive deeper into how Culture Amp's platform helped InVision connect engagement and performance data to unlock new insights from key moments within the employee lifecycle.

Day 01 - Morning breakout sessions

After hearing our invigorating morning keynote speakers and a quick break, an unexpected mechanical issue caused the morning's breakout sessions to be rescheduled. The conference continued with an early lunch on Day 01, and regularly scheduled programming followed.

Leveling up your ally skills

Willie Jackson, Consultant and Facilitator, ReadySet, and Lily Jampol, People Scientist and Consultant, ReadySet, created a workshop that positions people of color and their allies to more confidently undertake the work of allyship at work and beyond.

How to build a Culture First performance & development system

Culture Amp's David Ostberg, Ph.D., Director of People Science, Perform, and Hannah Wilken, Senior People Scientist, explored how to transform your performance management system into a truly Culture First one. They spoke about the core components of “organizational justice,” the most common sources of bias that threaten the effectiveness of your process, and the fundamentals of effective feedback.

Managing culture through mergers, demergers, & acquisitions

Melissa Paris, Senior People Scientist, Culture Amp, moderated this session on how four companies used employee feedback during a merger and acquisition to maintain their culture. Speakers included:

  • Whitney Swesey, Talent Development Program Manager, Datto
  • Dana Lin, Employee Engagement Manager, Adevinta
  • Ealga ni Aodha, Chief of Staff, Twilio
  • Josh Berman, Culture Enablement Lead, Culture Amp

Day 01 - Afternoon breakout sessions

The neuroscience of leadership: Mindfulness, flow, and trust

Zanette Johnson, Director of Learning, YOL, helped us build our awareness of the pitfalls and perks of our human neurobiology and learn how to build better alignment between the values we hold and how we respond to the unexpected twists of life. Her interactive exercises helped us explore how mindfulness, flow, and trust can become our greatest allies in motivating high performance and engagement.

Move from diversity data to inclusive action

Culture Amp's Jessica Brook, Senior People Scientist, and Bailey Edgell, Senior Customer Success Coach, showed us how to make diversity and inclusion a core part of the employee feedback strategy and help various stakeholders, like leadership, employee resource groups, and managers, get in on the action.

Beca’s Culture First journey

Laurent Sylvestre, Chief People & Culture Officer, Beca, shared how he navigated evolving culture after almost a decade without an engagement survey. Using a change management theory called Theory U, his executives became advocates of the culture evolution.

You’ve got values: Now what?

Rebecca Friese Rodskog & Decio Mendes, Co-Founders & Partners, FutureLeaderNow, gave us a framework to create a thriving culture based on values. How to get started?

  1. Clearly define your purpose
  2. Articulate your culture code
  3. Make sure the rubber meets the road through actions

From descriptives to decisions: Testing hypotheses in Culture Amp

Culture Amp's Robert Melloy, PhD, Senior People Scientist, and Janene Smith, Senior Customer Success Coach, Culture Amp helped us dive deeper into employee feedback. They shared the most common roadblocks to success and how to overcome them.

How three companies took action to drive change

Leaders from Eventbrite, Who Gives a Crap, and Technicolor Film & TV presented how they've taken action on employee feedback. This session was presented using the Ignite format - each presenter had 20 slides that automatically advanced every 15 seconds. David Rider, Director of Product, Action at Culture Amp, shared our philosophy on behavior change.

Day 01 - Closing keynotes

Culture Amp’s journey to Culture First

Golbie Kamarei, Chief People Officer, Culture Amp

Bringing Day one to a close, Golbie provided a transparent and honest look at our growth journey, what being Culture First means to us, and how we're operationalizing this concept.

CPO and CEO creating a roadmap for change

Natasha Kehimkar, Chief People Officer, App Annie and Ted Krantz, CEO, App Annie Damon Klotz, Head of Industry Relations, Culture Amp – Moderator

Natasha and Ted shared how they closely partnered to reset App Annie’s culture after significant organizational changes. Their session provided a roadmap for developing a platform with leadership, revamping your values, and utilizing employee dialog and feedback to keep a pulse on an evolving culture.

Customer Connection Day reception

After a successful first day, customers were treated to an outdoor reception with a fantastic performance from the Homophonics, part of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus.

Day 02

A special treat this year, attendees had the option to participate in Silent Disco Yoga before starting the day's sessions. Breakfast was available, and JD Peterson welcomed the entire community to Culture First, reprising his role as emcee. For all three days, attendees could select Belonging Badges to wear, used to start deeper conversations and embrace all parts of our identities.

Day 02 - Morning keynotes

The Culture First journey

Didier Elzinga, Co-Founder and CEO, Culture Amp

Didier reflected on his journey as CEO of Culture Amp and shared the advantages, tensions, and struggles that come with putting Culture First.

From feedback to action: What’s next in employee engagement

Josh Bersin, Founder, Bersin and Associates

With a stats-packed, educational keynote, Josh shed light on what matters in the current state of employee engagement and the next step in its evolution.

