You can't grow healthy chickens in plastic boxes. Organic elitist chicks should have the freedom to roam through green, sunny pastures before being sent to their delicious demise in a Poulet Rôti. And while Julia Child missed out on the organics movement by a good decade, the same common sense applies to defining core company values.
I’ve been wanting to do “values" since the day Devbridge opened its basement doors in a shady industrial neighborhood close to O’Hare Airport. And mission statements. Girl, those direct, strong one-liners about making the world a better place just warmed the cockles of my heart. A team of five scruffy engineers, we were ready to take down names and fight against the injustice of mediocre software. “What do you mean a dropdown control can not be styled in CSS?”, I shout in 2008, eyes sparkling with revolutionary glare, foaming at the mouth...
So as I was saying, we were passionate. Still are. Core values seemed like a great vehicle to communicate that passion with the world, our clients, and our potential hires. Defining them, however, was as simple as poaching eggs. Err… that’s to say it was a painful, insincere, and forced exercise (I have yet to master the poached egg, by the way). When we tried, the only thing we had in common, it seemed, was premature hair loss. Couldn’t agree on values. Didn’t seem genuine. After several attempts, we shelved the concept, rolled up our sleeves, and got back to what we knew how to do - make software.
Seven years have passed and what I realize in retrospect is that we weren’t ready. We had little in terms of identity, so trying to establish company values was like trying to cook a meal without the ingredients. Honest company values can only capture the essence of what the team already believes, not what you wish to force feed into your organization. Practice, then preach. To this day, I can’t objectively identify the origin. Some we’ve nurtured through leadership, some born through passionate lunch conversations, and yet others through our team attracting other people that shared these loosely defined, yet important behavioral characteristics.
Last year we went through a workshop recommended by Jonah Sachs in “Winning the Story Wars”. We were around a hundred employees at the time and, I suspect, already living most of the distillate values that resulted out of the exercise. Nevertheless, it went something like this:
The starting point is a collection of values derived from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. These cover wholeness, perfection, justice, richness, simplicity, beauty, truth, uniqueness, and playfulness.
You map the above values into four groups that include A) values built into the founding story, B) values expressed by you products and services, C) values held by leadership, and D) values that you believe will resonate most with your audiences.
The values you see overlap most of the above categories are likely stronger and more dominant - continue iterating on those and personalize them to the company culture.
I don’t want to re-type the whole exercise in this post (and you should really buy the book), but at this point we felt like we were on the right track. Our group had alignment on core values, yet we were missing language and tone that was unique to Devbridge. We went off the reservation and started white-boarding values that were interpretations of and flavors of the collection above. The list was distilled to around fifteen finalists. The book recommends focusing on three, so we took to a collective vote and further distilled the values until we were happy with the resulting six. Who says you have to follow the rules, right?
Our core company values are shared below this blog post, if you’re curious. They work. They seem natural. We use it in our daily language. I think that means the workshop was successful. We continued to define our mission and vision, but I’m not sold on those to this day. Something something making a world a better place. Sounds about as genuine as Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. So we’re rolling up our sleeves and going back to work again. Feel free to make the world a better place while we’re doing the plumbing that makes the internet function.
Make Great Things
Build products that are fast, effortless to use, and aesthetically pleasing.
Make things meaningful and worthy of your time.
Enjoy solving complex challenges together with a like-minded team of talented and passionate professionals.
Reject mediocrity. Pursue perfection, depth of knowledge, and effectiveness. Prepare for this journey to take a lifetime.
Be authentic, be yourself. Be transparent with your intentions, your successes, and your failures. Do honest work for the client.
Don’t be afraid to speak up and stand for what you think is true. Success depends on all of us working collectively to make great things.
Activity without progress is worthless. Strive to make your work measurable, meaningful, and impactful for the goals of the client.