Culture Doesn’t Come Overnight: Reflections on Putting People First

Earlier this month, we celebrated Okta’s ten year anniversary. There’s a lot to celebrate, and as we look back at the past decade and look forward to the coming years, I am extremely proud of how each and every person at this company has contributed to our vibrant and innovative culture. This isn’t just a nine-to-five job—employees truly rally around our vision and mission to securely connect people to technology.

As the Chief People Officer, I’m responsible for everything related to people operations, from hire to retire. And I’ve learned firsthand that it isn’t always easy to retain a cohesive culture across a company—especially a fast-scaling company. Over the past three years, Okta has grown from 500 to over 1400 employees. As our headcount increases, our core values always dictate our approach to hiring and development—because we know that we’re only as strong as the individuals who make up our culture.

Working toward common goals

Of course, it’s one thing to say this; it’s another to formalize it in practice. That’s where our vision, methods, and targets come in—what we call our VMTs. These set the course of the whole company, ensuring we’re all working together towards the same goals. They’re also cross-functional, helping to bridge the gap between different departments—rather than siloing our VMTs by department, we recognize that we’re all in this together.

Not only do we set up a clear structure to help employees understand each year’s overall VMTs, we have each team member to set their own personal vision, methods, and targets to motivate them throughout the year; all while laddering up to our company-wide objectives.

This enables us to create the sense of unity and community that Okta has become known for. We see it during lunch and after work, when teams hang out, spend time together, and build meaningful relationships that extend beyond the office. We see it at our weekly all hands meetings, when the whole company aligns on goals for driving success and making a difference. And as our business goes global, we’re always working to ensure that the culture we’ve established at HQ is alive and well in every office worldwide.

Growing the right way

Hiring the right people is key no matter how large your company is, and it’s remained one of our central objectives throughout the past decade. Aside from looking at an individual’s skill set and capabilities, we ask our recruiters to incorporate cultural fit interview questions early in the process, so that we can bring in talented people who care about our core values from the start.

Beyond bringing in the best, the brightest and the most culturally aligned, a company has to create the right development environment. As a company like Okta has grown, it’s been important to recognize when “startup” processes are no longer capable of serving us at scale. To address this, we invested in resources for our employees to learn and develop, provided more leadership and mentorship training for our managers, and automated many of our onboarding processes.

We’re also committed to empowering employees who show exceptional potential. Our Top Talent program provides individuals with a year-long opportunity to intensively develop their skills. We’re also extremely purposeful in selecting talent from every part of the organization, so that we can nurture high-performing teams that are cross-functional and—most critically—diverse.

Building a team that represents a global business

As our culture has evolved, one of our key initiatives has been to champion equality and recruit talent that reflects our society. To this end, we just hired Okta’s first head of diversity and inclusion, Madhavi Bhasin, to ensure we’re always cultivating a truly representative workforce and a culture of belonging. We’re already setting a great example on multiple fronts, but Silicon Valley—and the tech sector as a whole—still has a long way to go. I’m excited to work with Okta in leading the way.Screen%2520Shot%25202019 03 04%2520at%252011.42.59%2520AM

As part of that diversity-focused environment, Okta has taken major strides forming and developing employee resource groups (ERGs). These amazing organizations are run by passionate employees who are committed to different inclusion and diversity causes, and who devote their own time to spearheading projects that drive real impact in our communities. I serve as an executive sponsor for Pride@Okta, which means it’s my job to allocate some of my budget for initiatives and activities—and I’m so glad to be part of a company that empowers me to do that. I think every business should let its leaders invest some of their time and finances into employee resource groups. What makes ERGs so powerful is the fact that they’re genuine grassroots organizations, run by people who care deeply about the issue at hand.

Promoting a healthy feedback loop

Every company today knows that employees want transparency, both in terms of the overall business and with their own personal performance. At Okta, we’ve always strived for a culture of openness and communication. It’s something we’ve seen since day one with our all-hands meeting—that’s a decade-old tradition that’s not going anywhere—but we also solicit input from our team through frequent touchpoints and surveys, and our team leaders are always proactive in giving constructive criticism and praise.

After we consistently heard from our employees that professional development was a top priority, we made building out a robust Learning and Development (L&D) function one of our top priorities. Our L&D team is one of our biggest accomplishments, helping our employees set attainable career goals that we nurture year-round. While we aim to hire top talent, part of retaining top talent is providing a clear path toward greater career development and offering new opportunities to grow.

When I reflect on the past decade, it’s easy to see how everyone’s contributions helped form Okta’s culture as much as its strong business. The imprint we have all left on each other, the business and the environment at Okta is a testament to our hard work around culture, equity, and people development. Thank you to our employees for all that you do—Okta is Okta because of you.

Read more about life at Okta here.