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If you weren’t able to make it out to our latest event, Pioneers of Company Culture, you missed a great time and several informative interviews that featured some of the brightest minds in the industry sharing their thoughts on what it means to create a company culture with both heart and the ability to help clients and employees thrive and grow.
On Thursday evening, 210 professionals, students, and Seer clients attended the event with 100% of ticket proceeds divided among the speakers’ charities of choice. An additional 50 attended remotely, viewing the event online as it unfolded in real-time. The last event at the Church, set a Seer in-person attendance record.
This time around, Seer did things a little differently, with founder Wil Reynolds sitting down fireside chat-style with each of our guests. In addition to hearing some inspiring, brave, and candid personal stories from each of the speakers, attendees got an insider’s perspective into building a company culture – and the importance of maintaining it. Speakers Patty McCord, Rand Fishkin, and Emily Allen each shared their thoughts and in-the-trenches anecdotes with the audience. Following their individual chat sessions, the speakers took part in a Q&A panel to cap things off.
The event drove home the point that it takes more than just one architect at the helm of a company to create a culture. It takes someone to rally the troops and get others on-board with making sure that culture allows employees room to breathe, grow, and thrive.
Making the occasion even more special – and just a little bittersweet – was that the event was Seer’s final one at the Search Church before we relocate (just across the street!) to our new home in the Rialto Building in Philly’s Northern Liberties.
In case you weren’t able to get in on the action at the Search Church or online, don’t sweat it! Here’s a brief recap of the event, photos, and highlights of what each of our special guest speakers had to say.
Patty McCord was instrumental in helping to create the company culture of Netflix over the course of 12 years – from the company’s infancy until 2014. She helped to create the Netflix Culture Deck – a simple, presentation on fostering a positive, productive company ethos. That “simple presentation” has been viewed more than five million times on the web.
But Patty’s involvement went far beyond creating a virtual handbook. She made sure those cultural principles were given life and breath across the whole of Netflix. To put it bluntly, Patty reinvented HR and is the reason many companies followed suit, rethinking stale HR principles and reshaping them into something a lot more meaningful. Today, she is the mind behind Patty McCord Consulting and works with companies both large and small, including Warby Parker, Hubspot, and many more. Her background includes staffing, diversity, communications, and international Human Resources positions.
Patty’s charity of choice is Caring Bridge, a non-profit organization that aims to offer help, hope, and support to those facing difficult life situations. Patty’s donations were made in memory of her friend, gospel/blues/soul singer Sista Monica Parker who passed away in 2014.
During her chat with Wil at the Search Church, Patty offered some valuable insights into building a better company, tempered with her trademark warmth and humor:
- Listening to your employees (or even job candidates) can help change your product for the better. Patty told the story of a very forward-thinking potential hire who was really into mobile technology. During his interview, he expressed his desire to see Netflix on mobile platform and be able to stream movies and shows on-the-go. Although the company wasn’t currently pursuing that direction, Patty expressed that they may not be in that place for a few years, but wanted to extend a job offer to him if he felt he could be okay with that for a few years. She stressed the importance of honesty with employees and new hires, making sure that they’d be comfortable offering their time to a company that may not yet be able to give them what they need, but that they could help them get there.
- Determine what your business problems are and what success looks like. As a self-described “product manager of people,” Patty noted that hiring employees is more than just writing and filling and a position. A great hire is the problem you want to solve and the role you want to fill:“If this person was amazing and accomplishing everything I dreamed of [for the company], how would I know? Then I’d want to go out and hire them.” Patty advocated for looking for people with a positive attitude who may be a good fit culture-wise than solely going off of someone’s resume. “I’d rather hire someone with half the skills and twice as much passion…. Hard work is absolutely the right skillset for nearly any problem.”
- Transparency and honesty go a long way with employees. So, what if you do take a chance on a new hire who may lack skills but has a ton of drive? According to Patty… You tell them. “Sometimes you take a risk on a hire. The most effective thing you can do is tell them. As was the case with the candidate who was really into mobile, Patty shared with the audience that she told him flat out, “We’re not going to do mobile for a few years, but we think you’re great.”
