What Does A Founder-Led Culture Look Like? With Omada Health’s CPO

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The Culture Code

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Over the course of 100+ interviews with chief people officers (CPOs), an interesting theme has emerged: Companies with founder-led cultures seem to foster more authentic, creative environments. For example,

  • At Dropbox, founder Drew Houston live demos his latest technology innovations.
  • At HubSpot, founder Dharmesh Shah wrote a 120-deck cultural manifesto.
  • At Rivian, founder RJ Scaringe gives quarterly culture talks to new hires.

And the list goes on. When I had the opportunity to interview the CPO of Omada Health, Nancy Vitale, I was excited to hear that the founders spearheaded the creation and implementation of the company’s values. Omada is a virtual healthcare provider that specializes in treating chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, and musculoskeletal conditions. Its care approach is grounded in behavioral science and is enabled by both a human-led care team and a technology platform. Founded in 2011, the company has more than 700 employees.

Nancy Vitale, Chief People Officer of Omada Health
Nancy Vitale, Chief People Officer of Omada Health

Vitale emphasized three key phrases that underpin culture at Omada: “mission-driven, values-focused, and remote-first.”

The key to fostering this culture lies in how Omada weaves its cultural values directly into employees’ day-to-day work. This process begins with the founders who led the movement to establish company values last year. “I'm really proud because our values work was led by our co-founders, not the people, culture or human resources (HR) team,” Vitale said. “We certainly were key supporters, shepherds, and facilitators, but it was an organization-wide effort that incorporated everybody's voice.”

The values include building trust, seeking context, acting boldly, delivering results, succeeding together, and remembering why we're here.

Since establishing these values, Omada has focused on integrating and embedding them and related behaviors into daily processes and practices. Vitale shared a couple of examples:

  • Performance reviews – Vitale said, “In our performance reviews and review discussions, there is an explicit discussion of values and related behaviors. We discuss both value-based strengths and values that might need attention. Employees self-assess on each value and then discuss the results with their managers.”
  • Recruiting – As part of the structured interview process, Omada employees ask behavior-based questions to assess candidates against their core values and related behaviors.

Omada Leverages a Manager Net Promoter Score to Develop Its Leaders

LEADx conducted a study five years ago and found that there's an 80% correlation between an employee’s response to the question, “How likely are you to recommend your manager to a colleague or acquaintance?” and how an employee feels about the whole company. It's a simple manager effectiveness question that reveals much about the health of a team, which leaders are great, who would be effective mentors, and which leaders might need extra assistance.

Since most companies don’t use the manager effectiveness net promoter score (NPS), I was elated to hear that Omada does. “We measure our managers’ NPSs because we know that frontline managers are such a critical group in their daily interactions with Omadans. The NPS also helps us monitor the experiences that folks are having with their managers over time and gives us insight in terms of adjustments that we might need to make or in terms of skill and capability gaps that could further boost our manager’s NPSs.”

Omada Develops Leaders with a Focus on Behavior Change

Since research correlates 70% of employee engagement to management, the way a company develops its leaders can be incredibly telling of its culture.

At Omada, managers go through the Management Development Experience (MDE) program, which leverages an external platform that provides curatable courses and content aimed at developing certain targeted skills and capabilities.

However, as Vitale pointed out, “Content is easily curated. It's really about how we pull that learning through in terms of behavior change and knowledge application for the folks that make a meaningful difference day-to-day?” To pull learning through and drive behavior change, Vitale and her team supplement these courses with a series of learning cafés, where managers share insights, discuss their learnings, and practice new behaviors in a more intimate, peer-to-peer setting.

Vitale’s Most-valued Skills at Omada: Clear Vision for Talent & People and Impact-focused Efforts

The behaviors that employees exhibit ultimately define a culture. As a CPO, the behaviors you set out to change are critical. There are two key behaviors that Vitale most wants her employees to exhibit:

  1. Establish a clear vision and strategy for talent and people. “This behavior should be integrated into the company's business strategy and not pushed to the side of your desk. Ideally, this behavior is co-created with your team and leaders,” Vitale said.
  2. Prioritize and focus your efforts for impact. Vitale said, “In my early days, I got caught up in wanting to do it all and achieve it all. And that's a recipe for disaster. The good CPOs, you know, make sure they're clear about the impact of their priorities and focus and have the courage to say no while proactively managing the expectations of their team and leaders.”

Vitale’s Book Recommendation for HR Professionals: Irresistible

All of the CPOs I have interviewed are voracious readers and learners. When asked what book she would recommend that HR professionals read, Vitale answered, “Josh Bersin’s Irresistible.”

“This book is based on Bersin’s decades of organizational research and frames the key things that the world's most enduring, employee-focused organizations do differently,” Vitale explained. “Omada is a young company. We've only been around for 20 years, but our ambition is to be an enduring company. Bersin lists strategies that enduring companies employ, such as a leader being a ‘coach, not a boss’ and having ‘a culture, not rules.’”

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CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at https://leadx.org/preview.