395 | Work Culture Drives Growth with Anita Grantham

The work culture defines how we work, communicate and get things done in our professional lives. Every company has a work culture, even if it is just you. Culture is something that leaders begin to think about once they have enough revenue to come in that they have hired a team and they want the team to operate more effectively. Today, my interview is with Anita Grantham, Chief People Officer with Pluralsight. Anita shares the most important factors to the success of defining your work culture. We have a ton of fun talking about work culture and how to ensure you get it going at optimal levels.

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Target Audience: Anita founded Ampersand, a consultancy that advises executives on how to build world-class HR processes for talent acquisition, learning, and organizational development. She is also the Chief People Officer at Pluralsight, Anita firmly believes that culture is a strategy, and she works tirelessly to create a purpose-driven work environment at Pluralsight.


Anita Grantham: The Transcript

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Leaders in the trenches and your host today is Gene Hammett.

Gene Hammett: Hi, this is Gene Hammett. I’m your host at leaders in the trenches. My question for you today is do you feel like your compensation plan is aligned with your culture meaning? Are you paying people in a way that really supports the culture and growth of the company? Well, that one question and many, many more inside today’s episode because we’re going to talk about compensation. We’re going to talk about the importance of culture, how those things kind of fit together, and really what that means for the growth of your business. Our special guest today is Anita Grantham. She’s with Pluralsight. She’s helped them build a culture, so that is something that can be proud of. It’s something that they can live beyond, you know, the role she’s in right now because the what she’s done in changing the structure and the framework of how culture is defined is really helping the company perform at a higher level, make more money, and people are showing up really owning what they do. We talked about ownership. We talked about vision and values. We talked about what goes beyond those things in today’s interview. You’re going to have more of that with Anita.

Gene Hammett: Hi Anita. How are you?

Anita Grantham: I’m great, Gene, how are you?

Gene Hammett: Well, I am excited to have you here on the show. Uh, leaders in the trenches. You know, you were introduced by someone we interviewed you before for an article and it was great to get, to know that you’re making an impact outside of your work, but we’re going to talk today about what you’re doing inside the company that you work with. And before we get into that, I’d love for you to tell them a little bit about you personally and about who you serve with the company, Pluralsight.

Anita Grantham: Yeah, sure. So I am a leader who is passionate about creating great places to work anywhere I’ve been expanding my mission. I’ve always worked for wonderful founders that are committed to creating a vision and a mission that can change the world. And from there we generate a culture to do that. So whether it’s owning my own small business, whether it’s working for enterprise customers, whatever that is, we’ve used the same process and here at a plural site where our mission is to democratize technology learning and we are the technology skills platform. So any company of any size can get on our platform and leverage our content to grow their engineers and their developers to get through the digital transformation that they’re going through.

Gene Hammett: Well, I appreciate you sharing that with us and I guess I want to kick this off with. You mentioned about working with other companies that are best places to work. I mean that is a title. I think of it as an award that some company wins. Have you actually worked at companies that have won those awards?

Anita Grantham: Yes, I worked to the best places to work list is generated by Fortune magazine and it’s actually a number of different criteria to make the list. The most important thing is that it’s generated by the population of employees, so they have a whole list of datasets and questions. They asked the team members answer the questions and by the scores, you are placed onto a list, so thousands of different companies apply and they’ve divided the list from best places to best small places, best places for females, the best places for technologists, etc. And then you’re awarded these awards, so it’s a great honor to be on it.

Gene Hammett: I remember the first time I was speaking at a conference and the CEO of the company was giving their normal introduction and they were very proud of four or five different categories of best places to work and I wasn’t a customer of their software, but I remember thinking to myself, I really would love to buy from companies that were their employees love to work. do you think that translates well and like expanding the growth of the business

Anita Grantham: Ideas? Listening to an earlier podcast where you had a guest and you talked about do you focus on the customer or the employee and you agree that you focus on the employee and I’m a big fan of that because when you focus on the employee and the employee feels loved and cared for and they’re actually going to show up that way to their customers. So I just think that’s the only way to do it.

Gene Hammett: Well, I’ve heard that podcast specifically. I was quoting my most recent research of talking to ink 5,000 level CEOs, so the fastest growing companies in North America and they are 94 points one percent agree that it’s an employee first. It’s never an easy question for them, but most of them swing toward, we’ve got to put the people first so that they can put the customers first.

Anita Grantham: Absolutely, At first it won’t happen to our customers.

