Playbooks

Maintaining Culture Through Hypergrowth

In this discussion, Janet Van Huysse (CPO, Cloudflare) describes her experience with how culture evolves during hypergrowth, how to recruit for culture fit, how to leverage managers as stewards of company culture, and much more.

Janet Van Huysse is the Chief People Officer at Cloudflare, a cybersecurity company. She joined Cloudflare in 2016 when they were about 300 people and scaled them to over 2000 employees. Previously Janet was the first VP, HR at Twitter. She joined in 2009 when they had 90 San Francisco-based employees, and grew them to over 3000 employees in 20 countries.

Table of Contents:

  1. How do you define hypergrowth and determine what your organization's culture is?
  2. How do you build a recruiting process that promotes both efficiency and cultural fit?
  3. How does company culture evolve over time?
  4. How do you course-correct culture and reward the appropriate behaviors?
  5. How do you leverage your managers to cascade culture throughout the organization?
  6. How do you create an employee handbook that manifests your culture?
  7. How has remote work impacted your culture?

How do you define hypergrowth and determine what your organization's culture is?

  • I consider my experience at Twitter “hypergrowth” and Cloudflare “high growth”. At Cloudflare we grow at around 40-50% per year to ensure growth at a level the business and culture can support. 

  • My boring definition for something incredibly dynamic like culture, is that “culture is defined by the behaviors that you reward.” You are hopefully screening for culture-fit in your interviews, but it is common for employees to fall-back on the behaviors that were rewarded at their previous companies. Your job is to balance the risks of bringing on these new employees/ideas while still promoting and recognizing your core values. 

  • Do not try to determine the culture by asking employees “what is our culture here?” as it often leads to aspirational answers rather than the truth. When asking this question, a common answer I hear is “our culture is that the best ideas win”. Upon further examination, it may be that it is the loudest ideas that win, and the employees you surveyed were not speaking to the realities of the company.

  • To determine culture, it is better to focus on behaviors. Ask employees to “give an example of someone who has been promoted multiple times?” “How did they achieve their success?” From there, you can identify and build the values that align with these behaviors.  

How do you build a recruiting process that promotes both efficiency and cultural fit?

  • I have seen both ends of the spectrum here and caution against being at either extreme.  At Twitter, our motto was “faster, faster, more, more”. If the initial phone screen went well, our recruiter would already have an offer generated that same day. During the next round of interviews, the recruiter would expect a decision from the hiring managers immediately  following their interviews. This left no time for the candidate or the interviewer to process the conversations and led to constant culture fit issues. At the other extreme, when I joined Cloudflare, the average process was 3 months and I heard of candidates interviewing for upwards of 6-7 months. This was simply too slow to support our growth goals. 

  • My strategy is to make everything as efficient as possible, while still ensuring key personal touches during the process

  • Our first strategy is nicknamed  “Final Calls”. Before anyone receives an offer, they have a 15-minute call with a member of the C-Suite. This used to be the CEO , but now there are four of us who rotate holding these calls. This helps establish a personal relationship with leadership and promotes open-lines of communication should something arise during their future at the company. 

  • The second strategy is once a candidate receives an offer, our entire interview panel reaches out to personally congratulate them. This ensures a superior candidate experience and helps them reaffirm that they made the correct decision to join your organization. 

How does company culture evolve over time? 

  • My current hypothesis is to preserve the culture as we grow. Success to me is ensuring the company feels the same 5 or 10 years after you have joined.  

  •  [Liz @ Sift] - “We take a growth mindset to culture. The core is fixed, but we want to keep iterating based on what isn’t serving the team”.

  • [Kylie @ RMI] - “We want to preserve the really important things, but growth can be culture additive”.

  • [Ciara @ Dashlane] - “We focus on continuing to reinforce our values, but know that the feel of culture can change and that there is not one way to live our values”.

How do you course-correct culture and reward the appropriate behaviors? 

