Scaling the employee experience at Asana, with Anna Binder
In this episode, Damon sits down with Anna Binder from Asana to talk about the journey she’s been on as she’s scaled Asana. As the newest board member of Culture Amp, Anna built a culture powered by clarity, co-creation and inclusion and shares what she learned from her role at Asana and talk about what’s next for people leaders in 2022.
Anna Binder serves as Asana’s Head of People Operations, a role she has held since May 2016. During her time at Asana, both Inc. Magazine and Fortune named Asana as a Best Workplace for four years in a row, and the company has been named a Best Place to Work in 2021 by Glassdoor. Prior to joining Asana, Anna was MuleSoft Inc.’s VP of People.
Damon also officially welcomes Anna to the Culture Amp team as she takes on the role as a newly appointed member of the Board of Directors.
DAMON KLOTZ: All right well today, on the Culture First podcast, I'm joined by Anna Binder of Asana. I thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today.
ANNA BINDER: Damon, it's great to be here.
DAMON KLOTZ: So to start, I always liked to learn a little bit more about the person even though I know a little bit about you. Met a few times. But I think maybe it would be good for our audience to have the same context. So if I really knew you, what would I know?
ANNA BINDER: Well, if you really knew me. You’d know, I have an amazing thirteen year old daughter who teaches me a lot of stuff every day. You'd know that I love my job out loud. You'd know that, Um. I'm originally from Austria. my mom's actually from Germany. My father's from Austria. I have family all over the world, and I'm an aspiring cyclist. Uh, I'd like to get a little bit better each time, but mostly I'm just out there enjoying nature and enjoying the exercise.
DAMON KLOTZ: I think uh, doing things for enjoyment is a great way to get really good at them as well.
ANNA BINDER: Yeah, I agree.
DAMON KLOTZ: So I think you've got a good strategy there. Um, So the next one that I want to ask is a little bit more. I guess corporate focused, butI will frame it with the lens of Something we have in common is that we're both trained as a conscious in the conscious leadership framework, which I think is really exciting. Um,
ANNA BINDER: Sure
DAMON KLOTZ: I've been through that training and everyone at Asana goes through it, which is amazing. So uh, one of the terms in conscious leadership is this idea of a ▁zone of genius.
ANNA BINDER: Yep.
DAMON KLOTZ: So how do you describe your genius,
ANNA BINDER: Oh, That brings up all sorts of impostor syndrome, doesn't it? It's such a big words, genius.
ANNA BINDER: Um, I think that I, you know, always try to think about my professional life, my personal life. One thing that's true across both is that I'm the chief enthusiasm officer. You know whether it's a new idea or a problem or a down day, I'm I'm not, um. I'm not a glass half full person. I'm a glass water runneth over person, so I'm really able to Um. and I, I think part of that is keeping the bigger picture, Um, in context and in mind, but part of it is also just like the way that I like to live my life.And bringing enthusiasm even to the hard moments.
DAMON KLOTZ: I love that and I think more than ever we need optimists and we need our people with enthusiasm, because you know we've all been working through some challenging times. So, my genius- the way I just sort of describe it as seeing huge amounts of different connection points or data and then finding how they can all kind of fit together. Turning them into a story that nearly anyone can resonate with, understand and get excited about.
DAMON KLOTZ: So I'm hoping I can do some of that with the podcast day with a bunch of different themes that we are going to speak about. But before we get to our big announcement, before we get to some of the exciting things we are going to be speaking about. My final question is imagine this, a messed up curious ten year old wanders up to you on the streets of San Francisco. Right, so, with six feet of distance obviously, they say to you “Excuse me, Anna”, and I don't know how they know your name. Maybe you're wearing a name badge. Excuse me, “What do you do for work?” How did you answer?
ANNA BINDER: Damon, that is a hard question. Um, what do I do for work? I help other people achieve their own mission both by working at Asana because that's the mission of Asana, but also um, on a very deeply personal level, right like, I think of part of my work as the the head of people at Asana is to to make sure that people people are, have the space to do their best work and show up as their best selves and move things forward in support of our mission. So those are a lot of words for a ten year old, so again, I like to help others be their best.
DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah, which I think, a ten year old. I. I pick that answer as that age for a specific reason, cause I, my youngest brother, is significantly younger than me. He only just turned eighteen and when he was around that age, he asked some most fascinating questions. How does this work? What do you do? So I always think this is an interesting age and just trying to get it down to like, I want to help people do great work. And that means, and I think, the other way that I've heard you describe what you do is that you happen to be a business professional who focuses on the people function.
ANNA BINDER: Correct.
DAMON KLOTZ: Why is that an important distinction?
ANNA BINDER: I could talk about this question for an hour, but let me say, I believe at the core that the investments that you make in culture in designing it and building it in iterating on it, improving it, scratching the bugs. All of that can help you move your business forward.
ANNA BINDER: I think that there's kind of like three categories of CEOs and or founders, And they, you know, some think, hey, I'll focus on all that culture stuff once I get products market fit, or once I hit my revenue numbers. Or you know like, I'll do that later. There’s another set that'll say. You know what? I'm not A. It's not a one-two punch. We can do both. We can put some energy into the business and we can put some energy into the culture. But what I really believe, and what makes Asana such a great place for me is that you know that the hour of time you invest in your culture and connecting people to your values and your mission. That it's exactly that hour that's going to allow you to get products market fit. Going to allow you to reach more customers to solve the big hairy problem. Whether it is on the product side or the accounting side- It's a false trade off to think that it is one or the other. So when I think about my work, I'll focus on people and culture. I'm not here because I want to win an award for culture. I'm here and I focus on this because I deeply believe that it's this energy that is going to allow us to be successful. People used to say you're an Hr person. What are you doing going to business school? And you know my answer to that is every HR person should have business fundamentals. That's what we're doing here. We're helping run businesses.
