Learn and repeat: Building company culture is not a one and done process, it’s ongoing and iterative. Learn by collecting feedback from your employees, make changes based on that feedback, and repeat. As a company grows it runs into increasingly complex and difficult cultural challenges, and to build and maintain a positive company culture, organizations must continually hold themselves accountable.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Damon Klotz. He has spent his career working at the intersection of people & technology. He’s spent time as HR Consultant, Digital Strategist and co-founder. He joined Culture Amp as an early employee where he scaled their community to one of the largest in the world.
As Culture Amp’s first Work Culture Evangelist he represents what’s possible within People & Culture through storytelling, consulting, coaching strategy execution and thought leadership.
He has spoken at events in four continents, with the aim to speak on every one, and is the host of The Culture First Podcast.
He’s also the winner of a Deloitte Social Innovation Pitch and multiple social entrepreneurship awards for his work as a co-founder of the Men’s Mental Health Charity Spur Projects, an organization that uses technology & marketing to reduce the suicide rate of men in Australia.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve followed work that has peaked my interest, which has led to an unconventional career path. But when I look back there’s a thread between it all.
I’ve spent time as a sports agent, HR practitioner, speaker, consultant, social entrepreneur, digital strategist, marketer, start up employee and now my latest role as Culture Amp’s first Work Culture Evangelist.
The through line has always been a fascination with people, the choices we make, why we do the work that we do and what defines a life worth living.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began working at Culture Amp?
There’s been so many incredible moments over the past four and a half years. It’s hard to pinpoint just one. There were 15 employees when I joined and we are now over 400. To grow a company that fast in such a short period of time will always lead to interesting stories and moments that help define our story.
One of the values at Culture Amp is amplify others. I believe one of the most important things a company needs to do to build empathy at the individual, team and organizational level is to constantly find ways to remind yourself of who you’re building for.
We have deliberately not celebrated things like funding raises, but instead have done a great job of celebrating our customers and our community.
One story that I’m really proud of happened in 2018 when we put on our first global conference for our community, Culture First. To see 800 people come through the front doors and create a shared experience with us will stay with me forever.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My team and I just launched a podcast titled Culture First: Stories for a better world of work. We’re really excited about what we’ve been able to accomplish with this project, as it’s a bit different than your typical HR podcast — we’re focused on speaking with professionals in the space to learn from their experiences at work, both successes and failures, and how they’ve navigated the modern workplace.
We speak to multiple guests per episode and I weave together a story line that leaves our guests inspired to help put culture first at their organization.
The content is really tailored to help managers better understand the role that they can play in putting culture first for their team.
According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
Workforce happiness ties back to a lot of different variables that we examine across the employee experience, but the most common thread within this bucket is lack of understanding from employers. We’ve found that employees are much happier and more motivated when they feel like their companies care for them on a human level. I believe that’s where the disconnect is, many organizations have not mastered how to effectively listen to their employees and show that they truly care about their well being.
Happiness at work is very subjective to each individual employee depending on what they value most. Some value career progression, while others put more stock into work life balance. Because the idea of employee happiness is so personal to each employee, it’s hard to employ a one size fits all model to manage and improve attitudes within an organization. The best way for companies to combat an unhappy workforce is taking the time to carefully listen to the wants and needs of their employees, understand their concerns, and take action based on how their employees feel.
It’s also critical to understand the aspects that play into employee happiness. In most cases “happiness” is an oversimplified way to explain deeper human needs like belonging and meaning. Organizations that go beyond solving happiness, and work towards encouraging their workforce to find meaning in their roles and a sense of belongings will be much more successful in cultivating an engaged, motivated, and positive workforce.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
There’s a domino effect that plays out in a lot of organizations around the world that impacts all of those factors.
A workforce that is lacking in meaning in their work, psychological safety within their teams and autonomy in their role will ultimately lead to a decrease in their performance which leads to decreases in productivity and then profitability.
Culture first leaders know that when you start with the foundations of the employee experience then you are setting up the teams and organizations for product and profitability.
