Values as a Core of TX’s Culture
CEO and Head of Janitorial at TX
In Autumn 2021, TX arrived at a crossroads. One of our main teams developed a spin-off project, now known as Silta Finance, and it was their time to move away from home. At the same time, design company Sangre was merging its forces with ours. With all these changes happening simultaneously, we had to create a new identity for our company.
The new steering group seemed to be on the same page immediately, and we saw ourselves nodding together while commenting about how different decisions “align with our values.” But it’s not enough to convince ourselves we’re on the right track.
In the end, the Devil lives in the details, and assumptions are the seeds of confusion. Our values had to be explicitly defined if we were to share them with the rest of the world as well.
Why did we establish values?
Companies and organizations can be hugely successful without written values. Implicitly, values are present, but that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. The risk lies in situations where values aren’t completely aligned.
When you state your company’s values, it becomes more apparent to everyone where the company is headed. Values are like stars that can be used to navigate through difficult situations. Similarly to a ship of explorers, you might find new fruitful land just by drifting on currents, following seagulls, or whatever the person behind the wheel happens to value the most. Using an established navigation method can be more efficient – even when the captain is taking a nap. Then, it’s just about planning the route and trusting your compass even if there are storms along the way.
“Our main goal was to answer the following questions: What should really be the values we all can fully agree on, and what would they mean for the company?“
The value process
Before we began, we knew we wanted to have something more than easily forgettable values. Instead, we wanted to capture the essence of the company’s identity and inspire the team. But we had no clue how we would get there. My personal ambition is always to try to utilize the power of the group. So that’s where we started.
We seldom enjoy the luxury of having all team members on the same premises because our team primarily works remotely in different parts of the world. Our Christmas party was one of those rare occasions, and we dedicated a few hours to discuss our values in a facilitated workshop. Individual thoughts were collected on what our values are, or what they should be, and then distributed into four different value groups: hygiene, inspirational, core, and accidental.
Many great thoughts and action points were generated during the workshop. At this point, however, I felt that we must abandon democracy for a while. So, deviating from my default leadership principles, I decided that the company’s steering group would define the next version of our values. At the end of the day, we are the ones who have to be fully committed to the values, and it’s our responsibility to make sure we walk the talk.
Before diving into another workshop, we wanted to get as much team input as possible. So we opened up a virtual Miro board and added the results from the previous exercises. For the duration of a few months, people could add new values and especially comment on existing ones.
With the table set, it was time to roll up our sleeves and begin the hardest part of polishing the many ideas into shiny diamonds. Our main goal was to answer the following questions: What should really be the values we all can fully agree on, and what would they mean for the company?
Instead of locking ourselves into a meeting room to force ideas to come out, we went for a hike. It was a crispy spring nature experience, this time involving the rolling of our trouser legs to waddle in chilly water. Not the most orthodox environment, but definitely stimulating. As the day closed to an end, we all thought we had managed to find the story we were seeking. Our values had taken shape on three pieces of paper.
The final step was publishing the values to the entire team and collecting new feedback. It was a big moment for the company to have all our ducks back in the same pond for our annual summer day. All in all, the values were well accepted, and people once again generated a lot of precious feedback. I have to say that I’m really pleased with our Devil’s advocates, who highlighted the weak spots of TX’s story because we are always in the process of iterating and developing. And we have to because continuous improvement is the main element of our values.
Our vision was split into three main categories rather than creating a list of values. The first category is the Gatekeeper rule, which describes the people we hope to work with and the bad behaviors we discourage within our team. The second category, internal values, explains how we want to conduct our daily operations. It’s essentially the core of our team culture. The last category illustrates our external values and what we expect from the businesses and people we interact with outside of TX.
The gatekeeper rule – Everyone is equal
The gatekeeper rule’s message is that no one is better than another. That means we don’t tolerate any form of racism, discrimination, or other bad behavior. You might be a supercoder, but that doesn’t make you superior.
Of course, defining “bad” behavior is a bit of a blurry subject. Some hints can be found in the book “The No Asshole Rule” written by Robert I. Sutton. Check out the “Dirty Dozen” part, which covers the signals for bad behavior quite well.
We included the no asshole rule as a working title for this value, but despite its catchy name, it’s a problematic term to put into use. Naming the gatekeeper value as something keeping assholes out of the room would implicitly signal that a badly behaving person is one. People rarely engage in toxic behavior intentionally, and they are generally willing to change behavior when given appropriate feedback (more about continuous improvement a little later!). Assigning a label to a person isn’t a constructive way to start a conversation. Instead, we want to embrace a more emphatic and constructive approach to avoiding bad behaviors.
Internal values – The core of our culture
At some point in our value polishing process, we noticed a story unfolding. It was a story that seemed to tie many individual values brought up by the team and from what we, as the steering group, found to be important in building a forerunner company. The story was built around the notion of continuous improvement and how to stay within that loop.
For someone to continuously improve, they should have the curiosity and courage to test new things. The environment should support this behavior by allowing them to feel safe to try and fail. These experiences are followed by direct but empathic feedback and a moment of reflection. We at the steering group felt that this is the story that embodies our culture.
Right now, the story is more inspirational than true. But I feel that as a team, we are committed to placing this story under the test of time. There will undoubtedly be failures along the way, but the feedback, especially from those missteps, will be greatly beneficial.
External values – How we see the world
When we collected individual input from our team, Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. Shocked by the news, we knew we wanted to do something, anything.
Our immediate action was to end our relationship with the Finnish ice hockey club Jokerit, which was primarily funded by Russian sources to play in the Russia-based KHL. In addition, our Polish presence began collecting items for Ukrainian refugees. Donations were given by individual team members and by TX, and the company matched all donations from employees.
When it was time for the steering group to define the company values, it was quite clear that our team is value-driven in terms of what behavior is esteemed and what isn’t. I personally care a lot about our planet, and I’m not alone in our company. We discussed topics like “caring about nature” as a value, but it didn’t sound believable or tangible. We wanted to express more concrete values and actions. Lastly, we also placed our existing and potential customers on two different axes: environmental and social behavior.
The first axis measures how the project or customer stands against our values related to the environment and nature. On the left is the “no-no zone,” which are companies we can’t work with. However, if there is a sincere expression to move toward the right with a joint venture, we could make an exception. This zone includes, e.g., the oil industry and companies seeking to increase consumption for profit. Other examples are web3 protocol projects that seek consensus based on highly consuming proof-of-work methods. On the right-hand side is the “pro bono” zone. As the name suggests, these are customers that we are happy to work with even without charge.
The second axis is similar but reflects our views on social behavior. Intentional Ponzi schemes, pyramid projects, data robbery business models, and other bad behaviors belong to the left. On the right side are honest web3 projects focused on giving people control while maintaining transparent and distributed revenue share models.
If you are our existing customer, you have a place on both axes, and we would be happy to share our thoughts on your position. In case you feel passionate about shifting to the right, then let’s connect and exchange ideas.
The graphs aren’t meant to simply judge others for their actions. Instead, it is a tool to help us visualize the actions we can perform. Matching donations, as mentioned previously, is just one aspect. We could also strive to be carbon neutral in our operations. These questions are still open-ended, but I’m extremely proud and pleased with what we have achieved so far.
What’s next for TX?
Our next big step is to turn our values into concrete actions. As we learn and grow as both a company and as individuals, there is always room for improvement.
Therefore, I invite you to challenge us to improve. Is there something important we overlooked? Or maybe you know a better way to create a positive impact? Let us know if we are on the right path by sending a message to email@example.com.
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