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“Engagement, Energy and even an Evacuation!” - Culture First 2019 - Day 1.

After a 30 hr journey from the Perth, Australian Winter to the sunny but foggy San Franciscan Summer, I was so ready to immerse myself in the Culture First Event held at Pier 27 on the waterfront in San Francisco. And here I talk about Day 1 of 3.

One of the premises of the event is that everyone is welcome and we were asked to choose from a number of badges to reflect how we belonged by sharing something personal about ourselves and to create a talking point to meet others. I chose the badges Anxiety and Imposter Syndrome. Fairly ironic for someone that has travelled on their own, to meet with 1000 other people and feeling like I wasn’t good enough to be there. But I was ready to own it and this helped me to adjust and interact – so #winning.

I met with my Australian contact – Stephanie Brien – who I owe a massive thanks for making this happen for me and got familiar with the coffee station and some breakfast – double yum.

The day started off with Didier Elzinga – CEO and Co-Founder, Steve Hopkins (who in true Australian style has had his name shortened to Shopkins) - Director of Customer Success, Rod Hamilton - Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder. Being in San Fran I was expecting a lot of American accents and then when each of these 3 gents started to talk, the surprise was on me, they were Aussie. I felt so proud being an Australian in the room hearing fellow Aussies talk about their journey and how they have in my words “kicked butt” in this market in their quest to, in their words “make a better world of work”.

After the first break, we were 5 minutes in on a session close to my heart – “Culture through Mergers, Demergers and Acquisitions” when a largish bang akin to a skip bin/garbage dumpster being dropped was heard, followed by a call to evacuate. Can I say – the Culture Amp team is all class, they calmly got everyone out, juggled the day around, came up with a plan B and just made the day keep happening with no fuss, including the rescheduling of the sessions missed. Only a great team could facilitate it as smoothly as they did.

Yummy lunch options ensued then onto the afternoon breakout sessions.

I chose to attend a session from Laurent Sylvestre - Chief People and Culture Officer at Beca. He admitted to panicking before his session, but didn’t need to be worried as he took us on “Beca’s Culture First Journey” and the session was over before I was ready for it to – now THAT is engagement!

Next up I attended an Interactive Session “You’ve Got Values, Now What?” run by Rebecca Friese Rodskog and Decio Mendes – Co Founders and Partners from Future Leader Now.

And to end the day, we collectively heard from Golbie Kamarei – Chief People Officer at Culture Amp, who also grounded us with a short but impactful meditation, and to say she inspired me is an understatement. Finally, we heard from the CEO and CPO at App Annie – Ted Krantz and Natasha Kehimkar respectively, which was moderated by Damon Klotz – Work Culture Evangelist. Damon’s Aussie dry sense of humour went down well with the crowd.

Key takeaways and comments from the day:

* Culture First is a commitment to amplifying what people are capable of being and achieving. * Culture in a business is NOT a HR problem – it is the sum of every individual’s contribution. 

* If you don’t invest in your people and your culture, you have no competitive advantage. * While I am well versed in the concepts of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and Intellectual Intelligence (IQ), I learnt about Cultural Intelligence (CQ) for the first time – being “the capability to relate and work effectively across cultures”. * Leaders need to ask for feedback instead of just giving it.

* If you see a behaviour – it gives you permission to do it (good and bad).

* “I thrive when the workplace culture sucks”…….said no one ever.

* Culture is the fuel to drive strategy.

* When someone leaves your business, don’t just measure why they are going – also measure where – this will give you the true why. * When things are bad in a business and the leaders think it is not the right time to engage with their team, think about it from the team perspective as they are likely thinking “why aren’t the leaders listening when I have so much to say and contribute”.


Ask your team if they would reapply for the job they are doing today. If the answer is no, listen to why and look at the options to improve on this for them.

We ended the day with food and drinks and games in the Culture Park and I was fortunate to feel courageous enough (maybe I should pick up a new belonging badge tomorrow) to ask the registration team to make a 5 year old back home very happy by letting Pluto check in to the event. They obliged and made my day even better than it was already. 

In finishing - all I can sum up with is – can’t wait for Day 2 😊. I look forward to bringing you my summary tomorrow.

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