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The Employee Experience Platform | Culture Amp
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Lyssa test – Culture Amp writer

Lyssa Test

Writer, Culture Amp

Managers are the backbone of every company, acting as the bridge between leadership and the workforce. They are the driving force behind teams, ensuring that day-to-day operations run smoothly and that strategic goals are met. But even the best managers need data and insights to understand the overall health of their teams and identify where the employee experience can be improved.

Armed with the right data and analytics, managers can make informed decisions, instill meaningful change, and steer their teams toward success. Data-driven leadership is no longer an option – it’s a necessity for empowering managers to become exceptional leaders.

At Culture Amp’s Culture First Global, Sam Chisholm, HR Manager Operations & Support at Cotton On, and Ashlee Thackeray, Organizational Development and Innovation Manager at Chobani, shared how their companies align their managers with their people strategy, harness the power of data-driven insights with Culture Amp, and empower managers to drive positive change within their teams. Here’s a brief recap of their conversation and the challenges, solutions, and results each team experienced when they gave managers access to Culture Amp data:

Empowering managers and growing employees at Cotton On

Challenge: Creating a culture that inspires, cares for, and grows employees

For Cotton On, consistency is key. The Australian fashion retailer has had the same people strategy for the last five years: “inspire, care for, and grow our people.” Sam Chisholm said, “That consistency year-on-year has made it quite simple for our leaders to know what our people team stands for and what our expectations of them as leaders are. We have a tendency for wanting to keep things simple or clear so that they’re easy for our leaders and our broader team to grasp.”

While straightforward, this strategy isn’t as simple as it sounds, especially considering the company has three distinct employee populations spread across its main office, retail stores, and distribution centers. Of course, this presents a big challenge for Sam and his team, who have to support the company’s 22,000 employees and ensure managers across all of these locations have the insights they need to lead their teams successfully.

Solution: Use people analytics to identify areas of opportunity and support managers to make changes within their team

The expectations for Cotton On managers can be summed up in one simple motto: people come first. According to Sam, the company is lucky to have managers who genuinely care about their teams and full-heartedly embody the company’s people strategy. That said, managers still need data and guidance to know where they can improve and better serve their employees.

Using Culture Amp’s platform, Cotton On provides managers with the data and insights to make meaningful changes in their teams and improve engagement. This has proved helpful for both new and longtime people leaders.

“We have some high-performing managers who have been with our business for a great period of time who are now getting exposed to data about their team that they’ve never had before,” shared Sam. “It can be a little jarring or confronting at times to look at the data and realize you don’t know what to do or where to go. That’s when the coach’s hat comes on, and you engage with the tools.”

Fortunately, Culture Amp takes the guesswork out of engagement with its intuitive dashboards, comment analysis tools, and more.

Results: Managers understand how they impact team engagement and that micro-moments make a difference

Sam says the company’s first Culture Amp survey was a “lightbulb moment” for people leaders. “Managers were realizing that they’re in control of what engagement truly is. [The survey results] enabled our leaders to understand that engagement is how they show up every day, how they talk to, engage with, and develop their team, and how they interact with one another – or all the micro-moments that make up an individual’s day,” he said. “It helped them understand how we do this or how we might do this differently could impact their team. It’s been a great maturity moment for people to truly feel in control.”

With managers’ eyes open to the power of “micro-moments,” Sam said that many felt newly empowered to improve team engagement themselves – with help from the people team, of course. Instead of having to address an imposing and intangible topic like engagement head-on, the Culture Amp survey gave managers actionable insights into the small, approachable changes they could make to support their teams. “If you look after the little things, the big things take care of themselves,” says Sam.

This mindset shift could even be found amongst the company’s many individual contributors. Because of the survey questions, ICs developed a clearer understanding of what it means to be engaged, helping many realize that engagement is a conscious choice. “Our ICs now understand what it means to be engaged. They can now say, ‘OK, this is what it means to be engaged. This is how I can conduct myself. This is how I can engage with peers and colleagues,’” shares Sam. “This phenomenal mindset change has given such value to our business.”

Helping managers drive culture at Chobani

Challenge: Building processes and ways of supporting the employee experience that scale alongside the business

When American food company Chobani first set foot in Australia in 2012, the company culture was that of a startup: a small, close-knit team focused on agility and rapid growth. Today, just over a decade later, the company has scaled to 300 employees, including an evolving leadership cohort.

However, when Organizational Development and Innovation Manager Ashlee Thackeray first joined the company, Chobani had no reliable employee experience data. By partnering with Culture Amp, Ashlee set out to quickly change that and ensure the Chobani people team could support and equip their managers with the data and resources they need to become better leaders.

“We know that managers are the ones shaping our culture and, therefore, the employee experience. We see them as our very first customer,” she said. “So what does that look like in practice? It means that we take them on the journey first, so we ensure as much as possible they understand the why of the program, that they’re bought in, and when they do that they can champion it and that can resonate and ripple to every team member.”

Solution: Empower managers to be culture owners

For Ashlee, the best part of introducing Culture Amp engagement surveys has been empowering managers to take ownership of their people data and take action on it to become better leaders. “I think the era of people programs being owned by HR is behind us,” she declared. While the team took a hands-on approach to the company’s first Culture Amp survey, they’ve since backed off and put the survey data in managers’ hands. That said, the team still supports managers as needed, giving them everything they need to address survey findings with their teams, like calendar invites and email templates, FAQs, and discussion facilitation guides.

“Before the launch of a new survey, we host manager briefing sessions and get them bought into the story of the ‘why,’ as well as give them access to resources and make sure they know how to use them. But then once we’re in it, they’re running the process,” says Ashlee. “We’re always in the background playing coach, and we’ll step in when we feel there’s value added from us, but we really let them lead. That’s where you get the real magic out of workshops and impressive initiatives that result because of that relationship between the manager and their employees.”

The Chobani team takes a rather unique approach to surveys, giving department heads full access to Culture Amp right after a survey launch. “This is not just a logical thing; it’s a bit of a psychological thing, too. We’re saying, ‘We’re handing this over to you. You don’t need to wait for us to get status reports or know when the survey is complete. You own this process,” she said.

Results: Managers are taking ownership of their team’s engagement results and identifying small, impactful changes they can make – and they are eager to gain more feedback

While Ashlee says the company is still refining its employee listening strategy, the first few Culture Amp surveys have been a huge success. “Our Culture Amp surveys gave us a pulse on where we need to dive deeper, and from there, we started to introduce more touch points along the employee lifecycle. Now, we’re looking at things like onboarding and exit feedback more maturely than we had before and introducing other additional feedback mechanisms,” she said.

Similar to Cotton On, Ashlee says Chobani managers have a new understanding of how they shape engagement on their teams via “micro-moments.” For example, one Chobani team saw immediate improvement following a change brought about by an engagement survey. The team noticed it scored lower than average on employee wellbeing because the team was commonly sending emails outside of business hours. Simply reminding employees to schedule their emails to be sent in the morning rather than after hours helped create a big mindset shift on the team and drastically improve work-life balance. “What that meant for that team, even in the pulse check, was this real lift in their positive wellbeing for something so arguably minute, yet so impactful,” shared Ashlee. “I love those micro-wins that you can have through those discussions.”

Get even more organizational insights at the next Culture First Global

Culture Amp’s Culture First Global 2023 conference is over, but you can still relive the magic from this year’s event and get all the juicy insights and actionable best practices from leading HR and people professionals. Check out all of the sessions now available on demand (including Cotton On and Chobani’s!) and secure your spot for our 2024 event series.

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