DAMON KLOTZ: I couldn't agree more. which is a great segway into out our next section, which is a big announcement. One of the things that businesses need is a board of directors, So I might let you make the announcement. Would you like to make the announcement?
ANNA BINDER: Sure, I'm thrilled to share that I am joining the board of directors of Culture Amp, a company that I believe in, that I value, and that I'm connected with. I'm thrilled and honored to be part of the journey.
DAMON KLOTZ: So you know, maybe let's go back to the start because when you had that first interaction with Culture Amp, you probably never thought. maybe I'll be on on the board. But what was that first moment of interacting with Culture Amp, either as a product or a company?
ANNA BINDER: There's a couple different memory touch points that I have when I think back on it. T first was really as a so not as a chiefeable officer, but just like in there as a human who cared about what was going on in the company and we were making a transition from a product they will not name, but another product that was focused. I had all had similar offerings, and as we were making the shift to the culture I am, there's a few things that struck me. And the main thing was that I felt like the product was designed to help me use it. Uh, which sounds seem simple, right like. That's what products should be designed for. But a lot of products in the HR space. I feel like the people who are building must hate Hr people because they're so hard to use and they make me feel like a second class citizen and they make me feel like. Oh, that's not an area I need to invest in, But making that shift of culture happen and not needing you know a thick manual and just having to be able to get to the information. I need to do my job in in a very intuitive in an intelligent way. A lot of times when you're looking at the data and culture it's very uncomfortable to look at. Nobody looks at the good stuff. You always look at the bad stuff that you need to improve on which is uncomfortable and to be able to have a product that really at its core is designed to delight me. That made me feel seen and it made it made me feel like a user that was valued at the core, and everything that I believed in was believed in by the people who created that product.
ANNA BINDER: The second memory that I have is probably when you and I first met at one of the amazing gatherings that CultureAmp puts together at the Culture First conference. And it didn't feel like a sales conference. It didn't feel like a user conference. It felt like I was in a room filled with hundreds of people who believed what I believe, which is that this investment in culture is exactly what's going to drive your business forward.
DAMON KLOTZ: I couldn't have asked for two better examples because they speak to me really personally. One, because I've been heavily involved in our community and Culture First. You know event programming for a long time as a HR practitioner, I wanted to create the community and the event experiences. I was looking for inspiration. I wanted to be in those rooms and I couldn't find them in Australia when I was starting out of my career, so that really speaks to me. The first one that you shared speaks to me because it's similar to a lot of stories that I've heard that Culture Amp help has really helped people be seen inside of their organizations, but it helped them get promotions. That helped them increase their budget. It helped them increase their team. Someone's even mentioned before that working with Culture Amp has always felt like an extra member of their team, which has always been mine blowing to create.. So thank you for sharing those memories.
DAMON KLOTZ: Can you recall the moment when Didier reached out to you to ask?
ANNA BINDER: You make it sound like it was this moment, it really wasn't like that at all. He and I got connected and it was very natural you know. When I saw his email, his name. I was like Oh, this is one of my people. know and quickly prioritize the conversation cause I knew that we would have so much to talk about and that we would both really enjoy it. We got on the phone quite quickly and we were talking about all of it. Like company building at this level of scale. How do you, what do you do in a search for Head of people? What might you need at different phases of the company? Like me, and many of us are always looking to learn from other people who are like one year or two years ahead, so that we can maybe avoid some of those same mistakes. And of course we were able to connect. I have Culture Amp as a tab open on my browser all the time, so I grabbed the opportunity to ask some questions and make some friendly recommendations and requests on what I wanted to see, And so it just was a very fluid, enthusiastic conversation. And then at the end of the conversation we were wrapping up and we were way over and we both sort of wanted it to close by saying Hey, Is there any way we could continue this? Continue the conversation and continue the collaboration. Continue working together and the board opportunity and the need on the board for someone of my profile. It was just perfect timing.
DAMON KLOTZ: And what does it mean to join a board for you personally?
ANNA BINDER: Yeah, it's really important. So, and I'll give you the three natural answers that are very powerful and come from inside me. And then I'll give you a personal reason. The first of all, Culture Amp is one of very, very few, if not the only product, that I am not only the buyer for, I sign the check, I sign the PO as the chief year four, right? Like I signed the check, I signed the PO as the chief people officer for my company, but I'm also a power user. Right? Like that Venn diagram is pretty unique. Right?
DAMON KLOTZ: Right.
ANNA BINDER: And so I feel like I'm uniquely suited to add some value there. The second thing is just the values alignment. There's so many similarities between the way that we think about things at [Asana] and the way that Culture Amp thinks about things, the mission orientation, the connecting people to the mission, the doing the right thing, the fundamentals of conscious leadership, like all of those things. So it felt like a second home almost, or maybe we'll call it a third home. And then the third thing is the piece that I talked about, right? Like Asana has been on a journey, very similar to what Culture Amp is going through.
