The Importance of Values in a Scaling Tech Company

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Video advertising company Unruly, which was acquired by News Corp in 2015, used a collaborative internal process to define its values: Embrace change; Share the Love; Deliver well.

The three values emerged from a series of creative team exercises. The first, a hackathon-style team building day, saw its employees express their feelings about the company using both physical and digital tools.

One employee built a series of interconnected islands using paper-mâché to represent the country’s international expansion, while another modelled a volcano to visualise its ‘explosive’ future.

This ‘gameathon’ approach complemented word cloud exercises and was a fun, relaxed and hands-on way to explore how Unruly’s people thought about the company and its unique qualities.

“Once you have your values, you start getting a clearer sense of what kind of organisation and culture you need to build around your people,” says Sarah Wood, the company’s co founder and former CEO.

Value-led culture

Values are meaningless unless lived out in an organisation. To make Unruly’s values work, Sarah knew that its employees needed both clarity on what was expected of them and recognition whenever they achieved success.

The company set up weekly recognition “shout outs” in its Friday Flash newsletter, recognising Unrulies who had gone the extra mile to Deliver, Wow, Share The Love, and Embrace Change.

It included a discussion of how employees had embodied company values in every quarterly appraisal, and it gave as many people as possible the chance to manage projects and other people in order to develop and empower those with less seniority.

One impactful decision came when the adtech company devised a name for the type of people it wanted to hire: PANDAs (an acronym for Positive; Agile; Nurturing; Determined; A-team players). This formed the foundation for the company’s recruitment strategy and gave hiring teams a cheat-sheet when seeking the recruits that the company needed.

With its values defined and PANDAs empowered, Unruly was able to determine its strategic priorities; set annual, quarterly and weekly objectives for teams; prioritise daily to-do lists and support staff with daily stand-ups.

Can culture remain consistent as an organisation grows?

Phil Burton, COO of Bloom & Wild spoke about culture and how to keep it consistent as the organisation grows during another Advance: Scaling Leaders session this year.

When talking about culture through the scope of values, Phil says it’s hugely important for that to not be diluted as you scale.

However, values should only evolve if that evolution is purposeful. What's your company strategy? What's your mission? What's your vision?

Phil says: “If you think culture equals values, then it should remain consistent unless you've purposefully decided for them not to be.

“If culture to you means behavioural working practice, personality, behavioural norms, socialising culture the answer is resolutely no.

“You will be disappointed if you try to get behavioural norms and working practices the same across a number of locations. But you do need sufficient commonalities across all organisational areas to feel like one team.”

Phil believes feeling like one team is important and motivating, and although values are important, they aren’t a big enough commonality across different teams and different locations. He adds: “Values plus rituals can be your big commonality points across your organisation. Things your company does that other companies don't.”

Creating rituals has to be an organic process, as they won’t land or last if they feel fabricated.

One failed Bloom & Wild ritual was the ‘Bloomerang’ which encouraged employees to send a gift or free bouquet to a customer they felt was deserving.

Phil put a KPI on it, and measured which functions were hitting the KPI and said it was absolutely rejected as a ritual. However, one positive takeaway was that employees were happy to know execs were open to random acts of kindness or generosity. Bloomerang has therefore lived on in another way.

Concluding thoughts 

Company values serve as core tenets of culture, models for hiring and inspiration when things get tough. In some ways, they’re the blueprint of how a workplace should feel to its employees.

If values are what your company believes in at its core, and embody your cultural vibe, they will directly link to how the company evolves.

Pressure test your values once a year to ensure that they are the embodiment of what you find to be the North Star. These company values will guide new - and old - employees on how to work best together, creating rich team dynamics across the business and will allow people with a great range of experience to work together more effectively.

If the challenges described by our experts resonate with you and your teams, sign up to Advance: Scaling Leaders, Tech Nation’s world-class 10-week training programme for first time leaders. Our inspirational training course is designed to help you overcome the key challenges you’ll face as your business and team grows.

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