PART II: Culture First Conference Recap


Last week we brought you Part I of our Culture First Conference Recap where we shared all the insights we learned from Day 1 of the conference. This week, we're diving into the sessions we attended on Day 2. Here we go!

“Culture Risk” Keynote by Tatyana Mamut

This session was by far one of most compelling talks on “culture” we had ever heard. Amazon Engineering & Product Executive and former IDEO Director, Tatyana Mamut shared how leaders can manage the 5 types of Culture Risk that threaten an organization’s best-laid plans and strategies. We learned how leaders can sustain culture as they scale, prevent attrition of top talent, and prevent conformity and encourage diversity. Here are some of the key takeaways:

  • There is no such thing as a good or bad culture, only effective and ineffective ones. How effective is your company culture at helping you reach your business goals?

  • To design an effective culture, you must...

    • Have clear and concise principles that govern culture

    • Reward the behaviors that align with culture and punish the behaviors that don’t

    • Put mechanisms in place to encourage, support, maintain and reward the correct behaviors

  • Culture is a self-reinforcing system so it’s necessary for leaders to manage it consciously against these 5 risks:

    1. Scaling risk: There are clear inflection points where culture shifts: 40 employees (clear visibility, manage through personal relationship), 150 employees (becomes difficult to keep different personalities in mind, lose track of people, role confusion starts), and 700 employees (shift focus to building for enterprise scale, organize into business units).

    2. Fragmentation risk: Where subcultures begin forming in an organization (i.e. Sales and Engineering). Leaders must either design a dominant culture for everyone to conform to or keep the cultures separate and design and manage interactions between the two.

    3. Attrition risk: Take a proactive approach to the roles, skills, and experiences needed to reach the company’s goals. This takes aggressive recruiting and pipeline planning.

    4. Conformity risk: Often times, the executive leadership team is comprised of a similar group of people (*cough, all white males) but for a company to be successful, leaders must represent the customer base and frontline employees. Lack of diversity in the organization and on the leadership team leads to conformity risk, which is the inability to understand your customer or employee bases.

    5. Stagnation risk: This happens when a company doesn’t promote a culture of innovation, creativity or opens themselves to trying new ideas. If a company gets bogged down by policies and procedures, ideas can’t go to market and eventually, they’ll get beat out by an innovative competitor.

Remote Work Lab by LifeLabs Learning

If you were at the Gritty Leadership Conference and participated in Diane’s amazing Under the Influence workshop, you know how tactical and informative LifeLabs’ workshops can be! We got to attend their new Remote Work Lab, where they taught us how we can maximize our leadership effectiveness with remote employees.

  • Communication

    • When you’re not in the same physical space, you lose important communication tools like facial and visual clues and contextual information. When onboarding a remote employee, provide them with a Communication Playbook of how employees share information throughout the organization. Explain which tools are used to communicate information and collaborate on different projects/tasks (i.e. Slack, Google Hangouts, Email, Phone, Intranet, etc.)

  • Belonging

    • Humans thrive with camaraderie! They need to feel like they belong. As leaders, we need to incorporate facetime with remote workers on a regular basis. Research shows us that when it comes to facetime, frequency is more important than the length of time so build one on one check-ins with all of your direct reports on a weekly or bi-monthly basis. Another tip is to create camaraderie and familiarity is to have all employees add a headshot in their email signature and on all social profiles used for company communication. Putting a face to a name makes a huge difference!

  • Fairness

    • The human brain is hardwired to look for fairness. It’s easy for leaders to prioritize relationships with people we see more often. It’s our responsibility to make a conscious effort to build rapport with remote employees and set clear expectations so everyone on the team, remote or onsite, knows what’s required for promotions, perks and raises. Pro tip: when interviewing employees for a remote position, have a conversation about the up and downsides of remote work and ask them if they’ve worked remotely before and foresee any challenges arising. This gives them a sense of partaking in procedural justice and opens the door for dialogue should problems arise down the road.

  • Trust

    • Leaders, for remote positions, hire an employee you trust to do the work and let them prove you right! Don’t toggle between micromanaging and absenteeism because it will confuse and frustrate them. Make sure to set clear results-oriented goals and KPIs so your employee knows exactly what’s expected of them. Also, make sure to clearly define what “done” means- what makes the work complete? When can they sign off?

  • Growth

    • It’s easy for remote workers to feel out of sight and out of mind. Make sure you’re dedicating at least 15% (standard leadership metric) of your time each week to developing your direct reports. If you work 40 hours a week, that’s about 6 hours total on employee development related activities. It’s also important to celebrate success regularly so remote employees feel like they’re constantly accomplishing goals. Some popular strategies for this include weekly standups for success sharing time or implementing recognition tools like GitHub.

Overall, we had a wonderful experience at Culture First. If you have any questions about People + Culture strategy or change management, reach out to our team experts at