ANNA BINDER: And it's like the opposite of wasteful. It's good leverage to be able to let me share some of the things that I did wrong and that we did wrong so that somebody else can not do them. That might be a negative way. So also share the things that we did right. Yeah. And then just on a personal note, five, almost six years in, at Asana, I'm planning on many, many more years there. Like I said earlier, I love it out loud, but it's a big job. It's like a big operating role. And so there was really only an opportunity to... And serving on a board of directors is also a lot of work, right? It's not just like sitting on a board of directors, you serve and you are active and you've got a lot of work to do. So there was only room for one. And honestly, I feel like I hit the jackpot.
ANNA BINDER: I can't imagine a better fit for me. And then, I know I said that was the last thing. I'll say one more thing. It's a new day as it relates to diversity on boards of directors. And for many, this is a really obvious thing, right? Like we invested in this fairly early at Asana and Didier looked at it also early, but for others, it's not as natural or obvious, that diversifying your board of directors helps you with your business and will drive better business outcomes. So I know from my own personal experience that other women who are serving on boards have recommended me, have been helpful to me. And now I get the opportunity to do that myself for others. And that's really important to me.
DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah. I love that you shared that. I know Didier speaks very openly about paying down the diversity data at Culture Amp by starting with four straight white male founders. I think he even extends it and says straight white male brunette IT founders. And I joined Culture Amp when we had 13 employees and I joined as a straight white male. So I understand that we have to make those changes. And also like, what's really exciting is like you said, you get to open doors for other women who want to be on boards and be able to open up that opportunity as well. So let's keep on that sort of board public listed kind of company train with the Long-term Stock Exchange. I think it's something that's really fascinating to touch on. I'm personally a really big believer in companies using their platforms, their resources, and products to create a better world.
DAMON KLOTZ: I think we all have an opportunity to actually leverage whatever we have access to, to create a better world, not just a better world of work. And I know that Asana was recently announced that it's going to join the Long-term Stock Exchange. And for those who don't know what the Long-term Stock Exchange is, it's a new exchange. It's a principles based listing with standards that require list of companies that detail and publish policies on their website that offers stakeholders insight into how the company actually builds its business for the longterm. And why I wanted to touch on this because I believe that this is very much in alignment to building a culture first company, really thinking about the legacy of the company and how you actually build a company. So can you share about like why this is so important to Asana and why you were one of the first companies to join?
ANNA BINDER: I love talking about this and it really is an important milestone for us. So why is very simple, right? Like the values, the purpose, the intention of Asana and everything that the Long-term Stock Exchange is about are completely aligned. And being able to list. And we're also... It's not the only place that we're listed, right? We're also listed on NYSC, but listing on the Long-term Stock Exchange allows us an opportunity to publicly commit to delivering on our long-term value, right? And that's an opportunity to signal, right? It's a signal thing obviously to investors, and I hope all of you that are listening to this right now, our investors, I'm working very hard to make your investment valuable. But it allows us to signal to investors, but it also allows us to signal to customers and to employees and to alumni. You and I have chatted offline about language matters. Well, signals like this matter.
ANNA BINDER: And it's not one, it's like a hundred small things that sends the message about who you are and what you're committed to. And my favorite story about the Long-term Stock Exchange is going back to 2016, when I was interviewing with Dustin Moskovitz, the CEO of Asana, she talked about the Long-term Stock Exchange. And at that point, the LTSC was like a website, right? Like it was a website like coming soon and give us a decade or so. And Dustin could speak with conviction and clarity and confidence that this was in our future, that we were going to do this. And we were a hundred people at the time, maybe 75, right? We had so many mountains to climb before that might be, but that says something about Dustin, right? Like he recognizes that some of the things that are most worth doing are really hard and taking a long, long time. And to lead an organization through with that conviction, it's attractive. Like those are the types of leaders that you want to follow. So it was really a powerful moment for us.
DAMON KLOTZ: Let's double click on that relationship with Dustin because I think it's one of the things that I think a lot of chief people officers would always love to have is a really strong relationship with their CEO. You know, a CEO who believes in culture first, the CEO who wants to invest in something like Culture Amp and see the data. So obviously when you were interviewing, it sounds like you got some of those really good signals early on about what he was going to be like as a CEO. But I wonder how has your relationship changed over the last sort of six years?
ANNA BINDER: That's a great question. So I'll tell a fun story from the first meeting with him. And then hopefully as I'm telling him that, I'll remember some others. [inaudible]. I was actually on a proactive job search at the time. It was early 2016. I am a very criteria based decision maker. I had a spreadsheet. I had my criteria. I reached out to everyone that I knew. I shared with them my criteria. And I asked them to introduce me to people that they thought might be a good match for me. And really early on, Matt Kohler actually from our board who I knew from another life introduced me to Dustin. And I had a good conversation with him, really like grounded in like what are the... It's a nice concept that culture drives business, but give me some examples of like stuff that you would do to actually move it forward.
ANNA BINDER: And we talked about things like compensation and communications and systems like the HRS and how all of that adds up. And I still remember that night, he sent me an email and he was very specific, like, "Nice rapport, enjoyed the conversation, but you said two things." He's like, "We disagreed on this one point and I've thought about it some more. And I think you might be right because I think X, Y, and Z." And so they were a couple of paragraphs on that. And then he closed with, but there was this other thing that I really disagreed with and I want to try to make my point. He already made it. And I still remember, I forwarded that email to my husband and he came and visited me across the hall in our house and kind of patted me on the head and said, "You know, your spreadsheet is really cute grasshopper, but you're going to go work for that guy. That's your guy."
