posted August 7, 2018

Dagger Goes West: Learnings From Culture Summit 2018

Rachelle Knowles

Aligning company culture has become an essential initiative for companies committed to growth and longevity. So much so, that organizations are hiring team members with the word “culture” in their title. While I may not have that title specifically, I am one of those people who has the honor of holding a role to ensure alignment of culture, people and performance at Dagger.

Our leadership team at Dagger understands the deeply correlated relationship between company culture and organizational health. Just two weeks ago, I and the CEO of Dagger attended Culture Summit in San Francisco with the intent of learning and bringing back gems of knowledge to our office on the Beltline.

One of my favorite sessions of the summit was with Susan Lee, VP of People at Warby Parker. Susan’s talk integrated leadership learnings from a Dave Chappelle performance; she also divulged that she wrote romance novels on the side. To say that her humor and candor was refreshing would be an understatement, but what I loved most was the practical knowledge she shared with us about how she championed culture at Warby Parker.

In her session titled The Importance of Rituals & How it Reinforces Company Culture, Susan shared what I’ll call a culture feedback loop that consisted of intention, ritual, and impact. In a healthy culture, one informs the other in an ongoing process of improvement. At the heart of the culture feedback loop is the intention(hope/purpose) we have for our rituals (events, traditions, processes) at our company. Those rituals can range from happy hours to 1:1s and performance development. Those rituals, in turn, create a (hopefully) positive cultural impact at the company.

While talking about the programs, initiatives, and vision she’s led, she reminded us that the ritual isn’t what’s precious. Instead, it’s the intention. Why is it that we’re doing a particular thing? When we’re grounded in our why, the what can change at any time. In fact, we should expect change as a sign of health in our culture and organizations.

Culture requires both space to emerge organically and constant curation in order to be generative and dynamic.

What I learned from Susan is that if we’re not careful, we can mistake the success of a particular ritual for our culture. As companies grow and scale, however, things must change. A program or process that sustained a healthy and dynamic culture three years ago (or even 6 months ago) may not work today. At Dagger, we’re digging in to what it means to design culture by grounding in intention, so our rituals reflect the ongoing evolution of our values. In this way, our commitment is improving our culture, rather than protecting it. When companies remember this, we can embrace change in the name of growth, learning and agility.