Gene Hammett: So you know, I think a lot of times culture is something that leaders should be thinking about when they have as few as two, three, four employees. Because what those initial employees bring on board tends to carry out through the organization because they’re hiring the next level of people there, working with them day in and day out. Have you seen that? That’s easier to do when you have just a few handfuls of employees.

Anita Grantham: There are a few things around it. So first at that phase, the culture always emulates the founder and oftentimes the founder doesn’t recognize that he or she has to the employees, but it shows up in a demonstration and we have a culture whether we are intentional about it or not. So I do see that happening in the founders. Really engaged. They’re working really hard, you know, they’re, they’re getting their business figured out and before they know it they have a culture and it went from three employees to eight to 10 to 25 and then all of a sudden you’re like, well, let’s define this thing. And usually, they ask the question when something’s not working. And they’re like. And so I love to do with founders is say, look in the mirror, like who are you as a human? Who are you as a leader? And that is going to tell you about the culture that you have now if you don’t like your results.

Anita Grantham: And for me the most important results, I look at growth, revenue growth is an indicator and if you’re not growing, why is that? What’s holding you back? What is your culture? What is it about you as a founder that’s holding you back? And then from there, we can get more prescriptive and intentional about how we fine tune it. So it’s built for scale, but the biggest challenge founders is they actually have to show up and that new modality for the rest of the growth of their Company, they actually have to almost give up who they are as a human and be subservient to who their business is going to be to perpetuate growth for business. And that’s often why most companies, you know, a lot of founders don’t get with it.

Gene Hammett: So you say the word servant, you’re talking about that. Are you a fan of like a servant leadership in a traditional sense?

Anita Grantham: I am in philosophy. Absolutely. I line up around that.

Gene Hammett: What is it that you like about it? And then what maybe are the limitations of it?

Anita Grantham: That’s a great question. I think servant leadership and philosophy means that you are in service to the mission to the customer, and I don’t usually like the word employees. I like to use the word team member, so you’re in service to those customers if you will, your customer to the mission, your customer to your customer and your customer to your team member. And if you’re truly coming as a servant, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t be willing to hear that supports that so I can take any type of feedback or criticism or anything in the spirit of those things. where I think servant leadership sometimes gets misconstrued is how it translates into performance, meaning that I can hear you, but hearing you doesn’t mean I agree with you and as a leader or as a founder of a business of any size, I have to be willing to call the shots and does my team member get behind me and go forward even if they disagree. And that’s where sometimes people, well you’re not hearing me. Why can hear you? This is the vision. This is the shot we’ve called. We’re going to go forward in this direction. Will you back me and do you trust that if I’m wrong, I will come back and re-architect it and own it.

Gene Hammett: Yeah. I don’t know if you know a big part of the message that I give on stages and whatnot is this whole message of ownership. I don’t know if you’ve heard me talking about this, but it came from the research last year where I was talking to companies looking at growth and I was looking at the sales and marketing strategies and really across a mini company 51 to be exact. It was really varied in how they market, how they sell and the importance of those things, but what was very common was the leadership and specifically leadership that made people feel like owners, and that doesn’t mean they have to have a percentage of this or get profit sharing or even commissions and sales environments, but they feel like someone’s taking care of them. They feel like they can make decisions and they can fail, but they will be. Be able to pick it back up and move forward with whatever that is. Do you see that that of ownership is, is popular with companies that are the best place to work?

Anita Grantham: Oh definitely. It’s actually one of the big reasons why I wanted to speak with you because I think we both share in common is that. And so I want to take it a step further and I want to tie it to profit sharing. I want to try to stop plans. One of the things I’ve done and in every place I’ve worked, it’s been the number one thing, whether it’s an Aesop, whether it’s, you know, an IP on giving everybody shares whatever it is. It’s a program I place everywhere that I’ve been to actually connect the team member to the ownership mentality because I don’t know how you actually still it to the level that you’re describing in your research without having the team member tied to it and profit sharing or something. And you know, they don’t. That’s why I love having had felt the pain of being a small business owner myself because we wouldn’t take checks to pay our team members differently about your level of skills and marketing investment when it’s your own checkbook and into your own groceries that you’re left with at the end of the day or lack thereof.

Gene Hammett: I need I’ll tell you one big piece of that. When you don’t have those tools available to you or you haven’t grown to that level yet, is, you know, do they feel cared for? Do they feel like they’re, they’re increasing their value to the world, right? Are they gaining skills? Are they able to be stretched into something because they want to show up every Monday? I don’t know if, you know, one of my big things is I love Monday. Maybe you’ve seen this sticker?

Anita Grantham: I love it!