ANNA BINDER: And I was like, "No, I have a process." And he was totally right. He was totally right. In terms of how that relationship has evolved, I think the jobs that we are doing and not just Dustin and I, but all of us that are at Asana that were there six years ago, those jobs have changed 10 times over. And it's not just in terms of size and scale, but the problems that we're solving and the way that you communicate in a company of 100 versus 1,500, on its way too many more. So the relationship and the job is a lot around being very open and embracing and seeking that change. And what's going on around the corner and what are the things that I used to be so attached to, these things that I built that were so precious and so valuable that I need to be the one that stands up and tosses them out.
ANNA BINDER: The last thing I'll just say about Dustin is I can get pretty... He and I are very different people. He's an introvert. I'm not, I can get very animated. I can get very enthusiastic. I can get very convicted on principle. And he often asks me the question. "Well, like it seems like you feel really strongly about this Anna. How could the opposite of your story be true? Which is obviously a tool as part of leading consciously." And it always stops me in my tracks. And it's a powerful question to like... The one-on-one can actually end right there because I'm like, okay, I need to go do that work. I'll make a list. And so, that's powerful for me.
DAMON KLOTZ: Part of you must be like, oh, like I love that you understand this and use this. But like, oh, it's so frustrating. Why can't you just take my first answer? But then you're like, no, you get it because like this is what happens when you truly embed something inside of a company. Is that like, it's always there and it's a part of your operating system.
ANNA BINDER: Yep.
DAMON KLOTZ: The other thing that I think is really useful for anyone who's listening or watching who is job searching, which I know a lot of people. There's a lot of jobs on the market right now, is look for signals. There was three signals that I heard you talk about. One was the fact that he talked about the Long-term Stock Exchange at the very start. So it was something that he believed in. The second one was conviction.
DAMON KLOTZ: So he said that he's like I strongly believe in this. And I'm going to tell you why I believe in this. And the other one was willing to change his mind. So he said, "Actually, you might be wrong. Sorry, you might be right. And I'm willing to see how you're right." And they're really important signals to look for when you're looking for a great leader to work with.
ANNA BINDER: That's right.
DAMON KLOTZ: So let's switch gears to talk about a different CEO. So I know that one of the reasons I know Didier, the CEO of Culture Amp and the rest of us here at Culture Amp were excited to have you joined us is because like you said, you're a few steps ahead of us at Asana in terms of your headcount, your growth, your ARR. And I think we have a lot to learn from you as we continue on our path. Do you have any tips for anyone who's a people leader, even the team lead about some of the things you've witnessed during that time through that tremendous growth and change?
ANNA BINDER: Yeah. So one of my favorite Asana values is rejecting false trade-offs and I think it's sometimes hard to grok, but I think that once it comes alive for you, it's everywhere. And one of the places that I think about it is in terms of career growth. One of the beautiful things about working for a company that's growing as fast as Asana or Culture Amp is that growth and that success, it rises all boats. It creates opportunities for everyone. And a lot of times that means that individuals have either increased scope in their responsibilities or different components are added or maybe they build a team or whatever it is. And then that obviously, the company grows and you grow through it. But sometimes the most effective and fastest way to grow personally in your career is to get layered, is to have for somebody to come in and hire a manager or another layer above you.
ANNA BINDER: And that's really counterintuitive, right? Because your ego doesn't feel good because you feel like you got passed over. You had your eye on that. You feel like there's all kinds of loss. You lose access or visibility. But the truth is that sometimes having someone who has been there done that and done your job, or the next job, a few times at other companies that can come in and coach you and develop you in a more hands-on fashion than your previous more senior manager could can be like a leapfrog in your career. And that's not always obvious to folks. The corollary, the second piece of that is... because you asked specifically about team leads is... We got this question all the time and sometimes still do in Asana of like, well, are we going to hire experts in from outside? Or do we like believe in our people and are we going to promote from within?
ANNA BINDER: And again, that is a false trade-off because if I'm a team lead, I think that the best thing that I can do for the team, for the business, for the function, for the growth is to have a mix because we learn in different ways, right? Like sometimes we learn on the job. Sometimes we learn through coaching or mentoring. Sometimes we learn through like traditional methodologies, like a class, but a lot of times we learn by being side by side and in the room discussing a problem with somebody who's been there and done that before. So not only sometimes it's helpful to be layered, but also if your boss is somebody who takes that half and half approach of like some from the outside and some promoting from within, I think that's a powerful way to serve everyone.
DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah. I think it's critical because you got to keep those earlier employees kind of happy and growing and developing and changing, so that they feel like they're still part of the story, but also you need fresh ideas and different types of talent and diversity of experience and thought and background as well. And the first one that you shared, like I highly encourage anyone to really think about that and think about like... Because it happened to me and I had to check ego like early on in Culture Amp. In January of 2016, we were adding like the fourth member to the marketing team. And I just assumed that like I've been here. So like everyone else who comes after me is just below me. And that's how the... Now, of course it doesn't work like that.
DAMON KLOTZ: He's just below me. And no, of course, it doesn't work like that. And I didn't know that this person was going to be above me. And then it was only after they were hired that I spoke to the founder who was working directly with our marketing.
And I was like, "Oh, so like, where would this person be?" He's like, "Oh, well, she'll be here and you'll be here." And I was like, "Oh, interesting." And I was like, "Okay, ego, cheer, check, check."
