it's a relationship


Our Story: Putting Culture before product

August 27, 2014

Pick up any issue of Harvard Business Review and you’ll read case after case of leading organizations who have put their culture on the same page as their product. While their products often claim the headlines; the latest iPhone, a video streaming service, shoes shipped overnight, I can assure you it’s an aligned culture working behind the scenes that enables these organizations to churn out repeat success.

Talk of culture often cues images of ping pong tables and free beer. While both of these things are great, they don’t reflect anything unique or competitive about an organization’s culture.

Across our work we’re finding CEOs, COOs and HR leadership repeatedly being asked to attract and retain a rapidly-changing workforce, whose needs are quite different from those of their parents. A workforce who requires a different culture.

Your human resources department, or complete lack of, is likely the most-influential and under-utilized department in your organization. One way to get culture on the same page as product is to shift human resources from compliance to a focus on managing your community of employees. HR will begin using your organization’s purpose and values as guides, spotting opportunities for employee growth instead of referencing legalese when responding to the inevitable challenges.

Let me tell you my own story of organizational change. Several months ago Context Partners shifted our full-time human resources director into a network-friendly role, a community manager. We found the creative-problem solving environment we were trying to promote within the company was being squashed by the rules and regulations of traditional HR. And, we found our HR director hungry to spend more time actively growing our organization.

With this shift, our newly dubbed community manager is now spending 90% of her time on building the Context Partners community and just 10% on policy issues. Instead of sitting in compliance seminars and legal offices, our community manager actively drives company wide communication, aligns employee growth plans with the company’s purpose and creates opportunities that put our team in touch with the larger world.


    • Process documentation & legal risk mitigation
    • Screen candidates for in-demand skills
    • Listen to complaints
    • Evaluate management skills
    • Police employee adherence to systems
    • Reward individual success


    • Cultural documentation & individual growth plans
    • Manage network of in-demand skills
    • Coach to solutions
    • Enable leadership skills
    • Enable employees to co-create systems
    • Celebrate team success

And the results? In less than three months we went from struggling to find great talent to an overflowing pipeline of highly-qualified applicants hopeful to join our unique culture. We have increased employee engagement scores, clarified actions in alignment with our purpose and values, and fundamentally raised the degree of commitment our employees have to the organization. All of this means we’re keeping institutional knowledge in-house, while actively incorporating fresh perspectives through channels stewarded by our community manager.

Are you making a similar shift? I’d love to hear about it.

Our Story: Putting Culture before product

Charlie Brown

CEO & Founder


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