It’s hard to believe that we started NewsCred almost ten years ago.
When founding a company, it’s common to think that the most important objective is building a product that will deliver the most value to customers. But we realized, early on, that we had another product that we were creating: the company, itself.
In this post, I want to talk about that process of building a company. Most notably, how we think about the culture and values that guide us every single day.
Values are the soul of the company. Good values, when manifested in how we act every day, help us create the future we want to experience. We have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a special company – one that lives up to the ideals and aspirations of everyone who works here. And values are the compass and map that help us get to that destination.
Why Values Are Important: In our view, there are four reasons:
- Decision-making: Values assist in our day-to-day decision-making. This is applicable to both small decisions (e.g. “How do we run a meeting?” or “Do we have lunch together?”) to the most important ones (“How do we treat each other and our customers?” “Do we acquire a company?”).
- Identity: Values educate the public (customers, prospects, and potential employees) about who we are and how we are different.
- Hiring and Promoting: Values guide our decisions about who to hire and who to promote.
- Unity: Values help us build internal unity and alignment.
How We Determined Our New Values: We had a set of values that we came up with 10 years ago. As part of our new strategy and transformation that we rolled out a few months ago (we call it “the New NewsCred”) we decided to refresh our values. Some old ones made the cut, but we also decided to be open and flexible with new values that we had learned and embodied along the way. Values should typically last a lifetime, and our old values didn’t just go away. Most became part of our internal “practices” – behaviors that we still admire and want to see in our company. You can read more about practices here.
The process of determining our new values was bottom up. An executive team can’t prescribe values. They should be a reflection of how we act and behave. As such, we asked the company to come up with the initial list together during an all-hands offsite. We had everyone submit the values that they thought best represent NewsCred and then used a live voting app to stack rank nearly 20 submissions.
We then took those values and huddled in small teams led by founders, a couple execs, and folks from our People Ops team. We shortlisted from the top of the stack ranked list, applied some of our own ideas, and then came up with an initial set of seven or eight. We then socialized that list with folks from every department, at every level of seniority. Eventually, we came up with a list of five values that we believed perfectly reflected who we are and what we value. They were both real and aspirational in nature.
Our New Values: Without further ado, here are our new values. For each one, we compare the value to something that we greatly admire or believe is important (phrased as “Value X, even over Great Thing Y”). This makes it clear how important our value is, and makes it obvious to someone new how we think of it relative to other important aspects of our company. It gives the value teeth.
Trust over everything.
Teamwork over brilliance.
Compassion over being right.
Grit over stability.
- Customer obsession over process.
For each value, we have a slide that outlines what we mean in greater detail. For example, “trust” is a big word that any company may value. But for us, there are certain aspects that we value about trust – like “assume noble intent.” This means we should always give someone the benefit of the doubt, even if we’re in a heated debate. We should assume we all have good intentions.
Another piece of context we provide is the notion that it’s important to first give trust, before we can expect trust. These small details help explain each one of our values. I’ll follow up with a post on each value with the context so others can learn or get inspired.
Living Our Values: Our values aren’t just nice phrases to write on the wall. It’s critical that we bring our values to life and translate them into action. We must weave them into the fabric of our company and exhibit them every single day by the actions we take. (Or don’t take.) When we use values to make decisions, we deliberately choose to focus on the ideals most important to us. That includes weaving values into performance management, too.
Identifying Misalignments and Creating New Alignments: A key step to creating a culture around values is to identify misalignments and create new alignments. We want to ask ourselves “If these are our core values and this is fundamentally why we exist, what are the obstacles that get in our way?”
People need to feel safe calling out misalignments so we can fix them. Often a process may get in the way. For example, we say we want customer obsession. But maybe it’s too hard for an account manager to modify a contract without tons of approvals to make it better for the customer.
In other cases, we may need to create new alignments. These are rules, processes, or expected behaviors that help us live these values better. Often, they can be shocking, but it helps people realize what you value. (For example, Facebook famously coined the phrase “Move fast and break things” – which was initially shocking, but drove home what they hoped to accomplish.)
Winning as a Team: One final note on living our values: Winning is not a value. It’s the reason why we exist. We want to win, and in order to do that, we need our values to create a culture that will help us achieve excellence as a team. Values are not just about how we live and make decisions as an individuals. Values have no meaning unless we can achieve great things together as a team.
Parting thought: Values don’t matter if we don’t exhibit them in how we behave and act every day. This isn’t possible if we don’t have the right people in our organization. So to that end, we have decided that we will be ruthless about how we hire and screen for values in our interviewing process. This not only helps us hire people aligned with our values, but it sets expectations up front to our new employees and ensures alignment. It’s fair to both sides.
If our values and the thought process behind our values resonates, drop us a line or check out our open positions here!
Shafqat Islam is CEO and Co-founder of NewsCred.