DAMON KLOTZ: And then honestly, it was the best thing that ever happened to my career at Culture Amp, because she came in with a different set of skills. She came in with things that I really didn't enjoy doing, that she loved doing. We partnered side by side and that's actually how the Culture First event series came to be, is I got to focus on content and be the head of community and focus on the story telling.
DAMON KLOTZ: And she got to focus on the experience design and the operations and running that. And I'm like that event wouldn't exist if my ego got in the way or if I wanted to get all angry about it. Not that I get angry at work, but that's what our inner story tells us to do sometimes.
ANNA BINDER: A hundred percent. This question is so big in terms of what we learned over scale, but I want to highlight one other thing. Which is, people don't always love this part of my opinion, but I actually think if you think about the different phases of a company, there is the true early startup phase. Can you get products, market fit, which I think is so hard. It's like getting a pig to fly, right? It's very high risk. Every month there's a moment or five moments of "Oh my gosh, is this actually going to work? Or are we going to completely fail?" That early high risk phase and everyone's a part of every decision.
ANNA BINDER: Then there's the growth phases and there are many phases of this. If you're a baseball person, you might say there's nine innings. Whatever your sport of choice, but it's a long section.
ANNA BINDER: And then the third is more steady state, larger, bigger, less volatile. The ship-
DAMON KLOTZ: Slower.
ANNA BINDER: It's harder to move, slower. I actually believe that most people have a sweet spot that is one of those three. I think that there are some people that can span two of them. I've actually not met very many people, ever, that can do all three, maybe Mark Zuckerberg. He went from dorm room to multi-build, but the threat number is pretty small.
ANNA BINDER: And I think it's important to know who you are and where you fit in there. And if it means that the company has gotten to a place where you are no longer happy or it's not in your sweet spot, you know what? That's okay.
ANNA BINDER: And the company's going to be successful because it's filled with employees who are deeply committed to the mission and the work and are enjoying it. And so I also think as you go through that hyper growth, the attrition, the rate may go up, but really the raw numbers are definitely going to go up because your denominator is larger.
ANNA BINDER: And I think it's painful to get okay with that. And I'm a big fan of goodbye parties and celebrating people's contributions and turning them into active alumni who then bring Asana or bring Culture Amp to their next employer, because these are extremely valuable knowledge worker tools that can continue.
DAMON KLOTZ: I couldn't agree more. I think one of the things that really excites me as well, it's sad when, I've been at Culture Amp six and a half years, some of my closest friends have left the company over their time. And part of me is like, "Oh, I don't get a chance to work with you anymore?"
DAMON KLOTZ: The other part of me so excited that they get to bring a Culture First approach to a new organization and to a new team, and to share those things. And I love seeing them succeed in new places. So could not agree more.
DAMON KLOTZ: When it comes to employee experience, obviously we've been talking about growing companies and scaling companies and the role of the people function within that. Rightly or wrongly, the workplace can have a significant impact on who we are. And one of the ways that can play out is the impact of the workplace on our wellbeing and our mental health.
DAMON KLOTZ: And I think obviously this was a topic that was important two years ago. It's even more important considering the environment that we find ourself operating in globally. So when it comes to designing the employee experience at Asana, how do you incorporate wellbeing and mental health into it?
ANNA BINDER: Yeah. So this is a topic near and dear to my heart. And this is one of the silver linings of the pandemic, I think, is that it made it okay, and actually required and normal to be talking about mental health. Whether it's in my daughter's day school or at executive team meetings across the globe.
ANNA BINDER: I'll mention four things that are the way that I think about it, and the way we talk about it at Asana. The first is the work rest or work play fractal. And this is what I think is a more modern version of the work life balance, which, I think is an impossible concept of any given day that you want to feel this beautiful balance between all these components of your life.
ANNA BINDER: I don't believe in that. When I look back on a month or a year or on a decade, I want to make sure that that's happened. But on any given day, it's completely lopsided. So I love this more modern version, which essentially says when you're working, whether it's in a meeting, on a podcast or for a whole day, focus on your work, get yourself into the flow, get yourself into that zone of being super productive and eliminating notifications and really doing the thing.
ANNA BINDER: And when you're in rest or you're in play, be fully in rest and play. So, I encourage people take the Asana app off their phones on the weekend and a hundred percent during their vacations. Stop it. If it's truly a life and death emergency, I'll find you, but come on, we're working on enterprise software. There's not going to be that level of an-
DAMON KLOTZ: No ones saving lives here.
ANNA BINDER: Yeah. So really encouraging people that there's no badge of honor to be... Sometimes I work on a Sunday afternoon, but nobody needs a badge of honor to respond to my things on stuff. It just happens to be at a convenient time for me to do it because I want to take all of Monday off to be with my child. Whatever it is, but really that work play fractal. So that's number one.
ANNA BINDER: Number two, and this is a very tactical, small thing. Check in with people and use the right language. Don't ask people at the beginning of a one-on-one before you dive into the work or the goals or the working sessions say, "Damon, how are you feeling today?" That is a very different question. And it solicits a different response than, "Hey, how are you doing?"
ANNA BINDER: It's very, very different. How are you feeling today? Feeling is a different thing than doing. Today bounds it around... I'm not asking you to talk about your childhood, I'm checking in with you right now here. So, that's number two. We really try to teach everyone to do that.
ANNA BINDER: And then the third thing is, I just personally believe that mental health is human health. And if you break your leg and you've got a cast on, that's going to inhibit your ability to move around. If you're struggling with mental health, that's going to inhibit your ability to navigate the world.
