To Build a ‘Culture First’ Company, You Need to Listen to Your Employees

Martina Cicakova

Employee feedback is your mirror that portrays how things really are below the surface in your company. It often uncovers critical issues or innovative ideas that you might have missed.

To learn more about the benefits of using feedback to create a company that puts culture first, we asked Nina Hancock, a panelist from a recent discussion on company culture that we organized, to shed more light on this.

Nina Hancock is Customer Success & U.K. Lead at Culture Ampa leading provider in a growing space of SaaS businesses. Its software enables companies to collect, understand and take action easily on employee feedback.

In your experience, has the nature of collecting employee feedback changed over the past few years? If so, what do you think caused it? 

It certainly has. Employee feedback is becoming the number one priority for businesses as they increasingly appreciate that developing a ‘Culture First’ company contributes significantly to business success.

Traditionally, organizations gathered feedback via large, once-a-year engagement surveys with lengthy timescales to interpret that feedback.

We’re seeing this approach die out as companies transition to being more agile in their approach to employee feedback, i.e., by running feedback and action loops at a cadence that meets the pace of their business and in a way that involves teams and individuals across the entire organization.

Read: Why You Should Listen to Your Employees — Lessons from Virgin, Microsoft, and Zendesk

You coach some of the world’s most innovative companies to build “Culture First” organizations. What are the key attributes and advantages of a “Culture First” company?

My favorite quote from our CEO, Didier Elzinga, is: “Brand is a promise you make to your customers, culture is how you deliver on it.”

Some of the world’s most innovative companies recognize that their primary competitive advantage is in listening to their people and putting culture first in their strategy, decision-making, and operations. We’ve seen some of our customers – like Airbnb, Slack and Autotrader – do just that.

The key attributes of these companies are: they are run by leaders that recognize this imperative, their people teams are represented in the C-suite (CPOs or CHROs), they set out to have strong values that they live by each day and they listen to their employees.

According to the HBR, a great culture is when behaviors, systems, and processes are aligned with the organization’s values. But when gaps start to appear, that’s when problems arise and often, great employees end up leaving. 

Are there tools or techniques that can help companies fix their culture and prevent this from happening? 

I’d agree on what makes a great culture and I’d recommend listening to Beth Clutterbuck’s fantastic talk on how Deliveroo does this.

Companies naturally go through challenging times, especially through periods of fast growth or disruption from competitors. They can mitigate the impact by sticking to their values and, crucially, using tools that help them understand what engages their employees.

We often find that high drivers of engagement include leaders communicating a motivating vision, along with clear career and personal development opportunities for employees. Once companies have visibility of their engagement drivers, they can ensure they have initiatives in place to support these.

Talking about employee engagement, what is the role of internal communications in designing employee feedback strategies? 

Internal communication is essential for setting expectations on the type of feedback being gathered and how action will be taken afterward.

I recommend my customers issue clear pre- and post-survey communication via the channels that work for them: all company emails, Town Halls, Slack posts or 1-1 conversations between line managers and direct reports.

In a recent panel session, you said Culture Amp helps companies put culture at the heart of what they do to help them drive the bottom line and be successful. Is there a connection between company culture and business results? 

There most certainly is. Dawn Sharifan, Head of People at Slack, sums this up nicely:

“We fundamentally believe that our culture is our competitive advantage. It is what allowed us to pivot from a failed gaming company into the fastest B2B SaaS company ever”.

Culture isn’t fluffy, it’s strategy. There is a misconception that culture is foosball tables or trite sayings plastered on the walls.

But, in the paraphrased words of Tatyana Mamut, GM and Director of Amazon Web Services, “culture is the foundation that allows employees to achieve company objectives. It sets the context for how people are expected to behave.”

Finally, at Culture Amp, your team is spread across different locations and time zones. What tools and practices do you use to ensure that your company culture extends to the remote teams? 

Yes, they are. I was at a breakout session on scaling distributed teams at the recent Women of Silicon Roundabout event and everyone in the room put their hand up to the question, “Do you or does anyone in your business work remotely, whether part- or full-time?”

At Culture Amp, we have offices in Melbourne, San Francisco, New York and London.

We use tools to help us collaborate asynchronously, such as Slack, Trello and Confluence. We ensure we have regular opportunities to speak on video calls at the company “All Hands.”

We also run a CAmper Coffee Lottery (set up using Slack and for CAmpers to connect across the globe for a coffee over Zoom.

Thanks so much for talking to us, Nina.

To learn more about the topic, here are three useful ways Slido can help you collect employee feedback.


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