Unfortunately a lot of organizations are still focused on playing the finite game and pushing teams and managers to focus so short term that it impacts wellbeing and retention rates.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- Listen to your employees: The employee perspective is the most powerful tool that organizations have, and collecting employee feedback is one of the best ways to hold an organization accountable. It’s critical for an organization to actively collect and learn from employee feedback — all HR executives should be implementing a system to source employee perspectives if they don’t have one already.
- Take action: It’s important to listen to what your employees are telling you, but it’s more critical to make changes based on their concerns. If your employees are overworked, ramp up hiring to relieve some of that stress; if they’re unhappy with management, hold your executive teams accountable. Making changes based on what your workforce is telling you will not only create a positive company culture, but also show that your organization cares about their opinions.
- Understand that perks are not culture: Many organizations find themselves in the pitfall of touting their perks, like unlimited vacation, free lunch, beer on tap, and dog friendly offices as “culture.” Organizations should come to the realization that perks are not a replacement for company values. Perks have their place within organizations, but when they’re not in alignment with employee engagement, productivity and business success it ultimately doesn’t positively impact the employee experience or help retain talent.
- Have a “culture first” mindset: While profits are important, organizations should place company culture as a top priority. Having a positive culture will greatly benefit an organization in the long run, providing a strong foundation to build upon for the future.
- Learn and repeat: Building company culture is not a one and done process, it’s ongoing and iterative. Learn by collecting feedback from your employees, make changes based on that feedback, and repeat. As a company grows it runs into increasingly complex and difficult cultural challenges, and to build and maintain a positive company culture, organizations must continually hold themselves accountable.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
The underlying issue is how corporations value their employees. Organizations must understand that employees are the only appreciating asset they have and should be treated as such. Culturally, we must adopt an “culture-first” mindset in order to change the broader work culture for the better — this means understanding the importance of the employee perspective, prioritizing work life integration for all, and providing career opportunities that provide a sense of belonging in the workplace and meaning in their work.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I use the power of story to help show people what’s possible, provide timely feedback to help them improve and ultimately inspire them to reach their goals.
I asked some colleagues what words came to mind when I asked them about my leadership style. Contemplative, collaborative and intentional.
I’d also like to believe that I have empathy skills that allows me to read a room and pick up on potential blockers that might be limiting the potential of a project, team or individual.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m forever grateful to my parents who made a lot of sacrifices to help me get to where I am today. If I’m to think about a particular tipping point that’s changed the course of my life it would have to be my college lecturer from business school.
It’s important to note that I’m not a particularly good academic student. I’ve always learned better on the job and through mentoring. This means that I’d ask a lot of questions and try to look for stories to bring academia to life in my brain.
It was in the introduction to Human Resources and a different lecturer would have told me to stop being disruptive and get on with class. This one lecturer though, rather than put the fire out, added fuel to it. She recognized that I had some passion about the subject and wanted to learn.
When I asked her how could I get work experience to better understand the concepts she was asking she gave me pointed advice. — learn how to network and to cut my long rockstar looking hair.
The next week I was at a networking event, hair in tact, and got my first job in HR via someone I met. I was at that company for three years and it gave me the foundations and learnings that have been pivotal to my success
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
- I’m a big believer in using the privilege, platforms and resources at our disposal to help bring other people along on the journey with you.
- I’ve been a mentor for young students for several years, but the project that I’m most proud of is a men’s mental health campaign that I co-founded.
- I’d been witness to a lot of mental health issues in family members and friends over the course of my life. I was able to to turn that obstacle into an opportunity by channeling my energy into a project that has helped to reduce the suicide rate of men in Australia. While I can’t change the past, I feel proud that the work we did has had a positive impact on the future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives. This is a quote from Esther Perel who I had the pleasure of spending time with recently when we sat down to record an episode for my Culture First Podcast. I’m a big believer in the power of our life being a reflection of the people that we spend the most time with.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’d like to help inspire a movement that redefines our relationship with the word career and help to increase the meaning we can get from our work. Focusing on career paths and ladders limits our creativity and ability to follow our zone of genius. The work that really lights us up. If we can talk more about the meaning we get from our work and less about the title or functionality of it, I think we can get closer to seeing a healthier and more fulfilling experience at work.
Malcolm Gladwell said it best when he said he knows he needs to work on a new project when he’s stopped being interested in what he’s working on now.