ANNA BINDER: And so there's two things around that that I try to elevate. The first day is we offer all of our employees supplemental mental health benefits through Modern Health because the major carriers which provide fantastic healthcare benefits across a whole bunch of other physical elements, don't have great mental health offering. So we offer a supplement there and we really promote it and the usage is high and we make it a thing.
ANNA BINDER: And the last thing around it is that, we do company AMAs, ask me anythings, where the leadership team is available to ask questions. And we make sure that one of the questions that we ask every time is "How are you feeling? How are you feeling today?" And so if we can model speaking openly about the challenges that any one of us might be having. It's a pandemic, so there are good days and bad moments. Just being open and talking about that, I think helps.
DAMON KLOTZ: Definitely. And there was something that you shared earlier about an hour spent on focusing on your culture and how you work makes the rest of it easier. And that's how you get things done. My personal belief is that any hour spent on your mental health or any aspect of wellbeing that's important to you, makes the rest of your working hours or even just your living hours easier and better.
DAMON KLOTZ: So I love that you normalize that inside of Asana and that you have really specific frameworks and questions that people should be asking, because as we'll speak about a little bit later, language matters.
DAMON KLOTZ: But you're joining Culture Amp as our board member and obviously Culture Amp is a product, but you also think about culture as a product, which I think is really fascinating.
ANNA BINDER: I do.
DAMON KLOTZ: And yeah, I love that you think that way. I think one of the way my marketing HR brain kind of works from time to time is that we need to think about the products that we launch for our people as actual products with enablement and launches and marketing and campaigns and logos and things like that. So I'd love to hear you talk about your framework that you have for culture as a product because I think people could learn a lot from it.
ANNA BINDER: Great. I love that. You're speaking my language when you say it that way. So I've actually not spent a lot of time building software products but I've modeled the way that we think about it and that the process by which we do it after that.
ANNA BINDER: So starting with the intentions, and this is very much we try to be rooted in human centered design. So what are the outcomes? How do we want people to feel? What do we want people to benefit from? How do we want people to use it? What are the outcomes that we're looking for? And really going through a process to get crystal clear so that it's not the amorphous thing. And then build and implement it.
ANNA BINDER: And like you said, depending on what it is, you may do pilots of it, or you may do, a V one of it. You definitely think about marketing it and enabling around it and creating language and lore around it. So that the there's a there's adoption and there's embracing of it.
ANNA BINDER: And then you see what happens. Are people using it? Are people liking it? I talk a lot about getting feedback, both quantitatively and qualitatively. And this is where we engage deeply with Culture Amp to really look at the results. And, when we launch something, we often say, "What are the questions in Culture Amp that are going to tell us if this is working?"
ANNA BINDER: So before we even launch it, we know which questions, either that exist on our regular surveys or that we're going to add. So that's like part of our process. But that's not enough. I want my team to go out into the wild and observe and talk to people, watch how they're using it, get that qualitative feedback. And then the next step is really going back to software. We find bugs, we find things that aren't working. We find unintended consequences. Sometimes those are little, sometimes those are large, and there's always many of them. Then the first time around, there's always many of them. And then we prioritize and we say, "Well, these are the most important bugs that we need to fix."
ANNA BINDER: And in our iteration, we choose those and do that. And then we do it over and over and over and over and over and over again. Eventually the bugs might become so small where we're like, "You know what, we're just going to put this product in maintenance mode. That's okay."
ANNA BINDER: But there's a couple important things around that. The first is you need to have thirst or desire, happiness around that iteration process. You need to have people that you are working with both on the HR team and our partners in the business, employees that are excited about and bought into that.
ANNA BINDER: You also need to have some thick skin because putting yourself out there means that you're inviting yourself to get feedback. You got to be okay with things not being great. And not only is that getting that feedback, it makes you better at your job. It makes the company stronger. It makes the culture stronger. And just having the fortitude of it's not one and done, we're on a journey, especially at this growth rate.
DAMON KLOTZ: It's so funny, you said "one and done," because literally I was just thinking of my little one liner about that. I was like, "Yeah, we are not NBA prodigies. This is not a one and done, this is no, we put it out there. Did it work? Did it not?"
DAMON KLOTZ: And in the same way, there might be something that takes like 5% of a tweak to actually get it to a hundred percent market penetration. So if you can't log into a piece of software, you're not ever going to get adoption. So is there a login issue with our people products? Is there something that is so fundamental, that's stopping anyone from getting benefit from these things, that we need to focus on, as opposed to saying, did we call it the right name? Did we run enough sessions about it? It's like, no, what is the thing that stops someone from even getting into it in the first place?
DAMON KLOTZ: I wanted to sort of touch on two last topics. We're going to do a little bit of forward planning for 2022 to inspire anyone who's listening. But before we get there, something I'm really passionate about, and that you're a really passionate about is why words matter.
DAMON KLOTZ: I consider myself a storyteller. I consider myself part marketing, part HR and humans are pretty complex people. We understand things in different ways. And I really feel communication and behavior change is so critical inside of companies. And I bring that up because I think a lot of what makes a company successful is at scales is knowing how to communicate what's changing to employees, and why they need to change at exactly the right time. And to me, that's why words matter. And I know this is an important phrase to you. So why do words matter so much when it comes to your company culture?
ANNA BINDER: It's a really interesting and difficult question. And I feel like there's a part of me that you're asking a fish how I breathe underwater. It's become so core to who we are to be intentional about language.
