NextWave Chat: Managing Culture in Hypergrowth Companies with Christina Luconi

Post by
Phil Strazzulla
March 16, 2017

On Thursday March 16th we had the pleasure of hosting Christina Luconi for a 45 min live chat on managing culture at hyper growth companies.  Christina is a startup junkie who's currently the Chief People Officer at Rapid7.  Her experience building and managing culture at startups is something we could all learn from.With that in mind, we invited Christina to be the host of an interactive chat where HR practitioners could ask questions, and share their own experiences around the topic of culture in hyper growth companies.As a side experiment, we wanted to see if a live chat was a useful format for sharing ideas and information.  We were excited to see the socratic method implemented virtually, rather than sit through a webinar where the attendees are passive.Christina rocked it, shared some awesome information, and fostered a great discussion on this topic.  Below is the transcript of our conversation.  Please stay tuned for future NextWave Chats!

Here's the transcript, enjoy!

Phil: Ok everyone - thanks a lot for joining this chat on culture at hyper growth companies! Christina has graciously agreed to spend the next 40 minutes answering questions about her experiences....please don't be shy in asking, or sharing your own experiences!

Christina Luconi: hi everyone!

Sam: Hi Christina!

Christina Luconi: Ask away...

Neil: Hi Christina!

Sam: I'm curious what's important for companies at series A stage vs where Rapid7 is now? Seems like a big difference

Christina Luconi: For point of reference, I think of myself as a "start up junkie" I love building the people pieces from scratch at companies...and then hopefully gettingthemto a successful event.

Guest9282: When joining a startup, how do you better evaluate if the leadership team is good or not?

Jen: Christina, how does culture and HR influence the company getting to a successful exit?

Christina Luconi: Not that big a difference, Sam! In early stage companies, it's important to identify culture...i don't mean "we bring dogs to work" but rather your belief system. When people understand that piece, it allows you to build all your other "people pieces" around it. Who you hire, who you reward, etc. all needs to tie back. That's just as critical the larger you get

Phil: @Guest9282, do you mean from an employee's perspective, or from TA?

Guest9282: employee, thanks

Christina Luconi: Guest9292, start with the CEO. What do they believe in? What is their leadership style? Who does he/she surround themselves with (yes people, or diverse thinkers, for example...) Have they had success before?

Christina Luconi: Jen, I think it plays a HUGE factor. People need to be aligned to something. Core values or culture - if truly embraced - can bind the company as you grow, scale, go public, etc.

Courtney: Hi Christina! We have had some growing pains and are working on re-establishing our culture! What is the process you use in establishing core values to drive the culture?

Guest3672: Hi Christina, how do you measure shifts in company culture? Clearly, it must always evolve, and when you reach a certain point, not everyone can get personalised birthday parties, and not everyone knows eachothers name even. 1) How do you allow for that change whilst still keeping the culture feeling special? 2) How do you build a business case for prioritising culture. For instance, our London office is much better at the culture aspect than NYC, but I have not empirical evidence that it has helped our ret

Guest3672: *retention rates

Christina Luconi: I have always started by using you "culture icons" in the company to help build this. In other words, your "people person" or exec team can't hang some words on the wall and say "believe in this" Use team members who are amazing examples of people you value, or the culture you aspire to be, to help you establish this. And feel free to connect with me offline for more ideas how to drive this...way too much to type!!

Courtney: Thanks!

Phil: Courtney - great question!

Christina Luconi: Guest3672...ok, that's a lot to tackle! Let me start here...every company needs to measure what it truly values. You are right - as a company scales, things will shift. That's ok - it's part of evolution. HOwever, think of the elements that are really important to your company that CAN scale...and hold those sacred. We measure engagement here by asking people specific questions every quarter that tie back to our core values - so we can measure trends, tackle issues, etc. Then we are very transpare

Christina Luconi: Oooh, it cut me off...

Christina Luconi: transparent with what we learned, and how we will address it. People hold us accountable to that, and we measure our success through their engagement scores, turnover rates, etc. I hope that gets at what you were asking...

Guest3672: Yes, absolutely! Thanks Christina.

Phil: You mentioned culture isn't about "you can bring your dog to work" - how do you get at what culture really is in the org? Focus groups? NPS surveys? Pulse surveys? Or do you just know it by living it?

Katie: Hi Christina, for building culture you mentioned "Use team members who are amazing examples of people you value, or the culture you aspire to be, to help you establish this. " do you have an example?

Christina Luconi: The business case is a simple one...this is NOT the soft stuff, though business leaders seem to think of it as such. It's dollars sense. Invest in defining your culture. Weave that into every element of your employee lifecycle (hiring, onboarding, promoting, rewarding, etc.) You'll attract people, and you'll keep people. Those are both very expensive things to do whenthere is constant churn. To assemble a team of people who thrive in working togehter because they have a shared vision...that'

Christina Luconi: that's just smart business!