Gene Hammett: You know, if people love monday in your office, it’s because they love what they’re doing. They know they’re growing. And um, if you have those things, you really do have that sense of ownership even if you don’t have now it’s amplified with things like compensation and actual stakes of ownership. So I want to dive into some of the pre-prepared questions I have for you today because…

Anita Grantham: I’m super passionate about it, so I totally aligned with what you just described and the way you get it, his vision, like when you have a vision where they feel they’re changing the world or they personally connect to it, they’re going to show up and love Mondays and so small business owner, when they can articulate a vision and hire and train and reward for it, people will get behind him and they’re going to show up and do the best work of their life.

Gene Hammett: And then beyond vision is is something I think you’re very fond of too, is the values which values become, you know, a guiding principle to this. And most companies, I think they missed this opportunity because they don’t actually live the values. Can you tell us why living values would be so important?

Anita Grantham: Because you’re living them, whether you define them or not. It goes back to our earlier part of the conversation is a small business founder. you’re showing up with how your values are and then as you grow and you say you have a value of integrity, will that means different things to different people and so when I first started at plural site, we’re just under 400 team members and everybody had a different version and we only have three core values, but the number of ways that people described them. We’re into the hundreds and it was the biggest piece of feedback we got about what was not working in our culture and so we said, all right, well then let’s create involved core values and let’s define them together. What matters for you to meet this vision. Let’s create the core values. We listed powerful and non-powerful behaviors under each core value and that way you and I, Gene in a conversation to coach each other to it.

Anita Grantham: Hey, Gene the way you left me in this experience showed up non powerfully for me because I didn’t feel heard by you. Is that what you intended? And like it’s all in the context of the behavior. So the value times the vision and were able to have something that we can actually be actionable in and so if you go to the trouble of doing core values but you don’t know what behaviors map to and you’re just wasting a ton of time and people will take it upon themselves to say, this is what integrity is to me and if it’s different to you than I don’t know what to do and I’m not held accountable to it and I’m not rewarded on it.

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Gene Hammett: There are two pieces in there that I just loved that you brought up. One of them is about the creation of the values themselves like it’s typical for some leader to be like sitting in this room with a conference room with three or four people and go, what are our values? What really means something to us, and it’s a completely different experience. If they’re involving, you know, dozens of people that create the values of the entire company. It may not be everyone in your company so big, but if you ever cross section off of different people from engineering and technology and customer service and they’re represented and they feel represented and they are, they’re coming up with it. Do you see that is a much more powerful way to develop the values is doing it. Letting the team members do it as opposed to letting leadership do it.

Anita Grantham: I see that is so impactful and I think it’s a combination of both. We just completed this process for our vision 20/22 and our founder created the first version of it, shipped it out about four or five months ago and we’ve been iterating on it ever since and we’ve been all around the company so he gave like a first draft to say how does this land for you and people all around the company, but asking questions, asking for clarity, hey, did you think about this? What about this? And now we’re pushing back out or final version. So I actually would challenge and say it doesn’t matter how big or small you are with technology today, you are missing the boat if you care about your customers, you want your front line team members getting input into your vision and values. Otherwise, it’s not connected.

Gene Hammett: So one of the phrases I say from the stage and the idea is if you want someone to own the goal, let them own the process. And if they own the process of creating the values, they are much more likely to actually live by them.

Anita Grantham: There’ll be a role model, there’ll be in demonstration, there’ll be coaching and learning and growing and it’s tied exactly into how we look at performance.

Gene Hammett: Exactly. Now, the second piece that I mentioned behind this, and we don’t have to go too deep into it, but it’s, it’s around operationalizing the values is what I say. It is a process of mapping behaviors to what core values are and you’ve got to have additional layer beyond just those strong words or phrases that you put on the wall or whatever you do with them. People have to be clearly know how it shows up, whether it be in customer service, whether it be in sales, whether it be and just collaborating together. Is there any like one story that comes to mind that you could share with us about, you know, the behavior or something that was just reinforced and really meant something to one of the companies who were at or plural site.

Anita Grantham: Yeah. There’s so, so many great examples of this. So one thing that would be interesting to talk through is we have a value of creating with possibility. And the idea is you don’t look at things like I can’t do it and it’s not the counterfeit isn’t that you say yes to everything, but if I’m, if I’m a salesperson and I recognize at the beginning of the quarter that my quota may be at risk, how am I creating with possibility to make sure that doesn’t happen? Am I going to my peers and asking for heLp? Am I going to marketing and saying what field events could we put together to make sure that I hit this? Am I going to my boss and saying, hey, just so you know, I feel like my quota may be at risk. These are the things I’m doing to get around it.

