In2Summit: The Challenge Is Growing Without Losing
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In2Summit: The Challenge Is Growing Without Losing

Holmes Report

SAN FRANCISCO—Creating a culture that can help companies attract the right people, institutionalize innovation, and build the brand is increasingly important to corporate success, communications and human resource executives from companies including CBS Interactive, Eventbrite and Salesforce told the In2 Summit this afternoon. The connection between culture and brand is closer than ever before, said Terra Carmichael, head of global corporate communications at Eventbrite, during a panel on “Culture, Innovation and the Bottom Line," sponsored by Allison + Partners and moderated by agency CEO Scott Allison. “One of the things we did as we tripled in size a few years ago is we went through out brand tenets and what we found was that they were also our culture tenets. We now hire to those tenets. We have a very diverse interview panel to make sure we hire different types of people and different styles, so we are not just looking in the mirror, but we want to make sure we are always true to those basic tenets.” There was widespread agreement that the focus on culture needs to begin with the hiring process. “The war for talent has never been hotter,” said Monika Fahlbusch, head of employee success at Salesforce. “Culture has to be part of every interaction with your employees, from the online experience of the company to the recruitment process the interaction with every person along the way.” One major challenge, she said, was growing without losing the company’s “soul.” “We go through about 300,000 applicants and we have to find the right match between the individual and the company. I would say two things: one is that we spend a lot of time on the fit, and whether the individual is going to fit into the culture: that involves a lot of dialogue in the interview process. And the second is how we can ensure that new employees get a taste of our culture, from a mentor or from the leadership of the company.” Building a strong corporate culture without the direct involvement of the CEO is almost impossible, panelists agreed. “CEO support is invaluable,” said Matthew Hutchison, vp corporate communications for CBS Interactive. “The CEO and his direct reports and the leadership team really have to set the tone.” At Eventbrite, Carmichael said, “One of our cofounders is completely focused on the Britelings, and she comes to the table thinking about our people and how a decision is going to be felt by those people.” CEO leadership has also been critical at Salesforce, where founder and CEO Mark Benioff has clearly had a major role in setting the tone. “He is a larger than life character,” Fahlbusch said. “What we are trying to do is take that energy and transfer that to all the employees who don’t meet him in the halls every day as we grow. One challenge is how you have that spirit and that energy come alive as we continue to grow.” One way to do that, said culture consultant Paul Tran of BrightIdea, is through rewards and incentives that focus on the behaviors—such as innovation—that the company is attempting to cultivate. Tran also emphasized the importance of having a real focus in order to measure the impact of culture initiatives, citing the example of Cathay Pacific. “What they have done is a corporate innovation that is focused on solving very specific problems to solve, around catering or maintenance or their frequent flier program. So employees are focused on those specific problems, and they contribute specific ideas, and they come up with stories to tell around those issues.” The ultimate payoff comes when employees interact with consumers, representing the brand in the outside world. Said Hutchison, “What we really try to instill in our employees is the idea that they are brand advocates for the company and the brand they represent. We get inbound inquires all the time from viewers and readers and how we interact with them at that stage is absolutely crucial.” In that respect, the panel concluded, in the modern world corporate culture increasingly drives and defines the brand.
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