As our company has grown, we’ve realized that one of our regular tasks is to keep our values living and breathing. It makes sense that the values we established at the start in a collaborative exercise between our earliest employees would obviously reflect our personal beliefs. The “value congruence” would be intrinsic. But what about when new people join? What about when we learn and shift as an organization? We need a way to grow from experience and not let our values become a dusty set of words in the handbook.
Applying open-source values to our work
What drew us each individually to open source are the same things that inform our core values as a company. We believe in collaboration, empowering people, and that the “sum is greater than its parts.” Like many people, I was initially drawn to open source because I could find software for free. I soon learned that I could also learn from and with others, and then that I could actually help improve the project through code and documentation. I felt so empowered to effect change and I was inspired with the means to help others.
As a company, we thrive on the open source spirit of collaboration, which can only work well when there is a solid level of trust and respect between the people involved. Those feelings of respect, empowerment, and inspiration are keys to how we conduct ourselves and need to be a central part of how we move forward.
Establishing values together
When an individual has the same values as an organization, their goals and behaviors align. Researchers call this “value congruence” and it’s central to what makes a good person-organization fit. Some think it’s a reflection of how effective an organization can be.
By establishing our values together as a team at Osio Labs, our company values would intrinsically align. Some of us had worked in other organizations where the values were handed down from leadership or were established before we arrived. It made sense to us that we should be doing this collaboratively. One of our values, as it turns out, is “work together” meaning collaboration and sharing.
So at Osio Labs, we drew up our values as a group exercise with the original team. Osio Labs started out with 8 people and was born out of an existing company, Lullabot, with their own set of values. While we used that list as a starting place, we also knew that to become our own company and set our own path forward, we needed to come to this discussion with open minds and new ideas. At our first company retreat, we conducted a card-sort exercise to define our core values as a team. Each person wrote down their individual thoughts and then we grouped like ideas together. Our list ended up looking similar to the previous company values, but with some different emphasis and new additions. Once we zeroed in on the list of short phrases, we also wrote out brief descriptions, which were refined over the following months. You can find our current list of values in our Employee Handbook.
In order for us to achieve our goals, we have to make decisions every day according to those values. We need to believe in them. We can’t expect someone to uphold values they don’t believe in. To have everyone on the same page, and harness the potential of these values, everyone needs to be on board at some personal level. One of the challenges then is how to keep everyone aligned and maintain value congruence over time. In a review of research on value congruence, researchers found it was “still not clear how organizations should choose between staffing and socialization to achieve value congruence.”
On the socialization side of things, I see my job as a CEO as “filling leaky buckets”, where the vision and values of the company will constantly leak, or fade, and it’s my job to refill the bucket to keep the values vibrant. That said, the whole team is invested in these values, so we all work together to fill the bucket. When we have hard decisions as a company, we will always ask, “What do our values tell us to do?” We also pull our values into the discussion when talking about setting goals and how to prioritize them. It’s not uncommon for someone on the team to support something by saying, “That fits well with our values.”
Getting a good fit for new hires who join is also a part of upholding the values we share and maintaining value congruence. We’ve gone through a number of staff shifts over the years and applied our values to hiring for regular staff and contractors. As part of our hiring process, we ask both the applicants and our team to read the values and keep them present. Our application asks people to select one or two values that resonate with them and share that with us. As we review applications and move people through the hiring process, our entire team is involved. We look at how our values align with applicant responses, as well as making sure the way we ask questions and treat potential hires is in line with our values. Essentially, every time we hire someone, we take a deep dive review of our values and keep them at front of mind.
New people coming in changes the texture of the company. While they do conform to some extent since our values are part of the hiring process, they also change things, which is a desirable effect of building a diverse team.
As new people come in, we give space to revisit the values and how we define them. We can acknowledge that a company is made of people so we have to agree on a set of behavioral norms and make sure everyone understands the implementation of those. That’s why we think revisiting company values regularly as a team has helped us keep aligned, both with each other and our values.
We evaluate our values at least annually and make modifications. We’ll also do a review if someone has a new idea or question about our values. In a typical review, we:
- Read through the existing values, definitions, and examples. We ask everyone to do this on their own prior to meeting and then we do it as a group.
- We discuss each value in turn and see if it still resonates with everyone.
- If there is some dissonance we will talk it out to understand what may need to change. Often we’ve found the underlying value is fine, but the way we define it or enact it needs to be clarified or modified.
- We capture our discussions and create tasks to have updates made to the handbook, which are then reviewed by the whole team before being published.
How are you applying open source principles to business?
Since we were individually drawn to open source projects because they reflect our personal values, it follows that these were reflected in how we chose to define the company values. There’s a kind of recursion in the fact that co-creating our values is one of our values. It’s a long term process that will keep our business thriving. What have you done to keep your values growing with your company and relevant to the work you do? Leave a comment below or continue the conversation on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Bao, Yuanjie and Dolan, Simon L. and Tzafrir, Shay S., Value Congruence in Organizations: Literature Review, Theoretical Perspectives, and Future Directions (September 1, 2012). ESADE Business School Research Paper 239. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2154976 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2154976