Lessons from IKEA to Burnalong: How Culture Can Be Actively Shaped While (Still) Growing Fast

“What are you doing to be informal culture champions?” 

That’s the challenge one of our board members – the former President and Global Head of HR of IKEA –  Pernille Spiers-Lopez laid down to our company at an all-hands meeting focused on how to maintain our core values as we grow (we’ve doubled in headcount in <8 months). 

While her ideas on maintaining and strengthening values were powerful and wide-ranging, that seemingly simple idea of having culture carriers resonated immediately. We took notice. Which is why at an organization level we’ve become more intentional about fostering/rewarding informal culture ambassadors when we see them championing values or otherwise building culture.

How do you find your culture carriers?

Step 1: Ask around. 

We started by collecting all the examples where people were stewarding our culture (see below). Two things struck us in this process: 

  • First, the variety of ways in which values and culture were being lived and shaped on a daily basis. 
  • Second, was just how many things people were doing to define our culture that many of us didn’t even know about. 

As you’ll see below, some of these examples are small, others large, many are informal, others have become ingrained traditions we actively support. 

But regardless of their differences, all profoundly shape our company over time. 

It’s good to know they exist.  

Culture Ambassadors and their efforts

We’ve divided examples of culture carriers into two camps: the micro 1:1 level and the macro team or organization level. Here are a few examples in both camps:

Living Culture in 1:1 Interactions – Examples directly from our team members

  • “I make time to connect personally with colleagues through doing a Burnalong class with them 1-2 times a week.”

While we benefit from being able to use our own wellness platform to take classes together, there are always opportunities to do things together that break the boundaries of strictly work interactions. One call-center an employee used to work at for example had a walking club that would circle the parking lot 10 times every lunch hour.

  • “I focus on being more actively optimistic by pointing out what is working.”
  • “I start off my week reminding myself of the week’s value and trying to live it through my actions. I call out ways that people are acting with our values in mind in real time.”

We keep our internal values top of mind throughout the week, leading our discussions with them and making sure our team engages with the values on a regular basis. Our 6 core values are: Compassion, Community, Optimism, Reflective, Decisiveness, and Visionary.

  • “I put energy behind the ideas I hear from others, encourage people on my team to take risks, structure specific conversations and give time and space for those ideas to develop”
  • “I take note of how people talk, and when I sense negativity or frustration I call it out. I set up time to work through the issue with them and get them back on track.”
  • “I proactively pass the knowledge that I have gained onto others.”

Team-based rituals

As we’ve continued to grow, each department within the company has begun to develop its own idiosyncratic culture. This is not only inevitable, we think it’s enviable. It’s super-fun to catch glimpses of how other teams bond.

Some team-based examples of culture ambassadors at Burnalong include:

  1. A new teammate in sales wanted to kick off each weekly meeting with a riddle – it’s awesome and takes 45 seconds (there are a few riddle masters on the team, who knew?)
  2. I love the compassion that everyone carries, not only for our customers but for each other. One of the biggest things I value is the complete absence of typical sales “cut throat culture.” 
  3. A customer success manager launched informal coffee pods with a rotating set of 3-4 random teammates who meet for a virtual coffee break every few weeks. 
  4. Mindful Moments: We start out larger company meetings with a short 2 to 5 minute class on Burnalong or a team member leading stretches: It gets the bloods flowing and the smiles going. 
  5. A designer in marketing created slack channels around employee interests and others followed suit –> #petlife, #board-games, #videogames, #brandonsanderson, #poetryclub
  6. The Sales Team starts the weekly meetings on a positive note by talking about a highlight from the past week
  7. We start and finish every week with an all-hands meeting. It starts with  people sharing a highlight of their weekend and what they’re focused on for the week ahead. It finishes with reflections on highlights of the week, and a thank you to another team member – centered on exhibiting our culture. (One team member shared: “Having the team stay connected through the weekly meetings in lieu of the strong in-person culture, helps people feel like they’re on a team and part of a family that is with them through all the highs and lows of the job – definitely makes the other meetings and interactions throughout the week stronger and more productive as a result.”)

We’d love to know what your company does that carries your culture forward. And if our values, mission, and team ethos resonate with you, we’re hiring (fully remote). 

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