Christina Luconi: Phil, i think you have to be really thoughtful about what those values are. Dogs are great..but that's not a value. That's just a supporting environment thing. Companies are spending so much time trying to think of cool perks - like bringing your dog to work - they are missing the belief system. People ultimately won't join - or quit - your company because they can bringtheir dog.

Phil: Very interesting, do you have an example of a "belief system" that you could talk about or link to?

Christina Luconi: Katie, sure. When I joined Rapid7, I knew we needed to articulate a values system. Rather than me dictate it or go figure it out, I pulled people I knew were highly respected all over the firm. Think a representative from every team, every office, every level. In our company of about 100 at the time, I had about 25 people wokring together over a period of 2 months defining and refining before the exec team signed off and we put it into action

Sam: With the business case, are there hard drivers of ROI you can point to?

Sam: Meaning we did X and that lead to $$? I know that's why my team will want to see

Christina Luconi: Here's an example our belief's not just words - it's the explanations and examples of how we live them

Katie: Thanks Christina! We were able to do that a couple of months ago to give our values a "refresher" so we surveyed the whole company (about 35 people). Now that we have the values, its a matter of continuing to "reward" and promote them... any ideas there? I'm a little hesitant about recognition because 'not everyone gets a trophy' and I don't want to hurt morale

Lindsay: Hi Christina, What if your CEO doesn't believe in "core values," but has identified the personality of the organization which looks a lot like "core values." How would you work around this so that one is able to identify culture and take the actions you are talking about?

Christina Luconi: Sam, ROI - ability to hire (we don't just put butts in seats - we look for SKill, attitude, aptitude AND culture fit - so we don't have too many misses on the hiring front). Turnover, both voluntary and involuntary.

Lindsay: Wow the moose manifesto page is great!

Christina Luconi: Katie, there are a million ideas - it's just about finding what works for your company. In my company, we support our values, for example, by doing quarterly Core Values awards . They are employee nominated, and exec team selected (just to make sure there is fairness, etc) . Each of our 5 values has an award associated with it (we give a stuffed moose and $500) for each. They've become a HUGE deal...but people get to see shining examples of people living the value and they were a part of selecting the

Christina Luconi: them

Christina Luconi: Lindsay, if your CEO doesn't believe in the importance of's time to find another CEO. I don't mean to sound harsh, but no matter how good you are, they have GOT to be leading from the top onthis.

Christina Luconi: I've been fortunate to choose my CEOs well...but have done side work helping to coach others to "get it." Many can buy in without knowing how to do it - but they have to believe in it's importance for it to ever work

Lindsay: You make a great point!

Christina Luconi: Hopefully that wasn't too harsh...just trying to keep it real :)

Christina Luconi: To all of you, often times companies undestand the basics of how important culture is - it's all over articles now - but not many people know how to do it. It's not rocket science - define what's important to your org and what you value, and then make sure you actually operate to that standard. Saying"we believe this" and leading differently just leads to mistrust and poor morale.

Lindsay: It's not a personal situation, but it is happening for a friend and it was a hard question for me to answer. Thank you for your help!

Christina Luconi: It's not about cool perks or throwing parties - those are all nice things, but not something you build a business on.

Jen: What are the best practices you have found sharing your culture at Rapid7?

Christina Luconi: Jen, say more...not sure i udnerstand the question?

Jen: How do you communicate your culture to attract candidates?

Jen: best strategies or techniques?

Christina Luconi: Oh! 1) We embody it. Because we all believe in it, candidates hear a similar, authentic talk track from people they meet. It sounds too good to be true - untill you meet people who speak about it the same way, from their own authentic voice

Christina Luconi: 2) We share it. Candidates get links to the moose manifesto, for example, so they comein knowing what we believe in. That might rule some out - they might not share those values. That's a good thing!

Phil: Great question Jen!

Jen: Follow up question, are referrals your best recruiting channel?

Christina Luconi: 3 ) We probe for it. During aninterview cycle, we have at least one person dedicated to "culture fit" who will ask a series of questions about each value, and that person's experiences with it. ("Talk to me about a disciplined risk you've taken, and failed at." for example

Jen: Awesome, thanks!

Christina Luconi: Referrals are a reallyimportant channel yes. For a few reasons - awesome people refer awesome people. Also, it's an indicator of how satisfied your people are - if they are excited to refer people, they are pretty engaged and happy. However, we would never want ALL referrals. Having some diveristy of thought and not a "six degrees of seapration" situation is important too!

Christina Luconi: Sorry for my spelling...i'm trying to answer quickly!!!

Jen: Totally agree!

Christina Luconi: I hope this is useful perspective. Anyone please feel free to connect with me offline. I love helping people build this within their own companies...

Phil: Thanks a lot Christina!

Christina Luconi: of course :)

Ayla: Thanks Christina! Super helpful!

Phil: This was the first chat we've done like this, so I'm going to send everyone a quick note asking for feedback - please let me know what you thought, I'd really appreciate it.

Phil: Enjoy the rest of your day!

Christina Luconi: thank you all for taking time out of your day to participate! bye!

Lindsay: Thanks Christina!