Crafting Our Values

‘Culture is like the wind. It is invisible, yet its effect can be seen and felt. When it is blowing in your direction, it makes for smooth sailing. When it is blowing against you, everything is more difficult’.

I wish I had written that. It’s from an article titled ‘Changing Company Culture Requires and Movement not a Mandate’ in the HBR. But when reading it recently it prompted me to look back at one of my favourite projects of 2017.

We’ve been on just the most amazing rollercoaster ride for the last 3 years. From the longest start-up phase of any start-up I know, our leadership team or Panchayat began a process of examining our work in a different way; what we do and our output and how we do it and vowed to radically shift both, not really knowing where the process would take us. The strategic ‘what’ part is for another post but can be evidenced through our newly found focus on the services we provide and our target sectors. 

Right now I’ll share our journey to developing a set of values underpinning our strategy which were crafted based on how we have shifted to a more open, transparent, collaborative and accountable organisation. 

Our transformation to Agile principles and methods in the delivery of our services and how we approach our work continues to be a struggle, but month by month it gets easier. And it got easier more recently because we formalised the strategy and committed it to words and because we have answered the important  question ‘What do we stand for?’ I’m sure there is a right way to go about answering this question, but my research didn’t throw anything up, so we made it up as we went along.

I figured an organisations values must reflect in its people; how we relate to each other, our work, our customers and the wider community. They must be both aspirational and at the same time believable or they will be rejected out of hand. 

So over the course of 2-3 months I attempted to quietly (not easy for me) look at our people in a different way. I tried to observe how we were adopting our new ways of working; our approach and relationship to our work; and the effect that this way of working was having on our individual and collective behaviour. I found an honesty in how we spoke to one another, how we supported each other, how we owned our work, how we started really owning our successes and failures and how we committed to a process of continued improvement. These observations were validated through a series a casual staff and leadership conversations over coffee, in the canteen and around the office and started to bubble up to an observable collective mindset. I liked the idea of our values reflecting a mindset and found this brilliant quote from Brian Ashton, who by the way is a brilliant man and a guy I would love to have a beer with.

“I’ve never been a believer in game-plans. I believe in providing a framework and a vision of how the team should play. And I’ve always been a fan of that old army maxim, ‘no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy’. You can’t predict all the circumstances, but you can cultivate a mindset that says: ‘We’ve got a problem, but if we put our minds to it, we can come up with a solution”
Brian Ashton, ex Irish Rugby Head Coach

With this idea of our Values as a framework for success, we then looked at how a set of values are crafted. From a review of some of the biggest companies, to start-ups and everything in between some patterns started to emerge in how a culture and an organisations values are defined. Nonetheless we found it very difficult to translate these intangible ‘feelings’ or observable behaviours into a language system that didn’t just sound like a load of bland Acme Ltd corporate shite. ‘Culture is like the wind’, but even Met Eireann has a language pattern to describe the wind and make the invisible understandable. 

The Write Up
So here they are. Based on observed behaviours and reinforcing a mindset, our values now underpin our strategy. They are written in language that I hope is understandable and memorable. 

Straight Up
We are open and candid with each other and our clients. 

Front Up
We are tenacious. We own our work. We meet every challenge with a solution mindset.

Back Up
We work as a team. We support each other. We do what we say, rapidly committing words into action.

Shake Up
We embrace change and innovation in technology and ways of working, it is our platform for growth.

Big Up
We are proud of our work, we celebrate and share our successes.

It’s amazing what happens when you write stuff up. Our Values now act as guiderails in so many situations…when we work with each other on a day-to-day basis, when we work with clients and partners to deliver our services, when we encounter difficult situations and when we evaluate our teams and hire new people.

Like everything in Monsoon Consulting and in life our Values are a Work in Progress. We never stop Shaking Up. In the meantime, we do our best to live them. And for now I feel like the wind is at our back. 

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