When you're in the business of employee engagement, engaging your employees is something you have to get right!

Ginny Fry didn’t expect her time as Chief Stewardess on a super yacht would put her in good stead to succeed at Culture Amp.

But upon reflecting on her career to date, she noticed some distinct similarities between keeping the rich and famous happy and working as an Experience Manager in Culture Amp’s Melbourne office.

Once she was delighting her patrons, pre-empting their needs and managing their expectations. Now she’s doing the same for Culture Amp’s staff, keeping its office running like a well-oiled machine.

“It was hard to prove the skills were transferable,” Fry admits, suggesting that her earlier credentials in HR helped her snag the role.

But she’s confident that that the lessons learned yachting around Europe have helped her through some tricky situations with staff; through building a sense of empathy that she may not have found in other HR roles.

“Surprise and delight” is a phrase Fry uses a lot to describe her role.

She is at the coalface of managing culture for the company’s largest office, and Fry is succeeding under the pressure. The stakes for getting office culture right are higher for Culture Amp than for most companies.

On the back of its employee feedback platform, which helps monitor workplace culture, performance and staff onboarding, Culture Amp is broadly recognised as a global authority on workplace culture. Over 1700 companies use its platform to improve their HR and culture management practices.

The company has to practice what it preaches.

The role of the ‘experience manager’

Culture Amp has some unique terms it uses to describe its internal culture. Its frontline HR managers are called ‘experience managers’ and its staff are broadly referred to as ‘Campers’.

Don’t let its terminology fool you however, Culture Amp isn’t run like a US summer camp.

Experience managers, like Fry, are best described as the glue of the office. They are the people you turn to when you lose your security pass, or want to arrange a company offsite. Basically, tasks that any manager could handle but it distracts them from their core functions.

They aren’t shafted with the responsibility of emptying the dishwasher or greeting guests, that’s shared by everyone. They are however the first point of contact for inducting new staff.

“Surprise and delight” is a phrase Fry uses a lot to describe her role.

Culture Amp’s three tips for onboarding new staff

  1. Make the start time on day one 10:00am. This will ensure everyone is ready for their arrival and not rushing around.
  2. Don’t provide the new starter with a computer in their first hour! There is often some level of nervousness when anyone is starting a new job. Use this time to introduce them to their team, show them the office and go for a coffee.
  3. Don’t underestimate a thorough IT induction. Even when joining a technology company, not everyone has used a Macbook, Google Suite or Slack before.

Fry keeps a barometer on the mood of the office. She’ll occasionally arrange treats for staff, like a free lunch or a coffee cart with pastries. Sometimes these are centered around celebrations, like Halloween, and Fry arranges an event where team members can bring their family along.

The motivation here isn’t just to reward staff. As Fry explains: “It’s about bringing people together for an occasion that they weren't expecting... to encourage that sharing of info across teams.”

With an office of over 150 staff, an average of eight new starters each month, experiential events have become pivotal for helping team members network within the organisation.

With so many staff on-site, it’s remarkable that Culture Amp doesn’t forget about its remote workers either.

Its “remote love” policy involves the Experience Managers sending remote employees a cheese hamper or movie tickets every quarter to ensure they too have a thoughtful office experience and ensure they don’t miss out.

Fry is also encouraged to apply creativity to some of the more traditional HR challenges.

“We had a situation where a number of the staff had too much unused leave time,” Fry explains.

“One way we went about it was to create an individual card for each team member informing them of their available leave time.”

“I knew one of the employees involved loved the NBA, so I put an image of a basketball player on the front of the card, and wrote in it: ‘You could travel to America and see a game if you like, because you have over 30 days of leave!’… It’s all about tackling these problems in a different light,” Fry explains.

The data

There’s more to this however than just coffees and giveaways. Many of Fry’s actions in the office and the broader decisions of the business revolve around its employee engagement data, captured by Culture Amp’s own platform.

Culture Amp surveys all employees quarterly and new employees every two, six and 12 weeks. Each quarterly has a slightly different focus while consistently measuring a few core organizational attributes. One may focus more heavily on management and leadership while another could examine the Campers’ views on internal processes.

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Culture Amp’s three tips for using surveys to measure culture

  1. Understand what you want to measure. Are you looking for engagement with the job, professional growth or a judgement on internal processes? Be clear on this before you go to your staff.
  2. Before you launch the survey, be clear and proactive in communicating to your employee why the survey is being run, and what they can expect in terms of seeing results and initiating change after the survey closes. Don’t ask about anything you aren’t willing to address, as you’ll create an expectation of action by asking the question.
  3. Talk through the results with the team before acting on them. It’s tempting to fix any problems, but without fully understanding it, you may just make it worse.

At the helm of these surveys -- and crunching their results -- is Culture Amp’s Director of Culture Enablement David Ostberg. He says the data help Culture Amp pick up on some finer quirks in the company’s culture that many wouldn’t notice.

For instance, one survey identified that the campers wanted more internal recognition for their work. To remedy this, Ostberg worked with all the Experience Managers to set up “gratitude stations” lined with thank you cards staff could give to one another. They also passed out instructions on how to write meaningful cards to other employees, vendors or clients.

So when should you startups start investing in culture? As early as possible, says Fry.

Building culture

So when should you startups start investing in culture? As early as possible, says Fry.

Setting up a list of values is a good start. Culture Amp’s company value frame its culture and its expectations of staff. Fry says that best way to start this process is to create a “I believe…” statements on what you feel is fundamental to how things are done at your company. From there, Fry adds it’s important for founders, or those in a management role, to embody those values and “walk the talk”.

Fry realises that most startups aren’t in the position to afford a dedicated team member working solely on culture or even HR. She also concedes that Culture Amp’s Melbourne office only employs one Experience Manager for every 100 campers it has on its books.

Culture Amp is however trying to shake up this perception that a HR team member should only be hired after you have relevant number of headcount. In its UK office, an Experience Manager, who currently also helps coordinate events, was among the offices’ first dozen hires.

To that point, Fry says any early hires focused on HR will have to pull double duty across a number of roles until the office headcount justifies a full time job. Culture Amp expects that to be the case when its UK office hits 25 staff.

“It doesn’t need to be a senior hire,” Fry adds. “You need to find someone who can do a blend of things, so you’ll always have a way to utilise them,” she adds.

Her final piece of advice is not to fully outsource culture to one team member. Everyone in the office should have hand in making the office a better place. At Culture Amp though, its Experience Managers simply nudge that process along.