Anita Grantham: What else could you help me create that I don’t miss this quarter? And we actually had this conversation. It was at the end of the quarter. The team members said, look, I’ve been at risk this whole time and I had a one on one session with him. When did you know you are at risk? You said that the beginning of the quarter. And I said, great. Who did you talk to you about it? I didn’t talk to anybody about it and I said, could you imagine what would have been created if you knew I was coming over here and I could have done an event with other CEOs and ctos. Would you have been able to maybe get stuff done differently? What if you went to your leaders and say, hey, I need help creating something. Could we have changed it? We could have actually changed the outcome. We could have changed the future if you felt like you could have brought this forward earlier, and it was just great because he said, wow, I totally see that and he’s able to coach differently in his business and he’s hit his number ever since. So it’s just a really tangible way to look at things.

Gene Hammett: The behaviors are important people listening in and so I want to ask you need a, you know, a lot of people think that culture and vision and values even are kind of touchy-feely, but what are some of the struggles you’ve had in specifically the area of building the culture there?

Anita Grantham: Yeah, so to me it’s not touchy-feely because it ties exactly into your strategy. So when I first got here I had a lot of people ask me what are you going to do? are you going to do like a paternity policy or maternity policy and all this stuff, and I was like, I don’t know like we’ve got to create a vision. So the first thing was creating the vision, like figuring out from our founder, what do you want this thing to be? Do you want to grow it? do you want to sell it? Do you want to, I don’t know, what do you want to do and getting committed to a vision and that was the first part to happen and after that, we can build a culture that supports the vision and it’s so much easier.

Anita Grantham: A lot of times people start through hire, train, and fire to something that doesn’t actually tie to the vision and then it all gets off course. So I’ve had that experience too where the vision and the founder spring, but it’s not in language. It’s not articulated. So then the actions aren’t aligning with the words and the whole workforce is caught off guard. Or another example happens when I’m a founder and I take on funding and I give up majority shareholder position and all of a sudden maybe come subset to the values of my investor. I won’t actually change anything in the company. The whole company feels it. So you know what Aaron and I did intentionally as we said, let’s look at who our investors are. Let’s make sure they aligned with this vision. Let’s make sure that we’re all in alignment around how we’re going to roll this out and have valleys and programs and nothing ships. We call it purpose-driven people products. No one ships that people product. That doesn’t tie right back into the strategy because then we have a path where everybody can look to and understand where it comes from.

Gene Hammett: I know we don’t get into the specifics of compensation very much, but when you know one of the things that you’ve done differently as shifted the way compensation is really viewed within the company. Can you tell us a little bit more about what is the compensation and why you have It so different?

Anita Grantham: So compensation is the foundation of any people program. If you jack it up at the beginning, you jack it up through their whole employee journey, right? If you overpay them or underpay them, it’s all off base and most of the times when you’re young and you’re in startup mode, whether you’re 25 or 50 or 100 employees, you hire based on their pain and depending on how much pain you have is how much to pay for the talent and then what happens. You get to scale and you’ve got all these people on different levels and there’s all this inequality throughout the organization and this existed far before the current environment that we’re in. We’re pay equality is a big focus of the future. So anytime one of the first pieces I always put in if I know we’re going to be fast growing is a philosophy which again ties to our vision.

Anita Grantham: So we have our vision, we have our strategies and what type of talent do we need to get? What specifically is going to be unique about that time and helping us get that vision. What type of philosophy do you want to be committed to you in base, in bonus and in long-term incentive, so whether you do profit sharing or some type of or anything that you do and how do you put it all together to look at a unified front so you have to look at not only the pay that they take home, the benefits they receive, the work-life balance and what leaders are that they have because people will tell you that they lead for compensation all day, but they really don’t. They leave because they don’t like their manager, so if you don’t tie them all together, then it becomes a misfit system.

Anita Grantham: So when we bring it back to compensation is determining where you’re going to pay relative to the market. If you’re, you know, there are different strategies that may come into play. So we pay at a market so it means half the companies pay more than half the companies to pay less than us on a base comp standpoint. We pay ahead of the market on equity because we want that ownership mentality and we want people to be here for the long haul. We believe that coupled with our mission, that’s really changing the world and lifting the human conditions technology by being the technology platform gets people to be excited to come in on Monday and then we cover around it with a really robust wellness and benefits program so people don’t have to worry about it. It’s kind of like the daniel pink piece where you take away the basic needs like healthcare is covered. They don’t have to worry about it, so that kind of goes away and then we put great leadership on top of it and it creates a beautiful system.

