Every month, we sit down with transformational HR leaders to discuss hot topics in rewards and recognition, employee engagement, HR, and leadership.
MEET ANALIESE BROWN
Analiese Brown is the Vice President of Talent & Culture at CampMinder, which has been named one of Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Work (2017, 2018, 2019), INC.’s Best Workplaces in America (2018), Built In Colorado’s Best Places to Work (2019, 2020), and a Colorado Company to Watch (2018). Since 2001, CampMinder has been creating fast, intuitive, web-based systems to streamline summer camp business operations. The company works with over 900 of the industry’s leading camps, throughout the United States and beyond. Based in Boulder, CO, CampMinder fosters a core values-led culture guided by the company’s purpose to create “a world where work is fulfilling and life is fun.”
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LET’S JUMP INTO THE INTERVIEW
It’s easy to talk about creating a great culture, but you were the first strategic culture hire both at ShipCompliant and at CampMinder tasked with actually implementing culture goals. How did you operationalize each organization’s core values?
When I think about operationalizing core values, I think about how to turn them into people-related processes. That means weaving your core values into all your processes, from hiring to performance management, to how you do rewards and recognition, to the reasons why you would choose to part ways with an employee.
When I came into both CampMinder and ShipCompliant (my previous role), I was fortunate in that there was a clearly defined and articulated set of core values. People knew what those values meant and were generally aligned with those values. The process of operationalizing them was to look at each of those people-related processes and make the values central to the criteria for each of those processes. This is what makes them “core.”
For example, in hiring, instead of assuming that a candidate is a person who will “Give Joy” (one of CampMinder’s values) in the workplace simply based on how they show up that day in an interview, we ask questions like, “What does it look like to bring a sense of hospitality to your work? How have you done this in past roles?” By creating specific questions and defining what we’re looking for in a candidate’s response, we can be systematic about understanding whether they’re someone who strives to Give Joy.
A lot of companies nowadays skim the top level of what you’ve just described and view it as a check in the box. They define a set of values and what they mean but stop there. What you’re articulating is that going deeper is key to operationalizing the values and bringing them to life.
One other element that’s interesting about your background is that you were tasked with creating a cohesive, values-driven culture, and then these companies scaled significantly. How did you maintain that culture as each company scaled?
The great thing about having a clear set of core values and incorporating them intentionally into your hiring process is that you end up with a group of people who are just as committed to maintaining those core values as you grow.
This means the responsibility to scale that culture becomes something that everyone shares, instead of resting solely with the CEO or Head of Talent & Culture. It’s not just the work of one person. We know it’s not sustainable for just one person to be the “keeper of the culture” anyway.
When the people on your team are aligned around your core values (which they will be if you’re hiring in that way), then everyone has a vested interest in creating a culture where those values continue to flourish at any scale.
For example, at this point, I can essentially step out of the hiring process and know that — because we have done the work to define those values and make them central to that process and because we have hiring managers who all share those values and know what to look for — the process runs itself without my involvement.
This means I get to step back and enjoy watching the culture scale itself organically. I get to ensure that we are continuing to operationalize the culture through our processes and systems.
I love how you speak about culture in a way that’s not at all fluffy. You focus on the methodology of turning the “art of culture” into an actionable science. This makes it replicable, which is valuable. You also write about the importance of bringing your ‘whole self’ to work. What does that mean, and why is it valuable when employees feel like they can bring their whole selves to work?
There are a couple of important components to this. There is pressure in our society to be professional at all times. It’s something we learn: at work, you “have to be professional”. We get messages from the media, from parents, from colleagues about what that means. Unfortunately, what it means in a lot of contexts is that we can’t show weakness or vulnerability, or we can’t be open about the struggles or challenges we are facing at work or in our personal lives.
But the truth is, there is both learning and growth that happens when we confront those vulnerabilities and share what we’re actually going through. It’s where we have an opportunity to build real, trusting relationships and bonds between colleagues. I think it is hugely beneficial for individuals and organizations to create environments where it’s safe to be open about what you might be going through.
Doing so requires a couple key factors. It takes leadership leading by example and demonstrating this, so people know that at the very highest level of the organization that it’s okay. It also takes knowing there are no repercussions for being open or vulnerable in a productive way. You must welcome it and praise it if you want to create an environment where it’s truly safe for employees to show up as their whole selves
The other component though, which leads us into the inclusion conversation, is that bringing your whole self to work means knowing that all parts of your identity and the different life experiences that you bring will be valued and appreciated at your workplace. That is where organizations can be explicit about valuing and appreciating the full spectrum of identities and creating cultures where everyone is valued and feels a sense of belonging.
In combination, those two components create psychologically safe environments and allow people to show up as their best selves to their work.
Another factor that fits perfectly into this conversation is the concept of empathy. One of the terms you’ve brought up is the concept of “radical empathy”. Most people in the HR + culture space know why practicing empathy is important, but what is radical empathy and how can leaders embody it to support their team’s success?