Day 02 - Morning breakout sessions

#nofilter Diversity & Inclusion: How to see through the hype & move towards authenticity

Jen Kim, Founder, Inclusion At Work, and Michelle Kim, CoFounder & CEO, Awaken, have seen it all when it comes to D&I programs: the good, the bad, and the ugly. They share what goes on behind the scenes and, through audience participation, set people on the path to more substantive impact.

Unlocking powerful insights from performance and engagement data

Camilla Britton, Alignment Leader for People, Partnership & Culture, PwC Australia and Paula Matthews, Director Talent Management, Hallmark, joined moderators David Ostberg, Ph.D., Director of People Science, Perform, Culture Amp, and Stacia Garr, Co-Founder and Principal Analyst, RedThread Research for a discussion on using performance and engagement data strategically.

Remote work 2.0: Revolutionizing how distributed teams work together

With Robleh Kirce, Facilitator, LifeLabs Learning, we explored hands-on, practical ways to help companies revolutionize how distributed teams interact, self-regulate, and add to company culture.

Day 02 - Afternoon breakout sessions

Building a D&I strategy with design thinking and co-creation

Katrina Fludd, Senior Diversity and Inclusion Specialist, Princeton University, and Kellie Wagner, Founder and CEO of Collective, provided us with the building blocks to create a custom-built diversity and inclusion strategy, utilizing concepts of design thinking and co-creation.

An inside look at executive-level people and culture conversation

Katelin Holloway, VP of People & Culture, Reddit Maia Josebachvili, Head of People, Stripe Roli Saxena, Independent Director, Culture Amp’s Board of Directors — Moderator

Our panel brought us the inside scoop on modern C-level HR executives. They spoke on how the role has evolved over the years, what the expectations are from the board and the rest of the executive team, and what data they are always keeping their eyes on.

HR’s role in guiding organizational design

Alexis Gonzales-Black, Org Design Practice Lead, August Public, and Michael Gregor, Senior Org Transformation Consultant, August Public, shared their org design toolkit and advice on which org design ideas are worth your time.


In addition to visiting a wide array of food trucks or our fully-loaded salad bar, attendees could join Chloe Sesta Jacobs, Head of People and Culture at Deputy at the Wellbeing Lounge, for a small group discussion on imposter syndrome.

Day 02 - Afternoon keynotes

Harnessing activism as a catalyst for change in the world and workplace

DeRay McKesson, Activist and host of “Pod Save the People,” and Tariq Meyers, Global Head of Belonging, Inclusion and Employee Experience, Coinbase

DeRay's keynote highlighted what it takes to create true change in the face of our biggest diversity and inclusion struggles in the workplace. He clarified the difference behind key terms like equality and equity, diversity and inclusion, and accountability and justice.

Feasting on our future intergenerational potluck

Chip Conley, Author, Founder of Modern Elder Academy

Chip spoke about how age diversity makes companies stronger and called for different generations to mentor each other at work. He shared many illuminating data points, including, "Only 8% of US companies include age as part of their D&I strategy." A group of lucky attendees was also treated to a meet and greet with Chip, including getting a signed copy of his book.

Day 02 - Afternoon breakout sessions cont.

The feedback clinic: Drills to handle difficult situations

Feedback matters for each person at your organization, yet how do we help folks handle these difficult situations skillfully? Vaneeta Sandhu, Facilitator atLifeLabs Learning, shared drills to test and improve feedback skills.

Intersectional diversity hiring: Race, gender and beyond

Kate Glazebrook, CEO and Co-founder of Applied, Shane Lloyd, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant at Cook Ross, and John Marble, Founder of Pivot Neurodiversity, taught us how to approach intersectional diversity hiring. By maturing our talent strategies to focus beyond race and gender, we can broaden our organization’s understanding of what it means to be an employer of choice for diversity.

Resilience and wellbeing: Stress management for individuals and organizations

Resilient people see opportunity before difficulty and want to rise to the challenge and succeed. In today’s fast-paced world, burnout is breaking us. Resilience is a vital differentiator for organizations and individuals thriving in the demanding modern market. Kate Snowise, Executive Coach and Trainer, Thrive.How taught us the newest trends in resilience and workplace stress management.

Day 02 - Closing keynote

Critical collaboration for Culture First organizations

Cleo Wade, Poet, artist, and best-selling author

Cleo discussed the importance of collaboration in creating company cultures that are both healthy and high functioning. In her talk, she delved into what it looks like to collaborate more and what it takes for each of us to be a good collaborator.

Day 02 Reception

The second day of Culture First was brought to a close with an exceptional musical performance by Amber Rubarth. Listen to her full song, Nobody Works Alone, and learn what inspired the lyrics.

Day 03

The energy was still high on the last day of Culture First 2019, and everyone got ready for more great keynotes and educational breakout sessions.

