Here’s a challenge that many companies face as they grow: The high-touch, personalized approach that helped establish its thriving culture becomes increasingly difficult to scale.
As Jordana Valencia writes in the Harvard Business Review, “While hypergrowth companies face many obstacles, research shows that talent is their primary growth challenge and that one of their highest talent priorities is how to scale and maintain culture.”
To learn about a company excelling in the face of this very challenge, I met with Chief People Officer (CPO) of Seismic Linda Ho.
Seismic is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company with a platform that unites go-to-market teams. For example, Seismic unites marketing, customer success, and sales to enable collaboration, content management, learning, onboarding, and insights.
A Culture of Caring at Scale
Seismic culture revolves around caring. The drive to care has deep roots, and it begins with the founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Seismic Doug Winter. “Doug cares about the customers, has great relationships with them, and cares about employees,” Ho said. “He actually handwrites anniversary cards to every employee with some tidbits about his interactions with them and words of encouragement.” This approach is incredibly high-touch, especially when you consider that Seismic has 1600 employees.
A hallmark sign that Seismic’s efforts to create a culture of caring are sticking is the number of former customers who join Seismic. “I've never seen more customers join a company as employees,” Ho said.
Seismic Scales Its Culture With Three Initiatives
Often, the best strategies for scaling culture are those that are unique to a company. At Seismic, Ho and her team foster a culture of caring in three critical ways:
- Push Pins – When Seismic closes a deal, they celebrate everyone who has come together to make the deal happen from legal to finance and sales. “We also celebrate our customers and key advocates,” Ho said.
- Why We Win Slack Channel – Seismic has a “why we win” Slack channel, where employees share stories of big wins and tag company values that contributed to the win. “Whether it's winning deals or a conversation that we're having with each other in an extremely vulnerable learning moment, we celebrate it in that channel,” Ho said.
- Activity – For activity, Seismic brings the company together for a week to build connection and community. “During our last activity meeting, we took over Petco Park. We completely unified around our strategy and really celebrated the humans at Seismic,” Ho remarked.
Going Hybrid to Attract Top Talent
Top of mind for any CPO is the challenge of attracting and recruiting top talent. At Seismic, one of the most effective strategies that Ho and her team employed was simply to recruit beyond their office locations. “In the war for talent, we started to expand and saw so many benefits to expanding outside of our core offices,” Ho shared. “We saw improvement in terms of our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), specifically our representation. We saw greater access to talent pools that we didn't have access to before. Now, we are decidedly a hybrid workforce. Approximately 40% of our employees are not located near a Seismic office, and we'll continue down that path.”
Seismic Develops Culture by Developing Its First-Line Leaders
Since research correlates 70% of employee engagement to an employee’s relationship with their manager, the way a company develops its leaders can be incredibly telling of its culture.
At Seismic, first-line leaders undergo several touchpoints of development:
- Mindset – Ho and her team emphasize the importance of a growth mindset and a beginner's mind. “We want people to join Seismic so they can learn, iterate, make mistakes, and create something better. The idea of coming to Seismic to be a builder is core to who we are,” she remarked.
- The Seismic Platform – Since Seismic is an enablement company, it includes a learning product that allows first-line leaders to learn, practice, and get coaching within its platform.
- Manager Foundations – This program covers core skills that employees can learn and develop and is integrated with how employees conduct their work.
- Manager Forums – “The best way to learn is to workshop and talk about things,” Ho emphasized.
Ho’s Book Recommendation for HR Professionals: Grit
All of the CPOs I have interviewed are voracious readers and learners. Asked what book she would recommend for human resources (HR) professionals to read, Ho recommended Grit by Angela Duckworth. “What I love about Grit is the idea that passion and perseverance enable success. Yes, you can have an edge based on skills and ability, but you can develop skills as long as you're passionate, spend the time, and have grit. If you can embed that in how you work and how you think about overcoming problems or opportunities, that can really accelerate you and your team,” Ho said.
Ho’s Advice for CPOs: Get Proactive About Your Listening Strategy
Ho explained that when she first joined Seismic approximately three years ago, she conducted a lot of listening tours. “I reached out to employees, and we held forums both one-on-one and in a group setting. As I started to get more comfortable in my role, I stopped doing some of those things,” she shared. “While I do have an open-door policy, people don't naturally reach out to their CPO or CHRO. You have to be intentional in cultivating that connection and community.”