ANNA BINDER: So the first thing I guess I'll start with is that one of our core values is mindfulness. And this does not mean that we practice meditation together every day. In fact, we don't do that at all. What it does mean is that we are committed to being intentional. We are committed to outlining what are the top 10 objectives for the company this year and doing the work to articulate what are the ones that we are actually.
ANNA BINDER: ... what are the ones that we are actually deliberately deprioritizing. And this goes to the if everything is important, nothing is important, right? That's deeply tied to being intentional. Another manifestation of that mindfulness and that intention is using the right language, avoiding throw-away words. If I could give you five reasons why we're doing something, but there's really only one reason, and the four others are actually just B and C players, then let's just focus on that one reason. Let's really deeply understand that one reason. Some of the ways that this shows up is really at anything we do, from which features we put into what tier of paid product, all the way to, "Why are we choosing this benefit versus that benefit?" And why do we interview candidates at all, when some of the data shows that it's not... Everyone at Asana, to be successful, has to be able to articulate the why and the goal, and to feel comfortable that that question is going to come.
ANNA BINDER: And real success always... It's funny, Damon, if I forget when I make an announcement, to lead with the three or four bullet points of the why, I don't have to worry, because that's the first question I'll get, and I'll just be able to add it, right?
DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah.
ANNA BINDER: It's just a standard practice. And you and I chatted, flying a little bit about titles, and you said, "Anna, I've seen your title be chief people officer, and I've also seen your title be head of people." And I'll share with you one of the things that we do internally at Asana, is we actually try to avoid level-connoting titles. So we don't have managers and senior managers and directors and senior directors, you're just a manager or you're a lead or you're a head of. Externally, we might use more traditional titles, because the whole world is not on the Asana boat with us.
ANNA BINDER: So sometimes it's we need it for clarity. So you'll see externally my title is chief people officer. But the reason that we don't use them internally, it's very intentional, because we believe that our innovation and our problem solving comes from co-creation, from different humans getting into a room or into Zoom landing soon Zoomlandia together to do the work and scrub it and co-create. And it doesn't matter if you are seven levels ahead of me or above me, I might be an expert in this one particular area, it doesn't matter how junior or senior, let's create an environment where we can have a dialogue and where we can value all the ideas and really listen to the ideas without putting a label and a discount on someone, or a premium on someone based on their title. And it's a small thing, but language matters and it sends the message that I'm talking and you don't need to put me in this box that I'm more junior, I'm just a person, I'm just like a girl in the world, I'm just a human in the Zoomlandia, participating.
DAMON KLOTZ: Has that been in place since you started? Was that something that was in place when you got there?
ANNA BINDER: Yeah, it's been from the beginning of time.
DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah, because I've heard Dustin talk about the Asana org chart as hemming at the bottom of a tree. And actually, he reports to everyone else. And actually it's the person who's a leaf on top of the tree being one of the most important people you need to focus on, because they're actually the ones who have the ability to go do the work every single day as an individual contributor. So it's so fascinating, it's also one of the ways I've seen so many startups get hung up and caught up and stuck with leveling comp benefits and titling. And just that becomes really messy, and you can break a lot of trust with your employees if you get that wrong. So it's been really interesting to see that it's been in place for so long.
ANNA BINDER: Yeah. I mean, I think it's worth noting, I also really care about pay equity. We do have levels, they're just in the background, right? And employees know what their own levels are, and they know how success is defined for their role at their level. So that way, managers and employees can have a conversation about their impact or their lack of impact, and what they need to do to grow. And so that conversation has richness given those frameworks, but that doesn't mean that I need to put a label on me to say, " Oh, I'm this and you're not this."
DAMON KLOTZ: So, as we wrap up here, I think there's a nice way to bring this conversation to a close. I've heard you say in another interview before that you didn't necessarily have a lot of people leaders that you were looking up to in your early stages of your career. And then now that you're in a position where hopefully you can be that for someone else and people look up to you, and I really feel like having you on the board of Culture Amp is only going to increase that. So we'll see if you can provide some final words of wisdom for people. So-
ANNA BINDER: No pressure or anything.
DAMON KLOTZ: No pressure. I always like to build up, I get you all excited and jittery and butterfly-ery. So here we go, so I described the year 2020 as the year of working through it. And I think 2021 was the year of the pivot on the pivot, we thought we'd pivoted, then we had to pivot again. So we're now heading in, we're recording this in September of 2021, but we're getting ready for 2022 planning, what do you believe 2022 has in store for people leaders? What are you really hoping that the year can hold for the people function?
ANNA BINDER: So, first of all, I love your description of 2021. And by love, I mean hate, it's so spot on it's annoying-
DAMON KLOTZ: It's annoyingly right, yeah.
ANNA BINDER: It's annoyingly right. So, I'll give some positives and some negatives. So, I actually do think some of these silver linings coming out of the pivot on the pivot, on the pandemic on the pandemic, have really reinforced the importance that business leaders... The value and the attention that business leaders have placed on culture and people. I think that's going to be more durable, right? I think we're going to carry that forward. On a positive note, I think that this normalization, societally of mental health is not going to go away.
DAMON KLOTZ: Thank God.
ANNA BINDER: There are police departments across the nation that are working with mental health experts to help them get more comfortable around talking around this, right?
