How to be the CEO of a Culture First company

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How do you create a Culture First company, and how do you measure your progress against a backdrop of greater employee expectations, rapid advances in technology and changing work models? Also, given the increasingly turbulent times in which we live, how do you adapt and evolve your company culture? That’s the topic of this week’s podcast and this video clip from this week’s interview.

Our guest on this week’s podcast is Didier Elzinga, Founder and CEO at Culture Amp, one of the success stories in HR Tech in recent years and a company that passionately believes the world should be a better place to work.

In the podcast we cover a number of topics, but one in particular that we focus on is creating a culture first company, and we hear how Didier is tackling this task as the CEO of Culture Amp, but also how Culture Amp aims to help other companies climb this mountain. To hear more about Didier’s thoughts on this topic, take a look at this short video or read the full transcript below. If you’re interested in hearing the rest of the interview, then you can listen or subscribe here.

David Green: What are some of the challenges involved in being CEO of a successful HR tech company?

Didier Elzinga: Well, what are the challenges of being a CEO of any fast growth company, but you know HR Tech has its challenges too. There's a couple of interesting things, one is historically HR Tech has not been seen as a promising industry. So if you talk to analysts, you talk to VCs, and they're all like “agh, it’s a horrible buyer and difficult environment” and I think I'm now starting to see people turning around going, “we were wrong”. This category is actually huge, the opportunity here is huge. But that is still a challenge that you're still having to convince people that what we're doing matters.

For me particularly, we're still doubling year on year. And one of the ways I think about culture is “culture is the way things are done around here”. And if you consider that you're doubling every year it means at least half the company has been here for less than 12 months. So the culture is constantly in this sort of formative state and because we are building culture first software, software to help people put culture first, the bar for us is very high and we want to hold that bar.

And so that's the thing I lose sleep over, which is are we doing enough to continue to deliver that culture first company at scale? And the answer is “never”. You can never get there. There’s always a little bit more that you can do. That's probably the thing that I struggle with the most.

David Green: And it's interesting you mentioned Culture Camp near the start of our conversation and you mentioned again you’re doubling every year. You always have to adjust the culture as you go as you become a bigger organisation and obviously you are in multiple countries now as well in terms of where people are located.

Didier Elzinga: Yeah. I mean, that's one of the things starting in Australia. We're a long way from everywhere. And so we made an intentional decision we kind of went global early. So, we've had London, Melbourne, New York, San Francisco and we were those four offices when we were a hundred and fifty people, so we created actually quite a lot of complexity. It's hard running a company across four offices of that size. And so now for us it’s actually building upon that, doubling down in each of those phases and working with it.

But I think the interesting thing is this whole idea of you know, eat your own dog food and so on. As we're rapidly growing we're suffering all the same things that we talk to our customers about. Having an opportunity to explore all those spaces and so in some ways we're our own petri dish for the people that we serve.


David Green is a globally respected writer, speaker, conference chair, and executive consultant on people analytics, data-driven HR and the future of work. As an Executive Director at Insight222, he helps global organisations create more cultural and economic value through the wise and ethical use of people data and analytics. Prior to joining Insight222, David was the Global Director of People Analytics Solutions at IBM Watson Talent. As such, David has extensive experience in helping organisations embark upon and accelerate their people analytics journeys. You can follow David on LinkedIn and Twitter and also subscribe to The Digital HR Leader weekly newsletter and podcast.