Landing in Amsterdam for the last leg of her two-week European tour, I had a premonition that Katelin Holloway‘s talk at HR Tech World (now UNLEASH) was going to be special, which is why I was there with time to spare, on the second row, as the others bubbled in. Katelin is the VP of People & Culture at Reddit, the fourth largest website in the US, at their head office in San Francisco. I’d seen a video online that Katelin’s previous colleagues had made for her, which gave me a heavy clue that she had sparks and a fascinating backstory.

The shoulder-to-shoulder audience was overthrown by the sense of adventure in her eyes, as Katelin rhapsodised about the rebirth of L&D, pumping her infectiously humorous vibe right to the back of the room. Katelin shared that the average tenure of an employee in Silicon Valley is just eighteen months, which means nailing your culture and end-to-end employee experience is the price of admission into the stratosphere. “It’s the who and the how that forms your culture,” said Katelin. And this next bit blew me away. “The principles of a culture-first company are that it sees a world that others can’t, builds on promise, and knows what it hurts for.”

Loving your culture search

Katelin Holloway joined Reddit as their seventy-fifth employee, and was Reddit’s first executive HR hire, ready to passionately help people to learn, develop and grow so they can thrive in the work they do. Listening to Katelin felt like wandering into a spontaneous art gallery to discover a gang of honest new paintings that each set your mind racing. A whistle-stop tour of Reddit’s organisational culture framework – breezing through perceptions, to feelings, to unwritten rules – was an inside pleasure, like scribbling aphorisms to booming music in the back of an abandoned cinema. “At Reddit,” Katelin said, “we encourage people to wander and get lost along the way.”

Dropping more insights with her DNA of organisational culture – moving from external identity to operational identity (where most companies stop), to the deeper inspiration zone of true identity – Katelin explained that you really win as an employer by entering the realm of true identity. This means getting in touch with the more silent things that happen organically in your workspace. Keeping it real in this magic minute, Katelin précised an important reminder, “different cultures are very different.” So copycats beware. You can’t beat the journey because every speck has to be honest.

HR Tech Amsterdam 2017 – Day Two

Behind the scenes

Afterwards, I caught up with Katelin one-on-one to delve further into her people philosophies. She shared with me how she loves nothing more than developing underdogs, and how she’s had a varied work life. Before Katelin’s eight-year career within the HR arena, she picked up experiences in industries including advertising, law enforcement, and education, all of which provide perspectives for the work she does now. “While I was at Pixar, I was immersed in the thoughtful culture they’d created.” And since joining Reddit, Katelin and her colleagues have together built their own culture of evolution, designed to fuel the personal growth of everyone who joins their business.

Reminding us all of our need to wander and lose ourselves in the fluctuations, passions and stories of the world, Katelin’s talk left me with a ubiquitous personal message: More adventure; encourage in yourself an appetite to taste the undiscovered, the unsignposted. Because create that in your workplace and you’ve upped the stakes in the good feelings people can expect from their work. Beautiful, like someone with uneven red knuckles typing on a keyboard. Breathless, exquisite, and honest, like a dark train station in the rain. Katelin’s words made it a moment to remember, in that smaller room in Amsterdam.