Similarly, Patty mentioned the importance of trusting your gut. While it’s important to be open and honest with potential hires, don’t hesitate to grill them if you think there’s something that appears a bit “off” with their resume and career history.
- On “Tough Conversations.” In her own words, Patty said that ‘Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) are an artifice created to fire people legally… You give them lofty goals to accomplish and then will fire them anyway… Don’t set people up to fail. If you know it won’t work out, say it won’t work out. Own the decision.’
She acknowledged that losing an employee is akin to a breakup — but that all parties should be accountable for the way they acted during the relationship. Those tough conversations should always begin with the words “Thank you for everything you’ve done.” Contributions should be acknowledged. But if you’re that person’s manager and if they’ve done nothing for two years, remember that you managed them doing nothing.
Patty also shared her experiences as a woman starting out in the tech industry several years ago, admitting that today’s numbers with regard to gender are actually worse than when she was building her career. She told some humorous stories of her time work in Scotland and her fish-out-of-water experience as a native Californian dealing with some rather staid Scots. For more insights & impersonations (wait till you see her Arianna Huffington!) from Patty, watch the full video here:
Rand Fishkin goes by the title the Wizard of Moz, an apt moniker considering he not only founded the digital marketing SaaS company Moz, but served as its CEO from 2004 until 2014. In addition to being the man behind the curtain, Rand has also written two books on SEO and co-founded Inbound.org. He readily shares his thoughts on the industry on his multiple blogs and is a self-described “unsaveable addict of all things content, search, and social on the web.”
One of the most respected names in the digital space, Rand created the TAGFEE culture that made Moz respected not just for its constant innovation in the sphere of SEO, but for its strong sense of ethics and values. Rand is part of the reason why Moz has on-site LGBT groups, parents’ groups and more. He’s continued to run a successful business that not only does well, but treats its employees well, too.
Rand’s chosen charity is Water for Wasala, an organization dedicated to providing clean water for the people of Wasala, Nicaragua.
Rand’s candid on-stage chat dropped some serious knowledge on the audience about both his own personal struggles and his struggles with building a successful company. The dynamic between Rand and Wil was of two old friends, discussing their lives and ambitions in a really frank setting — with a few well-placed f-bombs thrown in for good measure.
- On dealing with the “Nostalgia Feeling” in growing companies. Rand and Wil chatted candidly about a phenomenon they dubbed “The Nostalgia Feeling” that affects small start-ups that morph into much larger companies. Rand spoke about how a company that has an atmosphere where coworkers feel like family can sometimes lead to a nostalgic feeling of “we used to be” and those who may feel a little lost in the midst of company growth. It can also be difficult to know the past and know you’re never going back to that place — unless you want to get rid of 100 of the 166 employees and go backwards in terms of progress. Not really an option!
- Emotion vs. Numbers. Rand even admitted he himself was plagued by the feeling of nostalgia, noting what it takes to be an effective CEO and straddling the line between emotion and numbers: “CEOs need to speak the language of metrics and numbers. And I speak very emotionally. About my company. About myself. About what’s going on with Google. I love data and speaking about growth. What’s interesting to know is not everyone feels that way. Some people feel Moz is better than before. Others feel Moz’s best days or most fun days are behind them.”
- Addressing the issue of gender and racial disparity in the industry. Let’s face it, in the tech or SEO industry, the list of speakers at conventions can be a bit of a bro-fest. Rand was proud of the fact that over 50% of the speakers at Moz Con this year are women. “When you don’t talk about diversity and gender numbers, it gets buried,” said Rand. “I don’t want people who look like me on stage… We’re affected by the bias of the world we live in. I want to be in a world where no one thinks about the gender or race of the person on a panel. That world will never exist unless we take the steps today.” He noted that Moz “is a much more authentic, empathetic, and generous place because of our diversity.”