  • At Cloudflare, Performance = Results + Behavior. When holding performance reviews, we equally weigh both results and behavior, and believe culture will suffer if you prioritize results too strongly over behavior. If you have a quota-crushing salesperson or an Engineer who can do the work of 10 others, it is easy to turn a blind-eye to questionable behavior because their results are so strong. Leadership has an obligation to deal with the behaviors regardless of their strengths as this can erode your culture and lead to resignations of other key employees. 

  • To reward our employees, we focus specifically on recognizing behaviors. For our leadership, this could be a financial incentive or be as simple as a handwritten note from one of our founders mailed to the employee’s home. 

  • Our employees send in shoutouts each week to be read aloud by the COO in our weekly all-hands meetings. In the shoutouts you must recognize people by name. Furthermore, the shoutout should be around people going past their day-to-day responsibilities, while not celebrating working unnecessarily long hours. As a bonus, job candidates are encouraged to join our all-hands meetings and love seeing this recognition in action. 

How do you leverage your managers to cascade culture throughout the organization?

  • You can have the greatest CEO and policies, but if your managers do not support those policies within their teams, they mean nothing. First, the CEO must endorse policies that the company can truly support and are not just there by name. Second, the People Team needs to take those policies and create processes, training, and systems so managers can consistently apply them. 

  • One of my favorite initiatives is around training our managers without a devoted L&D team. It is a manager-led training program to explain their personal best practices. We ask each of our top managers “what makes you so great at your job” and based on their answers, they are tasked with creating a training on a theme of their choice. We set them up with a professional coach to help create the training, which upon completion they present once a quarter. This showcases the passion of our managers and further distributes cultural norms throughout the company.  

How do you create an employee handbook that manifests your culture?

  • We split our employee handbook into sections. One is a lengthier section in our company wiki for the legal details surrounding our policies. More importantly, we have a readable version of our handbook that explains the intentions behind all our policies and their implications for our employees. Within the handbook, there are a bunch of 1-page stories that highlight key moments in Cloudflare’s history or key decisions that we have made. These embed culture and a shared sense of history as quickly as possible for new-hires. 

How has remote work impacted your culture?

  • Even with remote work, we have continued to see connections within teams and their cross-functional partners have been great. However, connecting with the broader company has been difficult. Since the pandemic, we have made 1,000+ new hires, many of whom have never been in a Cloudflare office or met another employee in person. 

  • Our most impactful initiative to facilitate connection among a distributed workforce is our ERGs. We not only have groups for different races/ethnicities, but also groups for caregivers, mental health support, sobriety, sustainability, and more. These ERGs help us go beyond day-to-day employee and team connections and ensure everyone has the opportunity to feel connected to the larger group.  

Excerpt: Maintaining Culture Through Hypergrowth

2. How do you build a recruiting process that promotes both efficiency and cultural fit?

I have seen both ends of the spectrum here and caution against being at either extreme.  At Twitter, our motto was “faster, faster, more, more”. If the initial phone screen went well, our recruiter would already have an offer generated that same day. During the next round of interviews, the recruiter would expect a decision from the hiring managers immediately  following their interviews. This left no time for the candidate or the interviewer to process the conversations and led to constant culture fit issues. At the other extreme, when I joined Cloudflare, the average process was 3 months and I heard of candidates interviewing for upwards of 6-7 months. This was simply too slow to support our growth goals. 

My strategy is to make everything as efficient as possible, while still ensuring key personal touches during the process. Our first strategy is nicknamed  “Final Calls”. Before anyone receives an offer, they have a 15-minute call with a member of the C-Suite. This used to be the CEO , but now there are four of us who rotate holding these calls. This helps establish a personal relationship with leadership and promotes open-lines of communication should something arise during their future at the company. 

The second strategy is once a candidate receives an offer, our entire interview panel reaches out to personally congratulate them. This ensures a superior candidate experience and helps them reaffirm that they made the correct decision to join your organization. 

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