Gene Hammett: I love the fact that you’ve thought this through and I just, I love so many people are missing this and that’s one reason why I do what I do. I haven’t worked inside of companies the way you are. I actually advise them, so I think we’re in alignment with all of this. neither one of the questions that I have wrapped this up and we may not have time to get into everything, but you have six components that comprise the plural site’s performance. what is that definition of performance? Before we get into the six,

Anita Grantham: The definition of performance is how you show up relative to your results and your values.

Gene Hammett: Okay. And let’s run through what they are and just give us a brief description if you would.

Anita Grantham: Yeah, so I think at a high level what’s important is that you’re accurate about what performance looks like in a role. Like if you. A lot of people say, well I want you to do this by when? For what? Because why? All of those things like accuracy and the language is really important. Clarity on how we cope create and co-author the agreements is really important. So like you said, when people have input into the core values, they’re going to live to it. When people cocreate their performance, they’re going to show up differently. So coauthoring what it looks like to perform is a big part. We really want people to get clear on whether it’s a decision or whether it’s an agreement that we can co-create together. So for instance, like if I’m a simple person and I have a quote at the time to negotiate my quota was when I accepted the offer.

Anita Grantham: And when you’re a salesperson and you’re accepting the offer, you know that your code is going to change every year as a revenue change, plan changes, so you wouldn’t come back when you’re already in a role for a year and say, hey, I want to renegotiate my quota. That’s a that’s already been made. Now, how you go get that quota or things you and I can co-create together and you’ll generate together. So those are some of the high-level things. We also decouple compensation from the performance conversation, which is really the thing that is different. It’s a paradigm shift for most people here. And the ideas that I really want to show that I’m committed to you. I am removing roadblocks. I want to know that you see me as committed to your growth. Have you seen me? Somebody that will give you feedback and be actionable around your growth.

Anita Grantham: And so when you and I can have a discussion around that, that does not include compensation, we can be really present to each other and it’s by directional. It’s not hierarchical. No one does this. So like a key point, if I’m reporting to you and you’re just telling you about my performance, but you don’t ever ask how I’m experiencing you as a leader, like it doesn’t work, our people, you’re on equal footing because it takes an equal partnership to make performance happen. So I’m telling you how I experienced you, your tiny, how I, how you experienced me and we see our scores together and where we’re aligned or misaligned and what we want is the conversation. That’s why we call it the performance relating experience, meaning we are relating to each other as partners on this journey around our goals and the decisions that have been made in the business and we’re doing that independent. This is an input to compensation, but it’s not the only input to the end goal of compensation.

Gene Hammett: Well, I appreciate you kind of given us a taste of that to give you an idea of how you think about building companies and building a culture and really just how people grow together and they enjoy what they’re doing. Create that best place to Work. We didn’t get a chance to really talk about my next book, which is most likely right now looking like it’s going to be around growth culture, which is how do you take some of those negative elements of a performance culture, which is measuring and metrics and that’s the only thing you measure people on to really looking at the entire growth to the next level, so we’ll have to do that and maybe another conversation, but I appreciate you being here. If our audience wanted to follow up with you or connect with you in some way, where would you direct them to?

Anita Grantham: My twitter handle is at @anitakgrant so that way or on linkedin or any way that’s out there socially as the great place to start.

Gene Hammett: Well, fantastic. I really enjoyed you being here. Thanks for being on leaders in the trenches.A

Anita Grantham: Thank you, Gene. I appreciate it.

Gene Hammett: Fantastic interview. I love what I do. I love being able to talk to someone that is in the trenches like Anita helping companies really figure out how to grow. Now, she’s not available for hire as far as I know. She is actually. someone is in the role, we were talking after the video cut off and she talked about how important it was to have coached at all levels of the company. They have all of the leadership staff, all of the directors have some level of coaching that they are helping them get through their thinking, their performance and everything going on with their business and they’ve seen how impressive that is, how important it is to the business. So if you’re thinking about coaching, if you’re thinking about now, what would it look like to work with a coach or have my team have a coach? Maybe it’s in a workshop, maybe it’s in some kind of scalable form. I’d be willing to talk to you about what that looks like. So if you’re interested in coaching, you’re interested in growing your team are building that culture out. Let me know because I’d love to talk to you and see if it’s a fit. Just reach out to me [email protected]. It’s [email protected]. Inhabits the email and if there’s anything I can do for you, just make sure you ask. As always, lead with courage and I’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

In this episode we’ll cover:

  • Importance of Culture
  • Expanding the Growth of Business
  • Servant Leadership
  • Creation of Values
  • The Definition of Performance
  • Elements of Performance Culture



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