Values are over-hyped and under-used in most companies. Here’s how we get it right.
At Strise we take company values seriously. Like, really, really seriously. We have three of them. Not seven or ten. And, each of them mean something concrete.
Have you seen the Dilbert company value comic strips? They are fun, but the sad thing is that they’re often true. Values at most companies are big words like “trustful”, “energetic”, “dynamic”. Words that often don’t mean that much. Employees forget them and they don’t translate into action.
At Strise we have three values that everyone knows by heart:
- You are Strise. Make decisions.
- Smart but uncomfortable. If something seems smart but uncomfortable you should do it.
- Advantage Strise. Unexpected things happen; make it our advantage.
We don’t know them by heart because everyone studies them. Instead, we've actually implemented our values and use them in our everyday decision making. Here’s how:
At the end of our all-hands meeting on Thursdays, we summarize our week and find examples of when we’ve lived by our values, and when we should have. We make a point out of letting everyone on the team highlight particular highs and lows. And then we spend time celebrating when we've lived a value fully.
In our daily work, we try to let the values guide us in everything we do. Our values are not a tool that management uses to set standards for culture. Rather, everyone at Strise uses the values to guide their decisions and thinking. And it is those decisions and that thinking that creates the culture.
We started doing this when we started the company four years ago. Now, it’s part of the Strise DNA.
When Gino, our new customer success manager, joined December last year it took him no time to start wanting to live by the values. “Within two weeks, I too wanted to start making decisions and not just rely on others to tell me what to do. The first value, the one about being Strise, gave me license to do that. And, I felt I was expected to. There is a lot of trust in that. I was energized.”
The best thing is that at least 70%-80% percent of decisions made by employees when they act on their own initiative are great decisions! Of course it can happen that decisions don’t fully hit the mark, but no one is blamed for that. That’s how we like it. Without risk – no reward. Marit, the CEO at Strise, explains:
“When we started Strise we understood that as a Big Data/AI-company we needed to be extremely fast. Speed and execution guided the design of our core values. That’s especially clear in the value encouraging making decisions. When you optimize for speed you're bound to make some mistakes. But if we get most decisions right at high speed, that’s a beneficial trade-off.”
Sigurd, who’s a programmer, feels empowered by this. “The Chief Product Officer has a lot on his plate. If I should wait for him every time I need a decision it would slow us down”, he says, then recounts a story about when he went ahead and implemented a feature that a potential customer wanted without waiting for go-ahead. The responsiveness of the team and the new feature contributed to the closing of a sale. “That was a great feeling”, Sigurd says. “All programmers at Strise have the full picture of our roadmap and what’s possible in the backend. That really makes it easy for me to make those kinds of quick decisions without messing up the overall plan.”
The same is true for Fredrik, who’s working in sales. “With the freedom to act I’ve become much more interested in the overall direction of the company. I really want to see the big picture and not just my part. It’s actually quite motivating and it makes my decisions better.”
On Slack, we have a Strise-emoji that gets pinned on messages that showcase when someone was Strise. “Let’s say I’d like to give a shout-out to someone who made a decision that brought us forward at great speed. I’ll go ahead and say that so and so was Strise today, and then the others react with the Strise-emoji.” Marit, the CEO, explains. "It binds us together".
The value “Advantage Strise '' has its origin in one of the founder’s skiing interests. Sigve, the Chief Product Officer, was an active alpine skier in his (now long lost) youth. He still watches every international alpine competition on TV. In alpine skiing it’s not uncommon that weather conditions or the slope suddenly changes. Being best, like the Norwegian team, also means handling unexpected events better than everyone else. “Unexpected things are an advantage for us”, Sigve says.
At Strise, if something unexpected happens, positive or negative, everyone pitches in to think constructively. “Oh that really sucks'' someone would say in case a potential lead was lost, immediately followed by “How can we turn that around to our benefit?
A common theme amongst employees seems to be an inherent discomfort in presenting in front of large audiences. Enter the value Smart but uncomfortable. “This value has made me step out of my comfort zone on several occasions. Not so far out that I didn’t like it, but far enough for me to learn something new and also do something good for Strise”, Marit a UX designer that shares the CEO’s name, explains. Both Fredrik and Sigurd agree. Presentations are uncomfortable but a smart thing to do, and in the end they’ve grown from the experience. “I would not have done those presentations hadn’t it been for that value, says Sigurd.
UX-Marit (that’s her actual nickname) thinks that the values go particularly well with the iterative process that makes up the foundation of all development at Strise. “Prototyping, speed and execution and being really close to our customers’ needs are things that are essential for us. Our values really go hand-in-hand with this approach”, she says.
In his book “What you do is who you are”, Venture Capitalist Ben Horrowitz writes that culture is how your organization makes decisions. Marit, the Strise CEO, agrees with him: “Values are over-hyped and under-used in most companies. At Strise, we want that to be different.”