Most companies go through an exercise of defining their “values” at some point in their existence, and for most companies this exercise (usually repeated every few years when a new coach comes in and suggests it) is fairly empty. They go through the motions because their business coach tells them that they should, but, as I’ve argued before, developing a good culture takes constant vigilance - and a good culture is a prerequisite to people who care, and those people are a prerequisite to doing a values exercise that’s not completely pointless.
The values below are the values that we try to live by. They drive our actions every day, including how we treat clients, how we treat each other, how we design processes (or lack thereof) within the company, and who we recruit or let go. They are also the values that drive our performance reviews, what to do or not do with our clients, our staff, even our competitors.
Here they are, each broken down into examples:
Be respectful of other people. No one wants to work in an environment that is disrespectful.
Be self-aware of your own strengths and limitations, and therefore respectful that others also have both strengths and limitations.
Be modest despite being awesome. We’re hopefully all awesome at something. We also all suck at many more things. No need for false modesty, but be aware that being really good at a handful of things does not make you the best person who’s ever walked the Earth.
Be self-critical. Don’t just assume that because you did well before you’ll always do well. Things change and the ability to recognise your own evolving pattern of mistakes is an essential trait to remain successful.
Work as a team
Don’t be one chopstick. This ancient Chinese saying (not to be confused with “don’t be a chopstick” - we have nothing against chopsticks - except Amar) simply illustrates that one chopstick is easier to break than a bundle of chopsticks. There are many things that we do that can be more effectively or successfully done together rather than alone. This is not just about “being nice to others”. This value is about recognising that a team can in many circumstances be stronger than any individual.
Get others involved. Whenever you do something, spare a thought for whether others can help you, whether they might wish to be involved, whether they might make the net output of your effort larger.
Use other people’s strengths. No one is good at everything (see “Be humble”!), but most people are good at something. Be aware of what people are good at, what they enjoy doing, and make use of that to be more effective.
Don’t work on stuff in secret. Although it is very tempting to keep things secret for fear that they’ll be criticised, don’t fall prey to this mistake. So long as you are not surrounded by jerks, people will generally offer constructive criticism and help, not tear down your incomplete works. Not using that feedback leaves you weaker and less effective.
Do great stuff, tell people! As we embrace various forms of remote working, it becomes hugely important for people to make the effort to communicate what they’re up to. The type of culture we’re building only works with a cohesive team, not a scattering of isolated individual. When in doubt, over-communicate.
Adapt & Grow
Take the initiative. Don’t wait for someone else to fix things. If you see a problem, get it fixed, don’t just shrug your shoulders and get on with your day. Everyone is responsible for making this company a great place to work.
Constantly changing. Life is change. Things are always in flux. This trend is only increasing with time. No one knows what the next ten years will bring, but most likely they will involve even more dramatic changes than the previous ten. Embrace that, and grow with it, rather than holding back, resisting new ideas, or even worse, holding them back. Any process that is set in stone is a process that could potentially kill the company if it’s not changed in time, when the business circumstances change.
Lifelong learner. “Get busy growing, or get busy dying”, the saying goes. When you stop looking for ways to learn new things, to grow, to become a better version of yourself, you start to prepare to die. We’re a young company, but this youth is not about our physical age, it’s about our mindset: always willing to learn new things, seeing new learning as an opportunity rather than a hurdle.
Willing to create change. When taking initiative, don’t be afraid if your initiative can cause significant or even drastic change. You are surrounded by like-minded people who embrace these values and so will embrace the change you initiate if it proves to be the right kind of change.
Flexibility. We try to keep roles fairly fluid and varied in GrantTree. Though people have a fairly clear core responsibility, there is no limit on what they can get involved in. To embrace that, though, you need to be willing to be flexible. Most of the really interesting opportunities that come your way will not look like your core responsibilities. If your typical answer is “that sounds interesting, but it’s not my job”, you’ll miss out on a lot of great opportunities.
Responsible growth. Be responsible about how you tackle new opportunities. It’s not ok to let your core responsibilities fall by the wayside because you’re pursuing a shiny new project. Sometimes, this may require you to choose to invest more time to get more things done. The trade-off is that those new things that you’re working on should be growing you as a person, in terms of your skills, your experience, etc. And they’re interesting, hopefully!
Be open and honest with ourselves, our customers, and others. Nobody likes to be deceived, and so the first step is to not lie or mislead. But that is not enough. Being transparent means being deliberately, actively open about things that others may think don’t need to be shared. Like our financials - the vast majority of companies do not keep open books that all their employees can review, but we do. The vast majority of companies do not involve employees in strategic discussions about where the company is going, but we do. Those and many other things seem easier to do in secret before revealing them to the wide world. Being transparent, being open and honest, requires making an active effort to share more than we’re used to or comfortable with initially.
