‘Head of Culture’ – Could your company benefit from having one?

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Medellín, Colombia-based Adrian Salazar was hired about a year ago as SafetyWing’s first ‘Head of Culture & Integrity’. SafetyWing – the globally-distributed company that is creating a social safety net on the internet – is taking the digital nomad and remote teams world by storm in all the best of ways. They are one of our key partners here at Growmotely, as we offer their health insurance product (called ‘Remote Health’) to the hired remote professionals on our platform via our Benefits Marketplace. Their unique company culture – which Adrian describes as having “a supportive, love-like texture to it” sets a compelling example for us all. Let’s dive in and take a closer look at what they’re up to!

When asked ‘What is company culture exactly for you?‘, Adrian explains that he sees company culture as being made up of primarily three pillars: a company’s mission, its values, and its vision. There are, of course, other ingredients in the ‘culture cocktail’ – for example, personal and group conduct and behavior – however these ‘other ingredients’ are secondary to ‘the big three’.

If this is our working definition of company culture, what then, is this role – which Adrian sometimes refers to as ‘Head of Culture & Integrity’, and other times calls, more simply, ‘Head of Culture’? And: is this potentially a position that might benefit your company?

When SafetyWing advertised for this role over a year ago, they laid out the following responsibilities in the job description:

  1. Maintain the integrity of our organization, strengthen our mission and values, and keep out entropy and evil elements
  2. Develop an ideal organizational structure together with founders and the leadership team, to order SafetyWing in a way that makes it beautiful for everyone
  3. Build a recruiting system to help us select the best according to our principles, including headhunting for key roles
  4. Build a leadership development program for all levels of the company

A year into it, Adrian describes the essence of his role as being responsible for having mission, values and vision top-of-mind in all scenarios and at all times. Martha Beck – author of the book ‘The Way of Integrity’ – teaches us that integrity is about wholeness…it comes from the word integer, which means ‘a number which is not a fraction; a whole number’. In this vein, Adrian has been tasked with the awesome responsibility of safeguarding the ‘wholeness’ of the organization via its culture…and with helping SafetyWing “maintain their culture and values as they scale, without descending into total chaos.” (SafetyWing has grown from 25 to over 150 ‘birds’ in the last year!)

There are a number of ways that Adrian goes about doing this, but first and foremost, he goes about his work via a guerilla warfare format: he conducts countless 1:1 meetings with his team members! These meetings involve a lot of listening, a lot of question-asking, and they serve as one channel (of many) where SafetyWing team members are able to make their voices heard. The conversations cover anything and everything that is deemed potentially relevant, including – but not limited to – personal and professional development, wellbeing issues (e.g. managing energy levels), alignment between any one individual’s initiatives and SafetyWing’s objective (which is to build a social safety net on the internet), and prioritization of workload. These conversations serve as an effective tool in Adrian’s quest to create and maintain alignment across the company.

And speaking of alignment, one of the key practices that SafetyWing engages in – that contributes to company alignment – is what we call here at Growmotely ‘Culture-First Hiring‘. Although Adrian doesn’t use this term himself, the way he talks about SafetyWing’s hiring practices, suggests that he – and SafetyWing as a company – see eye-to-eye with us on this. Creating alignment and integrity within a company depends on bringing the right people in the door from the get-go. Adrian says, “If you naturally align with our values, most likely you will do well at SafetyWing.”

What are SafetyWing’s values, you ask? Good question. Buckle up –  they’re beautiful!

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1. Aim for the ideal
Imagine the ideal and try to make it. Build things that improve the world.

2. Be authentic
Be the same on the outside as you are on the inside. Be brave enough to say what you think is true instead of what other people want to hear.

3. Create, don’t copy
Choose creativity over efficiency. To create is to lead, to copy is to follow. We are here to build something new.

4. Simpler is better
Make it remarkable for some instead of good for everyone. Remove the noise to highlight the value. Simple things are loved because it takes less energy to process them.

5. Do only what matters
Prioritize your actions and focus on what’s important. The most impactful actions make the difference.

6. Make things people love
Listen to the user and do things really well. Great things made with care are remembered forever.

7. Dare to make mistakes
People make mistakes, and that’s okay. Improvements are always possible. If you aren’t prepared to be wrong, you won’t do anything creative.

8. Let the best idea win
The right thing to do is our highest authority. Take suggestions, not orders. Explain and persuade, instead of telling people what to do.

9. You can do it
Plan your next steps and do it yourself. Nothing will happen unless you make it happen. All problems are solvable. The only thing standing between you and a goal is knowing how to.

10. Be good to each other
Be charitable in interpretation and share positive feedback. Speak your mind and take people seriously. What you do becomes the culture.

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One of the incredible things about company values – according to Adrian – is that they provide built-in thinking tools and guideposts to help team members navigate their work. Struggling to decide whether to trailblaze or go down the ‘traditional route’ with a project? Not necessary. Value #3 – ‘Create, don’t copy’ provides the necessary decision-making guidance: “At SafetyWing, we choose creativity over efficiency.”

According to Adrian, these ten values are alive and well in the hearts and minds of the people who make up SafetyWing. One practice they have that has a hand in their company values living inside of them rather than outside of them is a gathering called ‘Monday Values’. At this weekly meeting, a different team member presents one of the ten values from his or her perspective each week, sharing how the value is connected to his or her life experience. This ritual serves to bring SafetyWing’s values to life and it results in a sense of the meaning of each value running much deeper than the words that represent the value. “We elaborate and expand on the meaning of our values every week,” Adrian shared.

So. Given Adrian’s testimony and the example that SafetyWing is setting: is the ‘Head of Culture’ role a position that might add value to your company? And if you don’t have a dedicated role for the safeguarding of your company culture: with whom does this stewardship lie at present?

Here at Growmotely, we don’t – yet – have a ‘Head of Culture’, but since we are all about conscious culture we love what SafetyWing is doing on this front. We’re always looking for ways to enrich our own culture and keep it alive, dynamic and aligned, and to this end, we will continue to pay close attention to all the innovative things that our fellow remote companies are doing on this front…and then upgrade our own company culture practices as and when we deem necessary.

We would love for you to join us – and SafetyWing – in giving the cultivation of conscious company culture the time and energy it deserves. ✨

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