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Episode 1 - How to build a company culture within a startup [Podcast]

July 25, 2018 - 16 minute read

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Frontline by Speakap is a community for progressive business leaders to share (and learn) ideas and strategies for creating a thriving workplace, to therefore help all employees reach their full potential. This is the first episode of our podcast series, which will feature a range of experts and industry leaders to discuss topics related to their individual expertise.

About Annelies den Boer

Annelies is the Chief Human Resources Officer of Speakap, and is responsible for building the human side of the business; including strategy, organisational design, creating processes, and the whole operational side of HR.

In the past six months Annelies has been the key driving force behind doubling the size of Speakap, and will continue to do so as we enter the US market. In this podcast we discuss the strategy that helped Annelies shape and define the Speakap culture during this phase of rapid expansion.

“How do these people connect? I think that if you have a clear overview of your culture it can work as the glue of your company.”

In this episode we chat about:

  • Company culture, values and why it’s important to define them
  • How to engage and involve the whole company in HR processes
  • How to help your employees be the best versions of themselves

Mentioned resources

Todoist - The app that helps your organise your life

Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, by Daniel H. Pink 

Meet the team_Annelies-818905-edited Connect with Annelies den Boer

Upcoming episodes on Frontline by Speakap…

  • What the UK and US workplace cultures can learn from each other
  • The communication challenges employers face in the UK

Thanks for listening!


Lou: This is episode number one, the first installment of Speakap’s brand new podcast, on how to build a company culture within a startup

STING: You’re listening to frontline by Speakap, the engagement platform your frontline employees love to use

Lou: Our guest today is Annelies den Boer. Annelies is the human resources director here at Speakap. Formerly from Heineken, Annelies has done an amazing job of taking our company to the next level.

Matt: Hey everyone, welcome to frontline by Speakap, the podcast dedicated to helping you create a thriving workplace, where everyone feels connected. I’m your co-host Matt Warnock.

Lou: And I’m Lou Blair. We’re so excited that you’re listening. We’re a business built on reimagining what internal communications could, and should, look like. We enable companies to enable their workforce, in order to thrive.

Matt: In the past ten years or so, we’ve worked with so many organisations like Ikea, Rituals, and Hudson’s Bay, to help to create a positive and collaborative culture. And we’ve seen some truly amazing transformations. We want to share with you what we’ve learnt, not only by working with our partners, but also from creating and growing our own organisation.

Lou: In the past six months at Speakap we’ve grown into a truly global organisation. We have doubled in size, opened an office in the UK, and we’re about to open our New York office. Our headquarters are based here in Amsterdam, but we have employees that come from all over the world. Including South Korea, Brazil, Spain and Ukraine. As you can imagine our workplace is a bit of a melting pot of all different cultures. So that’s why we thought to start our podcast within our own walls and have chosen our very own HR director to be our first guest. So welcome to the show Annelies!

Annelies: Thanks for having me!

Lou: Thank you for being here. So Annelies, my first question to you is what is the first app that you open on your phone every morning?

Annelies: That's the app “Todoist”. It’s an app that structures all your “to do’s” in different projects and parts of your life, so that’s what I start with.

Lou: What sort of projects would you be looking at in the morning?

Annelies: Well it's both personal and work, but it's also the longer term projects that I have for myself, like goals for my personal life. It’s all in there.

Lou: Sounds very organised. Second question; could you please give us a little introduction about yourself and what your role is here at Speakap.

Annelies: Yes, well as you said I’m responsible for HR, which in Speakap means setting up the strategy and building the HR organisation because before me there wasn’t a HR specific part of the organisation. So building the human side of our company.

Matt: I have a fun one; so aside from HR, which unfortunately isn’t a superpower, if you could have any superpower, what you pick and why?

Annelies: I would like to be fluent in any language there is in the world, to be able to really connect with everybody who is out there.

Matt: Very noble aspiration there.

Lou: So, more specifically to your work. Can you please give a short overview on the project you’ve currently been leading to form our company culture and values.

Annelies: I think in general culture isn’t really something you can build from scratch; some parts are already there and you can shape it, so that’s what I’ve tried to do the last couple of months. As you said we work in a super diverse organisation, we have offices around the world, but also in the Amsterdam office we have a lot of different nationalities, personalities, but also jobs with the company - either development, but also commercial functions.

So, how do these people connect? I think if you have a clear overview of your culture it can really work as the glue of your company. That’s where we were aiming for, and what we did we did an internal value research, where everybody was asked to list their personal values, what they thought were the current company values of Speakap, and their desired company values. We combined these lists, so that we had three lists of ‘top ten’. We combined these lists and discussed it with the ‘culture crew’, which is a crew of 8 people who are working at Speakap. And together we discussed the values in depth, what they mean to us, and from that we picked the top three.

Matt: Okay great. Well as you know, I’m a member of the culture crew. So can you tell us a little bit more about what the culture crew is and how you chose the people who are involved in the culture crew?

Annelies: The culture crew is, I hope, a good representation of the total work force. So what I did was after the value research which we conducted, we presented the outcome of this research and I asked who would like to be part of this project to do the second part of this value research, so to say. And then people volunteered, and I selected a diverse group of people within the company, so made sure that from every different team there was somebody, but also in terms of nationalities, female/men, but also some who have been working here for a long time and some who have just joined. So it’s, I hope, as diverse as possible, and therefore represents the company as a whole.

Matt: And, because of that diversity, does everybody have really different ideas or does everybody share a similar view of what Speakap is, and can be?

Annelies: Yeah I think you’ve already experienced this in the first meeting we had, when we discussed the values. I think maybe it’s not only because of nationalities or how long you’ve worked within the company, but I think a value can mean different things for different people. That was the first part, where you saw the differences between every individual, but also in terms of when we picked our top three, some thought that one value was already very strong in the company, and the others felt like it was miss this value. I think it’s different for everybody, what is already there or not.

