Greenhouse’s Secret Ingredient to Building a Thriving Company Culture
Greenhouse employees love working here. To prove it, Greenhouse was recently named the #1 best place to work by Glassdoor. And this is largely thanks to our employees and our company culture, which we have devoted significant time, energy, and care into cultivating.
We are authentic, effective, customer focused, inclusive & open minded, collaborative, and ambitious. The most important ingredient in our culture, however, is our relentless commitment to listening to our employees.
In the last couple of years, we’ve grown to approximately 200 people across two offices. With that growth came the need to evolve to be more deliberate about our culture. After a bit of trial and error, we’ve found that the culture committee is one of the best ways to foster the culture we’re trying to create.
Some might be surprised to learn that a committee is the answer; many companies are working toward having fewer meetings, not more. What makes Greenhouse’s culture committee special is that it is truly democratic—the more we can hear from a variety of employees, the more our culture thrives. These ideas, along with our bi-annual engagement survey, pulse surveys, and informal conversations, all help us to inform priorities and initiatives across the organization.
Greenhouse’s culture committee is made up of about 12 employees nominated by their department leadership. Members are all high performers in their day-to-day jobs and consistently make meaningful contributions to our culture—from planning a team camping trip or office ping pong tournaments to coming up with creative ways to boost morale.
In this post, I will outline what exactly the culture committee does, why it’s become a vital part of our culture, and what we’ve learned along the way.
What are the ingredients needed to build a culture committee?
1. Leadership support
Be sure to get your Executive Leadership team on board—a culture committee will be most successful with active leadership involvement. The Executive team can:
Nominate the members of the committee. The nominees should be high performers on their respective teams and culture leaders.
Listen and respond. The feedback that is shared during the culture committee meetings goes directly to the company’s leadership, and they should be prepared to act upon it.
For example, one of the ideas brought up by the culture committee was to implement regular department “retrospectives.” The concept of the retrospective comes from the engineering world—every other week, engineering teams hold these meetings to reflect on how everything has been going and discuss things to improve. This method can, of course, be applied to all types of projects.
The leadership team listened to the committee’s idea to hold retrospectives and we started to do them within each department across the organization.
How we did it: Our leadership occasionally pops into culture committee meetings to listen and then shares this feedback with the rest of the leadership team. They take employee feedback seriously. The bottom-up culture does not work without top-down support.
What we learned: It is important to explain why the leader is coming to meetings and what his or her role is. This helps to build trust, and, as a result, more openness from culture committee members with leadership.
It’s essential that the committee creates and follows clear goals.
How we did it: We agreed upon the committee’s goals together—as the facilitator, I brought some ideas for discussion early on, and then the culture committee iterated and ultimately decided on them. Our culture committee goals are to:
Give each department a voice on office and culture matters
Share office and culture updates with all departments
Advise the Executive team on culture ideas
What we learned: It took us a few meetings to understand how the goals translated into responsibilities for the committee. We started to more effectively execute on our goals when the culture committee members became more comfortable as a team and brought their own ideas to meetings and began facilitating the meetings themselves.
It’s vital that culture committee members understand their roles and take an active hand in owning and running the committee.
How we did it: Following a rotating system, members lead and take notes at each meeting. To facilitate this process, we put together a Google doc of all of our meeting dates and topics and then assigned leaders and note-takers for each meeting. Before each meeting, I meet with the designated leader and prep them for 15 minutes to set the committee member up for success.
What we learned: It is important for the committee members to not only know their role as members, but also communicate this information to the employees in their departments. The employees at Greenhouse should always feel that they have a channel to share their thoughts and ideas through their culture committee representative.
Create transparency. The meeting outcomes should be available to everyone.
How we did it: To encourage transparency and open communication across Greenhouse, we agreed to:
Share all meeting notes on the Hub, an online resource (housed on Greenhouse Onboarding) that all employees can access
Meet regularly with employees in each department to share and get feedback
What we learned: As the culture committee has gained more visibility at Greenhouse (which is what we want!), employees have shown a heightened interest in providing more regular feedback (also what we want!). So, we have had to devise more creative ways to ensure that all employees, around all edges of the departments, are being heard. Some of these strategies include conducting surveys and scheduling office hours with groups within Sales and Engineering.
What does success look like? The answer to this question is critical to understand in order to 1) assess how you are doing as a committee and 2) effectively share results with the larger organization so that it understands the business value of the work.
How we did it: Admittedly, we are still working on this one. At Greenhouse, we live by the philosophy that you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. In the spirit of doing a few things really well, we have focused on getting stuff done first, and next will focus on measurement.
That said, despite not having a formal metric for measuring success, we’ve accomplished a lot.
Extracurricular Calendar. We were struggling with an easy way for staff to know what activities were going on—not just all-company meetings, but a random movie night that was organized at the last minute or a choir concert that someone was performing in. The shared extracurricular calendar provides an easy way for employees to add and share club, committee, and other activities.
Employee Warm Fuzzies Slack Channel. The employee warm fuzzies channel on Slack is a nice way to give visible shout-outs and provide a casual place for employees to celebrate each other’s accomplishments.
Department Retrospectives. The concept of doing retros at weekly or monthly department meetings came from an idea that one of our culture committee reps from engineering proposed during a committee meeting. Teams have been able to discuss what is working well or not working well and take action.
Anniversary Recognition. Anniversaries are a big deal, so we recently upped our game with anniversary recognition—in addition to yearly anniversary swag (from a one-year backpack and sweatshirt to a three-year personalized bobble head), we now celebrate company anniversaries with balloons and a photo on Slack.
Gnomie Awards: The employees who most fully embodied each of our culture values received a culture gnome (a small gnome statue) with the culture value that they represent during our end of year all hands meeting. The culture committee nominated and awarded the winners.
What we learned: The culture committee is working to devise success metrics so that we can understand how well we are collecting and sharing feedback. One potential measure of success might be having over 90% of each department answer “strongly agree” (on a five-point scale) when asked if they have received an update from the culture committee member that month or shared an idea with their representative. This will help us to assess the success of goals 1 and 2 by ensuring that we are 1) effectively giving each department a voice on office and culture matters, and 2) effectively sharing office and culture updates with all departments.
How often are meetings held and what do we talk about?
For the past year, we have met bi-monthly. Meetings rotate between a retrospective, where we reflect on what is working well or not working well for us as a committee and as an organization, and a discussion topic.
Some recent discussion topics have included:
Defining our collaboration and meeting best practices
Figuring out how to continue to recognize people for their accomplishments
Brainstorming ways to recognize employees on their company anniversary day
Providing feedback on key staff communication
This is just the beginning...
Like every project we undertake at Greenhouse, the culture committee is a work in progress. We can always do better and are constantly iterating. If you have ideas, I would love to hear them. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a direct message on Twitter @melanieoberman.
By the way, we're hiring! Check out our open roles here.
Melanie Oberman is the Director of Employee Experience at Greenhouse. She has a passion for making people and culture a strategic driver of the business, allowing employees to do the best work of their career. Her team focuses on scaling the culture in addition to day-to-day operations, office management, talent management, internal communication, and collaboration. We work to make it easy and fun for every employee to fully contribute and engage in the Greenhouse community.
And, she’s proud to say it's working—we were named #1 Best Place to Work by Glassdoor.
Before Greenhouse, Melanie advised senior executives at a variety of media, tech, and telecommunications companies on diversity & inclusion, communication, talent, and training strategies.
You can find Melanie on Twitter and LinkedIn.