Culture matters because it becomes the first principles you go back to when you make difficult decisions. It’s a way to align people on what’s important to the company. Culture and core values are the one thing that should never change, or should only evolve slowly over time.
– Alfred Lin, ex-Zappos COO
I’ve always been suspicious of values.
I see them displayed proudly on office walls all the time. Words in big font like “Integrity” and “Excellence”.
And, sure, as individual words they probably resonate with most audiences. Except I’m never certain how they really come to life in the corporate environment.
How do you know if a colleague is displaying integrity? It’s such a broad quality. And because it’s broad, it can be quite vague too. I imagine it’s difficult to feedback to a colleague if you feel they’re not acting with integrity.
Here’s how the conversation might go:
Our values journey
When Mark and I started Yarno, we knew that a healthy team culture was important, even though we hadn’t formalised what this looked like in practice.
Over the past two years I’ve come to see the value in values (pun police) if they’re written in everyday language and are tied to specific behaviours that can be observed and called out.
I now see values as foundational elements of Yarno.
I want to see them in use everyday, with team members communicating with one another and with customers. I use them to check my own actions, to hire against and to give and receive feedback against.
Last month we finalised our four company values. And we’re pumped. Although the values are succinct, the process to define them was anything but.
In January, we ran two values sessions with the team. The goal was to define five to seven core values as a team using a collaborative process. We chose this approach so everyone had a say – so the values reflected what’s important to each of us personally, and as a team.
The collaborative process itself was fun and brought the team together. And at the end of the two sessions, we had 11 values that we felt reflected Yarno. As hard as we tried, as a group we couldn’t trim them down any further.
The 11 values were:
- Be mindful of your ego
- Give and receive feedback courageously
- Progressionism > perfectionism
- Value the question over the answer
- Respect yourself and each other
- Focus on our customers’ success
- Own your mistakes
- Make yourself replaceable
- Great ideas come from anywhere
- Focus on outcomes rather than time spent
- Do meaningful work
We then wrote specific behaviours to explain how each value could be demonstrated and lived at Yarno. Although we had more than the five to seven we originally aimed for, we were happy.
Over the next few months we let them digest.
Rethinking our approach
Things changed a little in May when a comment from one of our coaches, Jonathan Herps, got us thinking.
Jonathan asked Mark and I if we could name all the values. “Of course!” I thought, as I reeled off the first three and then forgot the rest.
He made the point that if the founders don’t know the values, then nobody else can be expected to. He talked about Atlassian’s values and how clear and memorable they are.
We knew we needed to change.
So Mark and I agreed to review the values and get them down to four. We felt we understood the sentiment of each and could do them justice. And that they needed to be concise and easy to remember.
After much back and forth, we settled on four values that we feel define Yarno:
- Beginner's mind
- Ever forward
- Delight the customer
- Check your ego
We’re a learning company – and I feel that this is reflected in our values.
Beginner's mind is about cultivating curiosity and being open-minded. Trying to seeing things for the first time and not being closed of to ideas or opportunities.
Ever forward is the idea that we can always do better, that a great company never arrives. That aiming for progress is better than perfect.
Delight the customer. We love the word delight, it speaks to enjoyment and pleasure - emotions that can be sidelined in business.
Check your ego acknowledges that we’re all human. That we all have egos, and it's our egos that define who we are. Though our ego can get in the way of learning and growth, and that when we feel defensive or inferior it’s an opportunity to be mindful of our ego.
Over the past few weeks, every member of our team has been able to call out another Yarnoer for living one of our values.
And I think that's a sign of values that really do come to life.
(This article was also posted on my LinkedIn – please feel free to connect with me on there too!)