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Didier Elzinga

Founder & CEO, Culture Amp


Not long ago, I was talking with the CEO of a well-known Fortune 500 firm who was struggling with the idea of bringing Culture First into his traditional and relatively conservative organization.

“Think about it,” I said to him. “You simply don’t get to be a 10,000-person company without being great at something.”

We talked about the fact that at some stage, every large organization – his included – had a mission to change the world. “There’s a core set of beliefs, some story, that drives your organization forward,” I said. “And finding them is the first step to becoming a Culture First company.”

No matter the age or size of your company, a strong connection to your beliefs and purpose is a critical building block for a Culture First organization. I’ve found that asking the following three questions can help to unlock what’s truly unique about your company’s culture:

Question 1: What do we, as a company, believe that others don’t?

One of my personal favorite answers to this question comes from SpaceX, who say: “We believe that humans should be an interplanetary species.”

This single sentence separates their organization from all their competitors in space exploration and rocket building. They see a future that other people are might not see.

In the same way, when Airbnb said, “We believe you should feel at home anywhere in the world,” they challenged the notion that travel meant generic hotel rooms or crowded hostels. It suggested that strangers are friends you haven’t met yet. Airbnb has more recently distilled that core value even further: “We believe in humanity.” It’s a campaign of hope in a hostile world. Open your home to a stranger and you won’t regret it.  

Dig deep. What is it that you and your organization believe that others don’t? Maybe it’s a gap in the market, a different way of doing business or a new way to meet unmet needs. Start with the words “We believe” and go a little crazy.

For us at Culture Amp, we believe that people analytics should be accessible to everyone. We believe deeply in the power of Culture First organizations. For us to deliver a Culture First world of work, we need make it easy for everyone to access people analytics. This single belief infuses every part of our business, from how we hire, to how we design our product and go-to-market.

Question 2: What promise are we making to our customer?

At Culture Amp we are constantly innovating to create a better survey analytics platform. But what we’re really focused on is creating better end-users. Our users will be given the tools, capabilities, and confidence to ask the right questions and make better decisions to put culture first.

Fundamentally, we promise to create a better People Geek.

What about you? What promise are you making that will bring your customer to believe what you believe? What does your brand say about your product and how will you make your customers’ lives better? How are you going to make the customer themselves better?

To resonate with your customers (and your people), your brand promise has to be definable, authentic and credible.

Question 3: How will we deliver the promise?

If brand is a promise to your customer, culture is how you deliver that promise.

Your culture is essentially your values, and your values, when they’re done well, are an articulation of what your organization stands for. They are what you are willing to hurt for.  I don’t mean physical pain, but what’s worth, say, losing sleep over, foregoing time with family, or accepting less money than you could earn somewhere else? To put it more viscerally, what will you bleed for?

Culture Amp’s values drive how we do things to deliver on our promise of creating a better People Geek:

  • Learn faster through feedback – create that feedback loop and learn from it.
  • Have the courage to be vulnerable – there may be feedback that you don’t want to hear, let alone share with others. Having the courage to be vulnerable is critical to growth. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable and we create a safe space for that.
  • Trust people to make decisions –  computers and technology can provide insight, but humans make decisions.  

These three questions are the first step to rediscovering your cultural DNA

An honest answer to these three questions will help you rediscover your company’s cultural DNA.

Once you have an understanding of this foundation, there’s still plenty of work required to bring culture to the fore. But for many of the large organizations we work with, the most powerful phase is reconnecting to what really matters. Dig deep, be vulnerable and go crazy.

What’s next

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