Lou: This sounds like a great project, but do we really need to know about our culture and our values? Is it crucial for a business to operate?

Annelies: Yes, I think it is. I said before I think if you have a strong culture, where everybody feels connected to, or at least know about it, it can really work as the glue of your company and especially in the phase that we’re in. We literally doubled in the last half year, I think that’s a huge change but also with opening offices abroad, I think if you have a strong culture you can really use it as the glue of your company, and be more productive as a whole.

Matt: And now we have a company values, that have been communicated to the rest of the company, what do we do with those next? How do we make sure that we practice what we preach?

Annelies: To make it practical, but also tangible, everybody from the culture crew has their own project linked to a specific value outcome, and to be more specific, so these values are like the building blocks of our company culture. The culture crew members they discussed a lot of projects and everybody picked their own, what they would like to work on, where they would like to work on so to say, also picked other from the company who aren’t formally in the crew to join them. For example, help organise an event, or work on a specific, like the first 100 days at Speakap for example is a project that I’m doing and I asked someone from another team to help me work on that project.

Matt: I think that’s really important that the culture crew isn’t responsible for representing all culture within the organisation.

Annelies: Yeah, that’s true. So it’s not that the culture crew is responsible for embedding the culture within the company. I think the culture is there for everybody, so everybody should be involved.

Matt: We’ve been taking a lot about company values, and Speakap’s company values, and how we discovered those values. I think it’s important that we maybe go through what we’ve decided those values are. And maybe you can explain about how we revealed that to the rest of the company?

Annelies: The three values are;

  • Trust
  • Fun
  • Smart

What we did last week was show an awesome video that one of our team members created, which was originally planned to be used as an employer branding video, but we thought it would be cool to combine it with also revealing the company values internally. We showed the employer branding video, which really represented the three values - trust, smart and fun - and then after the video it literally switched to our internal branding video, to show what we do on the inside. And then we revealed the three values to the company that we chose.

Matt: Nice, and we did that while we moved office as well. Well, increased the office size.

Annelies: Yeah, so it was a mix of events. We expanded the current office we were in, so we also created a t shirt for everybody and showed the video. Then we started moving desks around.

Matt: With beer, and potato chips. Which I think they are probably value number four and five?

Annelies: Yeah!

Lou: A really interesting part of working at Speakap is that we work with all different types of organisations, which has given us a lot of insight into the different ways that industries work. We know that a thriving workplace can’t be achieved through one single program, and there’s no one-size fits all solution.

So Annelies, we have five little rapid fire questions, that we like to call the thrive five, on how to drive your workforce to succeed. First question, is there a single employee benefit that you feel should mandatory within every company?

Annelies: Yes, that should be a budget to become the best version of yourself. And I say it this was specifically because I don’t think it’s only about development budget, but it’s also a budget to become a better version of yourself, as an individual, therefore I think you can become the best version of yourself at work.

Matt: Okay, question number two. If there was one piece advice you could give yourself at the start of your career, what would it be?

Annelies: Make sure you know what you want to do, instead of following the wishes of others - what they’re expecting you to do.

Lou: Third question. What are the most obvious signs employers should look for to indicate their workplace culture might need a shake up?

Annelies: I think there can be a couple of things to look for. One relating to what I said before; if you feel that your employees are not really working together, then I don’t think they are really connected to each other or the company. If people are working against each other, instead of with each other, or not helping each other out, I think those are signs to maybe look into your culture as a whole and if it’s the culture you’d really like to have in your company.

Matt: What are the books, podcasts or resources that you’d recommend to anyone interested in business culture?

Annelies: That would be the book “Drive” by Daniel Pink, and it’s about what drives people to do the stuff that they’re doing. I think they can be super different for every individual, but also for specific places in the world. The reasons that motivate people to do their work are super diverse, and I think that for anyone building an international company you should be aware of what drives different personality types, but also individuals from different cultures.

Lou: And final question; what is one small change that employers can easily make, starting today, that can help their workplace to thrive?

Annelies: To be open to everyone within their company, but also outside of the company. I think you can learn a lot from every individual that's there. Also, when you think that something is super annoying, or irritating you, there is still something to learn. So really be open to others, but also yourself to others so that they can learn from you as well.

Matt: Okay, one more question to throw in! What does success look like to you? When do you feel like you’ve achieved a great company culture here at Speakap

Annelies: I think there already is a great culture. I think it’s more about sticking to it, and making sure that it stays alive, and that every individual that is joining the company, from the moment he or she starts feels connected to this culture. I think we need to keep the open atmosphere, where everybody can truly be the best version of themselves, but also be their own version, so to say. I don’t think we have this group of people behaving in a certain way and everybody needs to adjust to that way of working. I think that keeping the diversity, keeping the working together vibe, and making the culture come more to life.

Matt: Well, this has been really fun. Thank you so much for joining us and sharing the work you have been doing here at Speak Annelies.

And thank you listeners, for taking the time to listen to our first podcast show. If you liked our podcast please leave us a review on iTunes, and if you have any comments or suggestions you can reach us on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. You can also contact us via email at podcast@speakap.com

Lou: Also make sure you head to blog.speakap.com. You can find all sorts of great articles on everything related to internal communications and employee engagement, as well as a range of resources you can access for free. Make sure you check out our latest white paper on employee engagement in the UK, which can be found in the resources section of our website.

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Louise Blair

Louise Blair

All the way from "down under" Louise has joined Speakap to help businesses to build better relationships with their workforce. When she's not busy producing the Frontline podcast, you might catch her running... while listening to a podcast.