Day 03 - Morning keynotes

What people leaders can learn about workplace dynamics from couples therapy

Esther Perel, Psychotherapist & Host of Where Should We Begin?

Iconic psychotherapist and relationship philosopher Esther Perel engaged us in a conversation on the art of modern leadership. She brought a new perspective to negotiation, managing conflict, building morale, adapting to change, and improving communication for business success.

Create the future of work while you’re living it

Dominic Price, Work Futurist, Atlassian

Dom showed us the five obsolete ways most of us are working - like growing versus scaling - and shared new, essential approaches to growth and retooling.

Day 03 - Morning breakout sessions

The D&I Fishbowl: How to facilitate conversations we’ve never had in the workplace

The D&I Fishbowl is a uniquely structured session created as a container to have difficult and brave conversations about identity. In the past, there was a “wall” between what we talked about at work (e.g. sports and the weather) and what we didn’t talk about at work (e.g. race and politics). But that “wall” is gone and it’s not coming back. Our D&I leaders engaged in conversation the audience, to explore what it means to foster inclusion in a time when it feels like we’re more divided than ever before. One seat on stage was rotated with audience participation.

Our speakers were:

  • Torin Perez, TED Resident, Speaker, Author “Who Am I to Lead?”
  • Karen Fleshman, Esq, Founder, Racy Conversations
  • Matthew Yazzie, Director of Diversity and Inclusion Programs, Women 2.0
  • Rachel Williams, Head of Equity, Inclusion & Diversity Talent Acquisition, X, the moonshot factory — Moderator

How Instacart’s food-centric employer brand elevates employee engagement

Marta Riggins, Director, Employer Brand & Employee Engagement at Instacart, gave us Instacart’s secret sauce - housing Employer Brand and engagement under the Comms umbrella. Marta shared tips and tricks on how to use your employer brand to not only attract top talent but also galvanize your employees.

Applied empathy: The path to a new perspective

Michael Ventura, Founder and CEO of Sub Rosa, Author of Applied Empathy, helped us build our empathy muscles. We were challenged to stretch our understanding of what it takes to embody the perspective of another.

Day 03 - Afternoon breakout sessions

Bringing HUMANITY back into the workplace

Claude Silver, Chief Heart Officer of VaynerMedia, wants us to contribute powerfully to our cultures by bringing humanity back into the workplace. You’ll be inspired to push your company and culture into action. She presented essential elements and methodologies to create strong teams that drive culture forward with a sense of motivation and collective energy.

Chloe Hamman, Director of People Science, Action, Culture Amp, and Kevin Yip, Co-Founder and COO of Blueboard, taught us about the impact wellbeing initiatives have on the employee experience and the five components needed to measure the impact. You can learn more about the concepts in this talk through Culture Amp's guide to employee wellbeing.

Day 03 - Afternooon keynotes

The beloved organization and the future of work

Pamela Abalu & Chinedu Echeruo, Co-Founders, Love & Magic

With a moment of musical inspiration to begin their keynote, Pamela and Chinedu asked us to consider what would happen if organizations were designed to improve the lived experience of other human beings. They introduced the concept of symphony beyond diversity and walked us through the Beloved Organization Model.

The surprising impact of our unconscious bias

Robin Hauser, Director & Producer, Bias Film

Robin explored with us how unconscious biases influence our choices, decisions, and perspectives. With a lens on how collective implicit bias shapes corporate culture, she showed us how to recognize bias in the workplace and how to deal with it.

Day 03 - Afternoon breakout sessions cont.

Lightning talks: Three journeys towards redefining healthy masculinity

To have a holistic approach to diversity and inclusion, it is critical that we address the current state of masculinity. To advance this conversation, we asked three men to share their journeys in confronting the traditional constructs of being a man. Craig Forman, Sr. People Scientist, Culture Amp, James Pratt, VP of People Development, Gravity Payments, Sean Harvey, Chief Compassion Offices and Founder, Symponia Studios, spoke in a lightning talk format moderated by Nico Calvo Rosenstone, Principal and Founder, The Inclusion Practice.

Living your values: Tools to enhance the employee experience

Steph Mann and Anne Foreman, Founding Partners of At Your Core, guided us on institutionalizing company core values across the employee experience, strengthening the culture and the business. Check out their article on how to live your company values across the employee experience for more.

Scaling leadership development in a distributed world

Tom Griffiths, Co-founder and CEO of Hone, provided practical tips and tricks to make leadership training accessible to distributed populations. Distributed teams are our new reality, so we must deliver engaging, live learning experiences that develop essential leadership and people skills.

Closing keynote: The Infinite Game

Simon Sinek, Optimist

Simon treated us to learnings from his soon-to-be-released book “The Infinite Game.” A finite game always has a beginning, middle, and end. In an infinite game, the objective is to stay in it as long as possible. Simon shared why having an infinite mindset is important to culture, and how culture is an infinite game. He ended with a passionate question-and-answer session.

What’s next

Build a world-class employee experience today

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