My Talk at #SHRM on How To Build and Scale Company Culture Fast


I flew to Chicago to give a presentation on how to build and scale company culture fast at SHRM, the largest gathering of HR peeps in the country. This annual event of 8,000 people that gather for 4 days of HR tawk had been kicked off by Hillary Clinton. That’s right friends, me and Hillary speaking at the same conference.

Pretty neat.

But my speaking slot wasn’t exactly prime-time. It was the last session on the last day of a four day marathon event that included hundreds of speakers on dozens of topics and party after party. As I made my way to the cavernous bowels of the conference center where my talk was scheduled, I felt like I was swimming against the stream. There were hundreds of people, exiting the conference, with their luggage, looking for taxi’s and busses to take them to the airport. The Twitter had tipped me off that it was a non-stop boondoggle and some of these folks looked, well, tired. And really, who shows up for the last session on the last day? As I got closer to the destination conference room, I was more and more convinced I was going to speaking to a completely empty room. I worked on developing Plan B and texted a local friend to see if she wanted to meet up for lunch.

You can imagine how shocked I was to walk into a room filled with 300 people. Turns out these HR peeps are really interested in how to build and scale company culture in fast growing companies. Wow.

OK, here’s a little bit of what I talked about.

1) Figure out who you are and be that person.


I have a huge friend crush on Jolie O’Dell. She’s everything I’m not – poised and articulate and polished and she can get up in front of thousands with no notes and not break a sweat. Wow. Well, one of the fabulous things about turning 40 is that you come to terms with who you are – all of it.
I’m not ever going to be those things that she is. But I can admire them and still show up as my best authentic self. That’s the fastest path to being the best leader. This part might feel like a bunch of new age crap but I actually do believe it.

People often talk about other companies’ culture and how they want to replicate that. Stop it. Be who you are and embrace it. Improve the things you don’t like about yourself and your culture but be who you are.

2) When the company grows, that means things have to change.

That’s a fancy, awesome problem. Cry me a river and then get over it.

When your company does well, you grow. That means some of the things that you used to do (like everyone involved with every decision) will have to change. As you move from being 100% focused on building product to building and selling product, there will be role specialization and some (hopefully lightweight) process. This is a very fancy problem and one you should celebrate. Not everyone that was critical at 10 people is effective at 50 people. That’s OK. If some of your early people can’t scale with you, I suggest you throw them a big party to honor them for their contributions and then show them the door.

3) The Hiring Manager is the CEO of the Hiring Decision.


The Hiring Manager should put together a team to help her interview. That team should know the nuanced requirements, help with candidate sourcing and interview rigorously. They should cast their votes and weigh in vociferously on the debriefs.

And then they should get inline 100% behind whatever decision the Hiring Manager makes. Hiring decisions aren’t a consensus or even a democracy. The Hiring Manger is the CEO for the decision and needs to own both that decision and making that person successful.

The rest of us are just here to serve at her pleasure.

4) Making an offer is a lot like proposing marriage.


OK, well, maybe not exactly but it’s still a really big deal. So treat it that way. Think about it – we invest all this time sourcing, screening, interviewing and deciding on whether to hire a candidate. And then we have the recruiter call the person and make the offer. That’s not even a little OK. Turning it into a big deal means different things to different people but I think it’s important to find a way to make the offer in your own authentic, awesome way.

5) Do performance evaluations. Every 6 months.

If this suggestion make your roll your eyes, let me offer a few points:

  • Focusing your attention and feedback on your top performers will pay you ginourmous dividends. Tell the people that you love that you love them and why.
  • We tend to be so detailed in our “constructive feedback” and so general and sweeping in our positive feedback. Stop that. Be very specific about your positive feedback.
  • Finally, a year is a lifetime in a startup.

6) The head of HR is actually the CEO.

Fish is CEO

The CEO sets the example for how employees make decisions, interact with each other, prioritize tasks and execute a plan. You can partner with the CEO and influence all sorts of things, but if you’re more than roughly 20% out of sync, you’re probably in the wrong organization. Quit your job and find someone you’re more aligned with. You’ll be more effective and happier.

2 Responses to My Talk at #SHRM on How To Build and Scale Company Culture Fast

  1. Jonathan Weavers says:

    Hey -

    Your last post [My Talk at #SHRM on How To Build and Scale Company Culture Fast] was freaking awesome. I have gone ahead and added your stuff to my Feedly account. Please keep me updated if you post anywhere else.

    Keep rocking –


  2. Anna Binder says:

    Hi Jon and thanks for your kind words. I think they did a video of my presentation at SHRM and I’ll share that when they send it to me.

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