Bon appetit: Chef's secret recipe to higher employee engagement

Learn how Seattle based software company, Chef, built a company culture with all of the right ingredients.

Bon appetit:  Chef's secret recipe to higher employee engagement

“There’s no recipe to follow,” we often hear founders say when building a meaningful and lasting company culture. However, Seattle based software company, Chef, knows the key ingredients of what it takes to deliver a five star employee experience.

Chef is a lean and growing firm that supplies a Continuous Automation platform for delivering infrastructure, compliance, and applications, formerly named Opscode, and a pioneering force in the DevOps movement. Its culture and employees have deep roots in the Open Source global community.

The 2014 company name change from Opscode to Chef Software came from a desire to more closely associate the company's brand with its well known product of the same name. Our recent conversation with Human Resources Manager Shauna Chernicoff, established that the company knows which flavor profiles, textures, and colors need to combine to form a satisfying place to work.

Chef’s stated values are:

  • Fuel the love of Chef
  • Make it easy to be successful with Chef
  • Give organizations a reason to buy
  • Be our customer’s favorite company to work with
  • Speed matters: be disruptive

Bold flavors, some tang, a little sweetness. Very clean, not muddled.


Fueling the love motivates team members to be constant advocates for the company. Chernicoff emphasizes that every team member is “out there networking, building relationships with people that will forever remember the name ‘Chef.’” The goal, she continues, is for people to say ‘yeah, I met someone from Chef, they were amazing.’”

Recently, a client’s feedback on a developing product included the phrases “too good to be true,” and “still blowing my mind.” The small team responsible won the Iron Chef Award, a form of recognition given out monthly to a couple of standout employees, which comes with a cash prize.


One of the traits Chef looks for in team members is what Chernicoff calls being “T-shaped.” This means employees are “experts in their own field, but can contribute, and help and jump in in other things that might arise.”

Emphasizing that the company still wears its “startup hat” and is nimble and scrappy, Chernicoff says employees should be smart and curious and adept at clear and direct communication.

In fact, Chef staff have sharpened their knives with training from an outside firm, Fierce, Inc. in a method called “Fierce Conversations.” Chernicoff explains, “we encourage people, ‘if you see a problem, say something. Talk directly to the folks involved and have an open dialogue.” She continues that the company takes a proactive approach to make sure that important constructive feedback isn’t reserved for six-month eval meetings or at the end of projects. Rather, she emphasizes, “that feedback has to be real time, in the moment.”


That goes for positive feedback and gratitude too. As big a prize as the Iron Chef is, it’s given out monthly, and that’s nowhere near often enough for Chef to give kudos to its employees. Chef is a big user of Slack—it doesn’t use e-mail at all—and it has integrated Disco into Slack to give recognition to team members who go above and beyond the values listed above. Indeed, it has loaded “fuel the love of Chef” and the others into Disco where they each have their emoji.

Chef doesn’t leave things to chance and hope for the best. Their clear vision and directed hiring values have paid off.

“We’re growing,” says Chernioff, “we’re going through changes over the past year, and I really feel like we have the right group of people right now to take us to that next level of success.”

Justin Vandehey is the cofounder of Disco, a culture tool that makes recognizing and rewarding everyday wins at your company as easy as sending a Slack message. Learn more about Disco.