I have a very cynical reaction to the word “values”, especially in the context of corporate entities. At best it’s a disingenuous marketing campaign, usually it’s more like a red blaring light shining on their degenerate hypocrisies and weakest aspirations.
But we’ve been doing a lot of hiring. And one day I realized that most of our top candidates were asking the same two questions: 1) how do technical decisions get made, and 2) what are our company values?
After a few rounds of stuttering and sounding like an idiot, I decided it was time to mayyyybe stop sounding like an idiot and come up with an answer.
But it’s hard to do something you don’t believe in, let alone something as cheesy and heart-on-your-sleeve as write a company values statement. So first I had to talk myself into believing it was worth doing. Which went something like this:
- Candidates I respect seem to think this thing matters, therefore it must matter to me too.
- … Fuck.
- Well, some are worse than others. The ones I feel cynical about are the worst. (Facebook’s were a running joke because nobody believed them)
- I didn’t hate Linden Lab’s values .. until we stopped believing in them. Hmm, so what was valuable about them?
- Well, people used them to help resolve conflicts and make decisions. Nice.
- Ok, what else do I hate? Values that are overly broad or include their opposite (“we work hard AND play harder”, “we’re empathetic BUT tough-minded”), are overly generic or too obvious (“no assholes” — duh), are unmemorable laundry lists, or too angelic and earnest (this list is not going to get you laid, capitalist scum).
- Ok. So. Our values should be particular (they should not apply just as well to any other company), they should help make decisions and resolve conflict (if they aren’t useful/if we don’t use them then what’s the point), they should be pithy and a bit snarky (an aesthetic choice, just a spoonful of bile to help the medicine go down).
I started jotting down values fodder on my phone, while walking back and forth between home and work, which is how I do all my writing these days. I spent a couple weeks spewing notes out. It was a mess.
Then I sat down with Ginsu, my wizard of a COO, because I knew[*] he had the unique power to sift through my ramblings and craft a pithy message from vast effluvia. After bouncing it around a bit and soliciting everyone’s feedback, we were left with this list, which we quietly back-posted.
What I love about the list that it is specific, actionable, and truly echoes things we say every day to each other (“Everything is an experiment”, “Fast and mostly-right is better than slow and perfect”, and “We hire adults”), as well as bringing bits of our heritage (“Feedback is a gift”is lifted from Facebook; “Do it with style” comes from Linden Lab).
I like that I overhear people repeating the phrases to each other as they do their work and argue and urge each other on. I even love that there are huge, known flaws with it (“do it with style” notoriously does not scale) because that reminds me this is a living document, that we have committed to its care and feeding and regular revisioning.
I even love that you may read it and think, “This place is not for me.” If a place is for everyone, it is not for anyone in particular. I am okay with being a particular place, for particular people at a particular time in our lives. Specificity elicits passion in a way that generic never can.
Nothing lasts forever. As we close this round of funding and the end of the beginning chapter of this company, it’s nice to take a breath, pause, and put a stamp on it.
This is what works for us now. It won’t work for us forever, and that’s okay. We are who we are, and when we change, our values will too.
We hire adults. We got this.
[*] he made me, obviously