On March 28, 2024, over 1,000 HR executives across Utah and the US came together at the Hale Center Theater in Sandy, Utah for the 2024 Culture Builders Summit. The event was sponsored by several HR companies, including mostly prominently BambooHR, a Lindon, Utah-based HR company founded in 2008 by Ben Peterson and Ryan Sanders and previously covered by TechBuzz.

The event was well-attended; attendance was significantly higher this year than in previous years. The event featured several informed and well-known speakers from Utah's tech community, see below. This year was notable as the speakers and panels were set up on Hale's iconic circular stage, requiring them to rotate 360 degrees throughout their presentations to address the audience that surrounded them. 

A highlight of the event was the lively conversation between Utah's Governor Spencer Cox and President and CEO of SHRM, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.— a session that "shed light on the complex dynamics of our current societal landscape—characterized by unprecedented diversity alongside deep-seated divisions," as described by Bamboo HR executive, Todd Grierson, and one of the key organizers of the event.

In this session Governor Cox shared insights he has gained as Chair of the National Governors Association. Specifically he discussed his Disagree Better Initiative. He has been promoting this initiative with fellow-governors, with the goal of modeling healthy debate about how people with differing opinions can disagree better. The initiative has created several videos showing two opposing candidates agreeing upon the things that are most important to them, and yet not devolving into toxic behavior. Governor Spencer Cox said, “As the chair of the National Governors Association, I get to represent all fifty governors. I started looking at the biggest issues our country is facing today: health care, the cost of housing, energy policy, and others. Even though we disagree on lots of things, we agree that we love our state, our country, and that we can disagree without hating each other.”

Governor Cox emphasized there is power in civilized dialogue and that the nation needs more of it. 

As part of the Disagree Better initiative, Governor Cox filmed an ad with his opposing candidate in the previous election—an atypical gesture in US political campaigns. The results were positive. Stanford University used the video in a study for which they tested it on 30,000 people. Gov. Cox reported "as viewers saw a Republican and a Democrat together, disagreeing, but not hating each other, it had a depolarizing effect on people, and especially on feelings of violence towards the other side.”

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., President and CEO of SHRM took the conversation to how we disagree in the workplace. He brought up a 2019 SHRM- commissioned study of the US workforce that revealed a disturbing trend of "toxicity" in the workplace, a term that only appeared recently in the research on workplace culture. “We are as diverse yet as divided as we’ve ever been." According to a Fortune Magazine article published just last week, he stated, "36% of U.S. workers have said that if they don’t agree with their CEOs political affiliation, they would consider leaving the company.”

Taylor continued, “There are 335 million people in our country, 161 million go to work every day. Half of the population is at work. If they're at odds, what does that say for our country?”

“We can’t solve any of the biggest problems in our country today if we all hate each other,” emphasized Governor Cox. “This is not another civility and "be nice" initiative. We need you to hold true to your principles; don’t give that up. Yet you must treat those who disagree with you with dignity and respect. Contempt is destroying our country.”

He added, “When I was growing up, I didn’t know who the Republicans and Democrats were in my community and my congregation, that was like the 15th thing we defined ourselves as. We were Americans, we were Utahns, we were Utah Jazz Fans. But NOW it’s the primary thing that we define ourselves by in the workplace.”

So, what can be done?

Proximity can help mitigate the toxicity of divided ideologies. “It’s hard to hate up close,” said Governor Cox. “Once we get close to each other, have a meal together, we will find that those things that unite us are far greater than the things that divide us. We need to stop asking if people are democrats or republicans before we decide if we like them or not.”

“In reality, we’re so desperate for connection, we’re finding it in political ways,” emphasized Governor Cox. “If we can’t find a healthy connection, we start looking for it in the wrong places. If we don’t have any real friends, we can hate the same people together on Facebook. Don’t fall into that trap! You SHOULD work for somebody who has a different view than you, you SHOULD have dinner with someone you disagree with, you SHOULD play basketball or pickleball with that person. Find someone who is different from you and spend time together. You will realize that the other side isn’t as bad or as scary as you thought. Let’s disagree better.”

Check out this Culture Builders YouTube Channel for more highlights of the summit's sessions and speakers.

Culture Builders Summit 2024 Speakers:

  • Governor Spencer J. Cox, 18th Governor of Utah
  • Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, President & CEO, SHRM
  • Anita Grantham, Head of HR, BambooHR
  • Thien Nguyen, VP Human Resources & Chief of Staff, Jolt
  • Cassidy Gonzalez, SVP of People & Culture, Nectar
  • Nolan Church, CEO & Co-Founder, Continuum
  • Robin Huling, Founder, Warner Communications & Chairwoman at Silicon Slopes Women in Leadership
  • Steve Arntz, CEO, Campfire
  • Alison Pickett, VP People, Kenect
  • Nathan Sheranian, Chief People Officer, Connor Group
  • Brixton Gardner, Culture King, AwardCo
  • Latonya Howell, Vice President People & Culture, Tafi
  • Nikky Kho, Founder, Real AI Dynamics
  • Trent Mano, General Partner, Convoi Ventures & Utah Tech Week Founder
  • Connie Washington, VP People Partners and DEI, Progressive Leasing
  • Shannon McQuarrie, Chief People Officer, Built Bars
  • Dallin Baker, People Experience, Weave
  • Jeremy Andrus, CEO, Traeger Pellet Grills
  • Kristin Andrus, Community Champion & Philanthropist
  • Cassie Whitlock, Chief People Officer, Diversify Advisor Network
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