Challenge the need for secrecy. Whenever something is being kept secret, your first thought should be to challenge this. Why should this thing be secret? What’s the harm in involving more people? Are we just afraid of getting negative feedback? Are we afraid of losing control? Those are genuine reasons for fear but they are not good reasons to keep things secret. So far, the only thing which everyone has generally agreed should be kept secret is private medical or personal problems. Everything else (including salaries, bonuses, performance reports, and the like) is open.
Take responsibility. Being transparent to others also requires being transparent with yourself. We each have far more influence on things that we think. Taking responsibility involves looking back at events honestly and assessing what we could have done to avoid a given issue, and recognising that. In particular, taking responsibility means not focusing on who’s to blame, but instead accepting that we often have a share of responsibility in things that look like somebody else’s problem.
Share both good and bad news. Bad things happen. That’s life, and it’s business. The difference between a mediocre business and a great business is not whether bad things happen at all, but how those bad things are handled. Giving the customer bad news is always disappointing and scary, but it’s also always much better to get it over and done with, be forthright, up-front with the bad news, and propose some concrete steps to move on from the problem.
Be ourselves. Pretending to be someone else is not being transparent. We are real people with all sorts of weird hobbies and likes and dislikes. Each of us is different and that’s ok. We should be ourselves both as a group (with the weird and wonderful GrantTree culture) and as individuals.
Get shit done. When you decide to do something, do it. Don’t procrastinate forever and just let things hang in the background until they’re forgotten. When you set out to complete a task, the task should be scared of you, not the other way around! Some tasks are particularly difficult for a specific individual to do, but easy for another. When this happens to you, don’t be one chopstick! Find someone who finds that your task is a walk in the park and get them to assist you, even if it’s just to kick your butt into doing the task yourself.
Achieve results. Doing things just for the sake of doing them helps no one. We do things because they achieve results, both tangible and intangible. Always keep in mind the result that you want to achieve, when you do something. You may uncover unexpected shortcuts or new perspectives that make your task much easier or very different.
Move the needle. Getting shit done and achieving results is still not enough! Those results need to “move the needle” in a tangible way. Doing something and achieving a result that is completely unnoticeable by anyone is not worth your time when there are some many things you can do that will have a great impact. We’re a small company. There should not be anyone who doesn’t understand how and why their work makes a big difference.
Add value. Of course, the needle needs to move int he right direction. When deciding what to do, focus on things that clearly will make things better for someone: our customers, ourselves, the tech community, etc.
Predisposed to action. Shall we do another round of analysis and discussion before we get this done? Sometimes the answer is yes. Most of the time it ain’t.
Resourceful. Everyone can say “I can’t do this because …” Effective people identify and locate the resources they need irrespective of obstacles and other difficulties. You have a whole team that can help you, and there are people outside of GrantTee who can help too, and of course all the knowledge stored on the Internet is at your fingertips is there for you too. There are some things that are, perhaps, truly impossible, like traveling faster than light, existing in two places at once, or changing the taste of the colour purple. It is very unlikely that the thing you’re trying to do is one of those.
Look for leverage. Being effective is not about bashing your head on the wall until one of them breaks. For almost every task you undertake, there are smart ways to magnify the impact of the task while reducing the effort. Instead of doing things the way everyone else does them, look for a smarter way that leverages the unique set of resources at your disposal. You’re not average, so don’t do things the average way.
With ourselves, with our customers, and with the community. The world in general, and the startup community in particular, tend to reward people who are generous with their time, their knowledge, their assistance. Obviously we are a business and eventually we need to make money to survive, but that does not mean we should be stingy with our time. GrantTree would not exist without the generous assistance of countless other people. Pay it forward.
Over-deliver when we can. Every once in a while there is an opportunity to wow the client with exceptional service that they didn’t expect it. Grab those opportunities. They can be our best marketing tool.
Give back to the industry/community. The startup community in particular functions in a peculiar way where you tend to get by giving. As our focus as a company is tech startups, it is particularly important that we help it flourish. The apparently hapless founder who you help today may be the founder of one of our best new clients tomorrow. And even if they’re not, helping people is good.
Provide free support to colleagues, clients and others. If someone on the team wants to learn something that you are an expert at, be generous with your time (within reason, of course). Be generous with your time rather than stingy. The more time you give, the more time you have (because others help you in return and maximise the value of your own time).
If in doubt, be too generous. Generosity can be abused. Some people will take advantage of you, of us. That’s ok. If someone is clearly abusing our generosity, we should of course take action to resolve that, but we should accept that a consequence of a generous system is that there will be some abuse sometimes. Trying to stop all abuse will not stop abuse, but it will stop the generosity.