A Conference all about Culture 

Are you a Culturevist?

According to the engaging and smart Matthew Partovi the founder of Culturevist, you are if your care about culture so much you would leave an organisation due to a lack of fit, or put your job at risk to stand up up for culture, or attend a conference all about culture at work.

How much do you care about culture?

Last month I attended the first Culturevist conference in Clerkenwell, underneath a church, in a hall often used for exams. I knew it was going to be a good day from the moment I walked in… Why? Because the person on the sign-in desk was genuinely please to meet me, rather than overly concerned about their role/nervous/stressed/pressured to perform. I’ve not experienced that quite the same before. This warmth increased in the coffee area and in the conference room: great lighting, no raised stage, balloons, and individual desks in rows “a metaphor for how we don’t want this to be…so we’ll move them as we wish during the day” (Matt). Actually, I appreciated the space to myself for notes and thinking whilst listening.

Whilst recently facilitating a train-the-trainer course I suggested that the biscuits you buy for people communicate how (much) value you them. Will you buy the smart-price Rich Tea or extra special cookies. I analysed my biscuit choice of Fig Rolls as nurturing (they seem nostalgic to others and my Grandma always had them available).

At Culturevist we got…

Yes I paid to attend, but regardless, what does this communicate about my value as an attendee? They had me at chocolate and stationary.

The attendees were a mix of Comms, HR, and others interested in organisation culture: mainly in-house. As Culturevist make it a little harder for freelancers to attend their events…I’m not sure why. Maybe because someone previously disliked ‘the sell’ at a networking event, or maybe to reduce the competition (there were freelancers in attendance). The sponsor was subtle and I enjoyed have no selling – how bloody refreshing. Or maybe it was just covert.

The speakers came from Google, WordPress, HSBC, Just Giving, and Facebook. Each speaker and just 15mins to share their story/message, followed by plenty of time for audience Q+A.

First up was Dame Zarine Kharas CEO of Just Giving, a profit making company operating in a non-profit sector. Zarine and a Just Giving have done a lot of work around culture. Key messages included:

  • Ensure trust is at the heart of organisation.
  • Treat people like adults, because they are: like decision makers, like innovators, and they will be so.
  • There is no space for ego in good culture
  • The next step for Just Giving is to measure values

This latter part filled me with equal concern and curiosity, so my question from the flow was “how, for what reason, and what will you do with data?”. But with this being a future venture Zarine just had curiosity, and something about “measuring how well people live up to the standard” which seemed to contradict all that had previously been said.

(Zarine didn’t want to use a mic, and I really struggled to hear her, so I apologise for the lack of detail. Made me think about this article on the price of academic publications; who do we exclude by reducing the accessibility of our message?)

Alice Breeden is Head of People Operations for Google EMEA, and was next up. She shared a Google journey and shared the thinking that facilitated it. After noticing those who stood out as great managers, they asked questions like, what if every Googler had an awesome manager? Reminiscent of problems solving that starts with ‘dumbest ideas first’. Asking the wide-open what if’s often open thinking and conversation that contains the very essence of the concluding solution. What if everyone in your organisation had an awesome manager. What would that look like? Start there.

Alice shared how google did a lot of measuring of managers, to find out what makes an awesome one in Google. Then used these items/traits to develop others. The questions they asked was What if every team was successful? Then measured what made an effective team in Google, and provided people with opportunities to develop these elements.

Google have work rules:

  1. Give your work meaning
  2. Trust your people
  3. Hire only people who are better than you
  4. Don’t confuse development with managing performance
  5. Be frugal and generous
  6. Pay “unfairly”
  7. Nudge
  8. Managing the rising expectations
  9. Enjoy! and then go back to 1

I like these a lot! Although I’m told there was nothing new or exciting from this snapshot that hasn’t already been published and shared before. Which actually leaves me wondering what actually happens inside Google and if this is congruent with the published comms. How much is talking vs doing? I’m certainly going back to no.1 atm and enjoying what happens when you keep to 2-4.

Recently Googlers have experienced development exploring unconscious bias to develop self-awareness. Different to Zarine of just giving, Alice said that Google don’t measure values; they feel them.


Next up was Emmajane Varley, Global Head of Insight, Culture & Group CEO Comms at HSBC who told us a story. A story about a lack of trust in the organisation that they set out to solve, but got stuck (a story has points of stuckness) then discovered inspiration when randomly overhearing a Behavioural Economist and a Town Planner. They were discussed the congestion problem on a well known bridge, and after some field research involving people asking drivers stuck in the jam to roll down the windows for a quick chat, they concluded that the cause of the congestions was the ripple effect of kindness and gratitude. When one driver gave way (where officially they shouldn’t have) and got a thank you, they oxytocin inducing response lead perpetuated more giving way. Resulting is long traffic cues and congestion, but no-one minded because they were high of kindness and gratitude …ok, so maybe there did mind.

Luckily Emmajane had connections and snuck a ‘Thank You’ button on the intranet. She didn’t wait for comms, governance of HR to approve it, she snuck it on there (oh enviable joy). This allowed a fair experiment. Nothing was communicated about the button’s why or how. When HSBC employees spotted this button, and clicked on it, it directed them to a Thank You wall, and they were asked who in the organisation they’d like to thank, and prompted to write said note. Just as anticipated, being grateful and appreciating others was contagious at HSBC. Emmajane shared a significant anecdote that without instructs as to how and why and when to use the Thank You button that had appeared, some people email HR to check it was ok to send a Thank You note.

To follow the speakers we had ‘Open-Mic’ where Matt invited us to take the mic for a strictly timed 60 seconds (signified by a bike horn), to share a story about how we changed/created/impacted upon culture. After all this listening I was excited and eager to talk so I raised my hand and shared a short story about WhatsApp and the team I lead.  Others followed and I appreciated that those who took the mic time for a very long question or soap box were re-asked to share a story. (Trying hard not to go off on a facilitation tangent here…for another log).

Live blogging is a fascinating learning experience for me, but i also enjoy the space and time to reflect – which slow blogging also fulfils. The more I reflect on the day, the conversations, the speakers, the more I’m thinking; the more I know and the more I don’t know. It was brill to be around none L+D people in a learning setting, as a delegate so to speak. Out of my comfort zone and somewhat feeling like when I contributed things people looked at me as if I had something growing out of head – I’ve had that before, but yesterday it took me by surprise. And then even more so by how comfortable I was with being that spotty zebra. Such juicy learning. We all have our own culture.

I’m off to figure out how to sneak a Thank You button on to our intranet…or some other simple yet impactful idea of growing appreciation.

I’ll start by appreciating you for reading my blog. Thank you.

2 thoughts on “A Conference all about Culture 

  1. nharris1612

    Hi Jo,
    I really enjoyed your synopsis of the Culturevist event. Wanted to say thanks for sharing as I had noticed the event on my LinkedIn feed and was eager to go but it was little out of my grasp financially. I look forward to reading through more of your articles. Best wishes Natalie

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: A Blog About Blogging | Growing in the Komorebi

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