We hear the word empathy a lot. We all know it’s important. Empathy, in practice, is imagining what someone else’s feelings or experiences might be. Where it tips over into radical empathy is when a person takes it from a passive imagining to an active process of asking or seeking to understand. That can show up in a number of ways.
Instead of just talking about what you think a certain group will feel if you make a decision, it’s going a step further and actually asking the group how they would feel if you did make that decision. It’s asking, ‘why?’ and ‘how will this impact you?’. Imagination is great, but we haven’t lived someone else’s life. We don’t know what it’s like to be them. Radical empathy is going the step further to ask and engage and make sure you do understand.
Recently, with the COVID pandemic, I began to realize that the shutdown orders would affect our team members who had young children or school-aged children at home. They would be attempting to work their full-time jobs while having children at home, all while trying to continue their children’s education at home.
Of course, I knew that would be really challenging, but we put out a survey in an effort to truly understand what our team was most concerned about. We asked our team what we could do as a company to help alleviate some of their concerns. What feedback did they have for us? What kinds of things were on their minds around balancing these two parts of their lives?
We got great feedback, some of which was surprising. There were new ideas I hadn’t thought of. We ended up implementing a childcare benefit where people could get reimbursed for a full range of items from educational toys, games, websites, and even outdoor equipment to help keep their kids occupied during the day. It ended up being a whole range of things that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.
The budget involved wasn’t a huge sum. We were facing financial uncertainty and couldn’t afford a whole lot, but people felt heard just in the process of us seeking to understand their experiences. That seemed to be important and meaningful to them.
Thanks for bringing that point up. Leaders can often focus on the tactic of asking to get the answer or to get the feedback. But the whole process of asking is in itself a sign that you truly care about your team members. This leads us into a deeper question on inclusivity…
How can we ensure that we are recognizing folks in inclusive ways that align with what actually matters to them? What factors do you consider when you begin to build an inclusive recognition and rewards strategy (as part of your broader employee engagement and retention strategy)?
It’s an important topic and especially timely right now. I think about a couple of things as they relate to being inclusive with rewards and recognition. The questions of “who is empowered to give recognition?” or “who has the power to reward?” are important to ask. There is not necessarily a right or wrong answer, but I think that including a peer-to-peer component to democratize the process in some way can be important in making work visible that might otherwise not be.
This is important because we know that in the workplace, women and people of color sometimes take on the less visible work, whether administrative work or emotional labor. Democratizing who gets to give recognition and rewards can allow employees to shine the spotlight on an action that a leadership team member wouldn’t otherwise have visibility into. That can communicate to everyone else that, hey, these other contributions are just as important to our organization’s success.
Similarly, what do we consider “worthy” of recognition and rewards? This is where you can get creative in thinking as expansively about your core values as you can.
One example with our core value of “Wonder” at CampMinder: There is a lot of wonder that comes out in the product development process and the user research process. However, there can be just as much wonder in a conversation you have with a colleague where they ask you, “How are you really doing with this pandemic? What are you really thinking and feeling? Are there any ways I can support you right now?”
Thinking expansively about what your core values look like can broaden the way you define them to include and acknowledge a diverse set of behaviors. Perhaps that inquisitive conversation with your colleague didn’t directly add to the bottom line in that instant, but we agree that that instance of curiosity is just as important to our culture and to our team.
HR leaders and other leaders can facilitate processes to ask for team members’ thoughts on all the different ways core values can show up in your team’s day today. That is one way to ensure that your rewards and recognition strategy can be inclusive.
From what we’ve seen in our research, it suggests that building a cohesive team has a direct impact on the bottom line. You’re out there living it. You’ve been the person brought on to operationalize a culture and you’ve scaled your businesses pretty significantly. This speaks to something; it says that culture is important to business success. From a business perspective, can you speak to the bottom line impacts of investing time, effort, and energy into developing core values and a values-driven organization?
Both ShipCompliant and CampMinder share the concept of the flywheel, which essentially has you focus on employee engagement as the starting point for all momentum that follows for your business. The idea is that you have engaged and fulfilled employees, and they will provide better service to your clients. Clients who are fans of the company will tell their peers about you, which generates referrals and more business. This leads to more profit, which gives you the ability to invest back into your team’s growth and create new opportunities for your team.
When you feed the flywheel, you get to see results in all those categories. You get to invest back into your team, which is what will grow your business. I’ve been lucky to see that virtuous cycle play out first hand at both ShipCompliant and CampMinder.
There are other ways to do business, of course. Personally, I don’t think they’d be as fun or as fulfilling, or places that I would want to work. I love seeing the flywheel effect because it benefits everyone, including the whole community of people you come into contact with.
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This interview was hosted by Ginger Kern and Dan Kasper from Wishlist. If you are a transformational HR leader and would like to be featured in Wishlist’s interview series, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.