Our Core Values, Episode I: Be Excellent
(This article originally appeard on ThinkBrownstone.com as the Philidelphia based company chronicled their visioning process. Check out the entire series from their visioning process on their site. )
We recently went through the process of articulating our company’s core values. Guided by Ari Weinzweig’s recipe for writing your guiding principles and Jim Collins’ description of what constitutes a core value, we set out to write down the essential, enduring tenets about which we are so passionate that we would never, under any circumstances, give them up.
Articulating our core values was not an exercise in writing about who we want to be. Rather, it was an attempt to describe who we already are—the ways in which we interact with one another every day; the behaviors and values that we Think Brownstoners are committed to—that make us all really enjoy being at work.
This article is the first in a series of posts that will describe each of our core values in greater detail. First up: Be excellent.
EXCELLENCE FOR ITS OWN SAKE
Sure, we all want to receive glowing 360º reviews from our coworkers and positive feedback from our clients (who expect excellence—as they should), but what’s remarkable to me is that the people I work with aim for excellence because they just really care on a personal level about doing great work. Think Brownstoners embody Jim Collins’ description of “those who turn good into great” in that we are “motivated by a deep creative urge and an inner compulsion for sheer unadulterated excellence for its own sake.” (emphasis added)
IT STARTS WITH GREAT PEOPLE
Building a team full of people like this isn’t easy. Our recruiting process is vigorous: if a candidate catches our eye, we do a screening call. Then we give the candidate a custom-tailored (specific to the position) “Think Exercise.” Then we do an in-person interview with at least two Think Brownstoners where the candidate presents their Think Exercise and we get to see him/her in action. If we’re still impressed, there’s sometimes a subsequent lunch meeting so that one or two other Think Brownstoners can meet the person. All of this is a huge investment—but it’s worth it.
We do this continuously, for every position, regardless of whether we have an immediate need to hire or not. This means we’re usually ready to bring on great candidates when the need arises, and it also means that a new Think Brownstoner often doesn’t really seem new—we’ve been getting to know them for months.
THE ESSENTIAL RHYTHM OF ROUTINES
When someone joins Think Brownstone they are welcomed into a cadence of regular touch points with their coworkers. These routines (and a few others) are in place to make sure we all have the support we need to do our job really well:
One-on-Ones: Every manager at Think Brownstone meets one-on-one with each of their team members every other week for one hour. Managers proactively schedule these meetings, setting them up to repeat bi-weekly at the same time of day (so a “rhythm” can be established). We always ask, “How are you doing?” and “How can I help you?” and we may also review project work, discuss professional goals, or get better acquainted on a personal level.
DIGs: Our team is diverse and we encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing between our disciplines—even beyond project work. There’s a DIG (Discipline Interest Group) for each department (Project Management, UX Design, Visual Design, and Development) and everyone is welcome to join any DIG that they’re interested in. There is a Basecamp project for each DIG where we can exchange ideas and ask for help. And each DIG meets every other month over lunch for a project show-and-tell, to talk about lessons learned, or to discuss relevant design and technology tools/trends.
Design Rewinds: Twice a year all of our Design Leads and Leadership Team members retreat for a day to look back at the work that Think Brownstone produced during the previous six months. For each project, we showcase and celebrate the final deliverables, share stories about team and client interactions, and discuss lessons learned. These retrospective gatherings lead to ideas for how we can evolve our systems, processes, and leadership styles to improve our deliverables, team dynamics, and client relationships.
The Thinktrust: Underpinning our project teams is a group of senior-level Think Brownstoners who provide proactive input into project work at regular intervals during our client engagements. While this has always been an informal common practice at Think Brownstone, it is now becoming a more deliberate and organized effort. The idea to formalize a “Thinktrust” actually grew out of a Basecamp message from Chad on the Visual Design DIG where he shared a link to this article about Pixar’s Braintrust and a rich discussion ensued. More on the Thinktrust and our other routines when we talk about another core value: work together.
EXCELLENCE IN BUSINESS, TOO
Great people need the foundation of great business practices in order to continuously do great work together. Sustained excellence in business practices for us also has been the result of a commitment to consistent, important routines: Our Leadership Team meets weekly to track and forecast financials in real-time. Carl, Russ and I have breakfast every Friday to discuss a wide variety of company issues as they arise. Our sales and delivery teams get in sync at weekly project scoping and resource planning meetings.
As we’ve established new systems and processes to support our growth over the past few years, it has been increasingly important to write stuff down. And as our organizational structure has taken form and our leadership team has grown, having documented core values has become a vital piece of the puzzle. In his book A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business, Ari Weinzweig does a great job of describing why: “Guiding principles [or core values] form a framework within which we can more effectively make day-to-day decisions. Decisions in business are rarely black and white. A clear ethical framework makes our decision-making more consistent and effective in the midst of uncertainty and change—which in turn helps the organization develop in a positive and progressive way.”
Want to learn more about building a business based on purpose, vision, and values? Download our eBook for a full guide!