The story behind our company values refresh
At Productboard, our values have always been a critical part of our identity. They are the principles that underpin our processes, shape our culture, and help us pursue our collective mission in the right way.
We set our original values back in 2014, when Productboard was just starting its journey as a tiny startup. A lot has changed since those early days. Just this year alone, we’ve doubled our headcount from 100 to 200+ people – and our growth shows no signs of slowing.
While we are all immensely proud of what we’ve achieved in such a short space of time, this rapid growth has also raised some important questions: How do we ensure that our ever-growing team feels connected to our values? How can we improve upon our existing values to increase this feeling of connection? Do people understand what our values mean in practice?
To answer these questions, we embarked on a journey that involved everyone in the company and ultimately led to a values refresh. Here’s the story of how we did it.
Designing the process
Our values represent who we are as a group of people. So when approaching this process, it was important that we took a company-wide, employee-led approach, rather than a top-down one that imposed values on others without asking for their say.
We wanted to make each step of the process as inclusive as possible for everyone. Some people are naturally reserved, while others are bold and outgoing, so we thought about how we could encourage everyone to have their say, not just those with the loudest voices.
We started the process back in January 2020, before the COVID-19 crisis. When lockdowns came into force during spring, we had to figure out how to continue the initiative in a completely remote world, with our team scattered across locations and time zones. This forced us to think differently, and we found some interesting tools that made the process interactive, fun, and accessible for all.
Despite the crisis, we felt it was critical to continue with the values refresh process instead of waiting for normality to return. Why? Because our values are the guiding posts that help us make decisions and get work done. If anything, connecting to and understanding our values became even more important during a Pandemic, helping us to navigate a path through the unknown.
Here’s how we did it.
Step 1: Kicking off with a values survey
The first step was to better understand how people relate to our existing values. Specifically, we wanted to understand how well we understood what our values meant, how connected we felt to them, and how well they reflected our culture.
To do this, we sent out a company-wide values survey to provide a snapshot of these points. While the results were positive, we saw an opportunity to further increase people’s feelings of connection to our values.
Step 2: Organizing focus groups
The next step was to arrange small focus groups of up to 10 people. Like the survey, anyone from across the company was welcome to participate.
The focus groups aimed to build on the survey results by providing an opportunity to reflect on our current values, determine which ones we would like to refresh, and have an open discussion to define the attributes and real-life scenarios that each value embodies.
We asked participants to think of real-life examples of how we exhibit our current values at work. This helped us to better understand what our values mean in context, turning them from mere words into something relatable and real.
We conducted all groups remotely via Zoom. We also used Google Jamboard – a digital whiteboard tool – to make the sessions as interactive and inclusive as possible. Not everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves verbally in front of others, so Jamboard provided an additional medium for voicing opinions.
Step 3: Distilling the data
Once we completed the focus groups, it was time to sift through the meeting notes, Jamboard scribblings, and Zoom recordings to distill the data into actionable ideas.
During this process, we started to notice some recurring themes and ideas around our existing values. These recurring themes pointed out where we could fine-tune our current values to increase people’s feelings of connection towards them.
Step 4: Settling on our refreshed values
After we compiled the results of the survey and focus groups, we presented our findings to the founders along with recommendations for them to consider. These included reducing the overall number of values from seven to five, tweaking the wording to better align with our understanding of each value, and presenting each value as an action rather than a concept.
The founders then provided their input and helped with turning the values into actions. Finally, we settled on the refreshed set of values below:
Step 5: Living our values
In many ways, arriving at our refreshed values was the start of the process, not the end. Now, it’s time to put them into action. Here are some of the steps we are taking to ensure that we live our values every day.
- Embedding our values in everything we doTo ensure that our values guide the way we work, we need to embed them in processes across the company. That means using them as a reference point when recruiting, onboarding, setting goals, managing performance, communicating, etc.
- Diving deeper on a departmental levelTo feel connected to our values, we need to know how we can ‘live’ them in our daily lives. Naturally, the day-to-day work of an engineer is quite different from that of a recruiter, so we need to dive deeper into the actions behind our values on a departmental level. This way, everyone will have a clear understanding of what our values mean in the context of their work.
- A new Slack channelWe have set up a new Slack channel where people can discuss our values, celebrate examples of us living them in our work, and share value-related content. To provide clarity around the values we are discussing, we want to pair each value with an emoji and have asked people for their suggestions.We also plan to focus on one value per month and dive deeper into what it means in practice, highlighting specific instances we see in people’s work and giving awards for outstanding examples.
An ongoing process
Putting our values into practice is an ongoing process of exploration, alignment, and improvement. It is something we will continue to work on – and celebrate – every day. After all, that’s what values are for – to guide us in the decisions we make, helping us pursue our individual and collective goals in a way that is effective, sustainable, and right.