- If you are hearing from many people over and over that something is wrong, it probably is. And you need to find a way to correct it. More is not always better. Overloading new hires and teams with 20 reports at a time so they don’t spend time on details that don’t matter is ineffective. At that point, all you can do is coordinate and you can’t manage performance effectively. At that rate, you can’t even manage a project effectively, either. To combat this “More! More! More!” attitude, Rand offered that CEOs should not panic when there are a few down months. This happens across multiple businesses.
Rand also shared insights about Moz’s internal company culture and structure along with some very personal stories of his battle with depression, self-perception and feelings of perceived failure — and that his dad once described him as “a high potential low achiever.” Interested in hearing more from Rand’s chat with Wil? We’ve got the full video here:
Emily Allen puts the “human” in “human relations.” Her role at Seer sees her not only developing the career paths of current employees, but guiding her own internal team to recruit new talent. From investigating the best benefit packages to support the work-life balance of a growing team to serving as a de facto “guidance counselor” to help current employees develop new skills and attain their own personal goals, her approach is genuine, focusing on ways to make the Seer team happier and better every day.
Before joining Seer, Emily spent seven years in a more traditional HR and recruiting capacity with financial and educational institutions. She graduated from Duquesne University, majoring in Business. Outside of her daily duties at Seer, she volunteers with Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a charity devoted to stamping out childhood cancer. Emily also spends time with the Spark program, which mentors children in areas where high dropout rates are prevalent.
In her talk with Wil, Emily shared her perspectives on being Seer’s lead “People Person” and what it’s like to work for a fast-growth company — and how to maintain a company culture amidst the fast ‘n’ furious push to get bigger and better.
- Fast-growth companies should be especially careful in crafting standardized internal processes. Although it may not relate directly to a company’s culture and how things are done, Emily firmly believes in the importance of process, consistency, and communications. “Sometimes you have to move fast, but things get lost in the translation. If you don’t have a super standardized process for something, it can confuse the team. You do have to move fast, but you need to be careful to make sure everyone understands and is fully onboard.”
- Communication is key. In her sit-down, Emily expressed that she thought that the best way a company can create a cadence of communication during growth phases is to offer internal resources to the entire team to keep them apprised of what’s growing, what’s evolving, and what needs to change. This is just as important for managers to know, as well as the teams that they manage.
- A good HR person knows it’s not all about them. Circling back to communication, Emily discussed how she manages to work with a diverse group of 100+ personalities on a daily basis. “One thing that helps me work with everyone is checking how I think and operate at the door. I err towards the side of over-communication.” She stressed the importance of learning how teammates like (and dislike) to be communicated with. For instance, if you know you’re broaching a topic someone may not like, be honest and preface it with acknowledging the conversation will likely annoy that person, but it’s something that needs to be talked about.
- Failure is — and should be — an option. While Emily naturally work at a fast pace, she was slightly intimidated by Seer’s rapid-fire pace when she first joined. She reflected that, when she moves super fast, it’s easy to mess up and make mistakes and was afraid to screw up and get fired. However, she embraced the culture of giving employees wiggle room to experiment with processes, break things, and build something great from the ashes of things that blow up.
“If you’re not failing, you’re not trying,” she said. “Don’t screw anything up majorly, but if anything, by sharing our failures, it makes our company better.” Granting employees the gift of being able to be open about failures and share them without fear of firing helps give them the courage and confidence to try something new.
Emily also spoke about what it’s like to work with Wil on a daily basis, the importance of having a best friend in the company, the “24-hour rule,” and ways to recognize your team’s milestones and achievements. You can watch Emily’s full interview in the video below:
The event concluded with a Q&A session that brought together all three speakers and saw them taking questions from the audience. You can watch the full Q&A Session here:
The final Seer event at the Search Church raised over $7000 for charity. Seer would like to thank everyone who came out to the event, as well as our special guest speakers who were kind enough to share their time and knowledge with so many.
Want more pictures? Visit our Facebook page for the full album.
We hope you enjoyed the event and that you’ll join us for our next event in our new headquarters. Stay tuned!