DAMON KLOTZ: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
ANNA BINDER: We've got prime ministers of lovely countries talking about addressing children directly, and around their feelings. And that's just a wonderful thing. So I think those are two great things. I think that the thing that keeps me up the most at night, the scariest piece of it, is before we went into the pandemic, and before we went into shelter in a place, and all of us in Zoomlandia, the folks that had spent the most time thinking, researching or practicing remote work, all pretty much had the same thing to say, "You got to choose one. You got to be in office mostly, or you got to be remote." If you care about building a durable culture, it is extremely hard to do some hybrid version of it. Then we all went remote on a dime. Over the course of five days, everyone got stood up to be working at home, right?
DAMON KLOTZ: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
ANNA BINDER: And now there's a lot of people. There's a couple of things that I've learned like, "Hey, there are some benefits to this. There's some productivity gains. There's some time gained from not commuting." And I think that people are making these assumptions and these shorthands of like, "Hey, we've shown ourselves that we can work at home." So now what follows is, we can be successful in a hybrid world, this can work. And I would argue, we don't actually have any evidence of that, right?
DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah.
ANNA BINDER: And Zoom, 100% percent working from home is the great equalizer, we're all in this together. In fact, I would argue, there's some things about it that are different. Like, I can be at a meeting with 10 people, and I know just by their label, what their name is or what their department is, or a lot of people put their pronouns there. And so I get to be actively inclusive in that way, but that's really different from the hybrid. We are facing a great unknown in this area. It's a massive societal and knowledge-worker experiment. And it makes me cringe when I hear people talk about how confident they are in terms of how well this is going to work. And I'm not confident at all, I'm open, I'm curious, I'm scared, but one of the things that's going to be really hard in this free-for-all you do you, you pick your day work world is that inclusion is going to be a lot harder.
ANNA BINDER: Because frankly, the research continues to show that women carry a larger proportion of the homework, whether there are children involved or not, women carry a larger proportion of the homework. So they are going to be more likely to take advantage of that flexibility, which means that they are going to be less often in the room where it happens. If they are going to be less often on the walk from one meeting room to another, "Oh, what do you think about that? Oh, that's a good idea, I hadn't thought about that." So they're going to be less there, which means they're going to be less thought of, they're going to be less promoted, they're going to have a less opportunity. And so I fear we might be setting ourselves back years unintentionally. That's 2022 for you.
DAMON KLOTZ: I am glad that you did the pros and the cons, the things to be excited about and the things to be scared about, because I think this podcast is baked in reality. Like I have been very transparent with listeners about... When I talk about these things, I always try and make myself an example of like, "This is why I would find that hard. Or this is like something that I struggle with." And I think anyone would be lucky to have a people leader who described it in that way, saying that, "I don't know how this is going to play out. We are going to keep trying things. These are the things I'm worried about." But I think if you come back to what is important to your company, what is your operating system, what are your values, what are the decisions, even overstatements about how you want to build your company and your culture, hopefully that helps people leaders in any managers out there wrestle with some of these things about creating an inclusive culture and going back between hybrid versus remote versus in-person.
DAMON KLOTZ: I know Culture Amp, some of our offices are open, I know you've had some of your offices open, but I know so many of us are still working remotely. We are going to have to be really intentional about this, we are going to have to more than ever invest in diversity, equity and inclusion, to make sure that we're looking at the data about how are decisions being made, who's making the decisions, how is this impacting promotions? There's going to be so much. And I just hope that we focus on that conversation, not just on, "Do we have an office?" Or like, "Where is it?" And all that kind of stuff, because that is material, it's actually how the work gets done and how that impacts the employees that I think we should be spending most of the time focusing on.
ANNA BINDER: It's going to be a wild ride.
DAMON KLOTZ: Well, I know that with intentional conscious leaders like you, that plenty of people will be turning to you and others for inspiration in this. So I just want to say thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and wisdom with us on the Culture First Podcast today. And I'm sure on behalf of everyone at Culture Amp, I'd like to say a big congratulations, and we're so excited to have you on our board of directors.
ANNA BINDER: I'm thrilled. Like I said, I feel like I hit the jackpot, and I'm looking forward to all the co-creation for many years to come.
DAMON KLOTZ: Exactly. This will be one of many conversations. So maybe we can do a AMA with Anna and Damon moving forward, for all those curly questions that I'm sure people leaders will be wanting to get answers on over the coming months.
ANNA BINDER: I'd love to.
DAMON KLOTZ: All right. Thanks so much.
ANNA BINDER: Thanks.
DAMON KLOTZ: A big thank you to Anna for joining me today on the Culture First Podcast. I've been inspired by Anna's work at Asana for a long time, and it's been a pleasure to partner with her and the wider Asana team on this collective mission to put culture first and increase humanity at work. If you're a longtime listener of this podcast, you'll know that I personally operate at this intersection of HR and marketing. And I personally believe this overlap is so important. Hearing Anna talk about how they brand their initiatives, and concepts like words matter, all of this is music to my ears. I really heard that you learned a lot from how Anna has scaled the employee experience at Asana, and are both inspired as well as I guess, have some provoking thoughts about what she thinks we're going to be seeing from the people function over the coming months and years.
DAMON KLOTZ: I know you'll be seeing plenty more from both Anna and Culture Amp over the coming months and years with this new partnership. If you've enjoyed this episode, it would mean the world to me if you subscribed, wrote a review and share this episode with a peer in your network. This has been another episode of the Culture First Podcast, I've been your host, DAMON KLOTZ. And this series is brought to you by the entire team here at Culture Amp. Thanks for listening.