As we grow Cronofy, it becomes increasingly important to distill the behaviours and attitudes that got us to where we are today. What are the defining traits of the team that have enabled our success and what does that need to look like as we scale?
As we add people to the team we need to ensure they understand what it means to be a Cronofy team member, and be comfortable that we’re a fit for them.
The Standard Approach
If I look at how I see other startups approach this, it generally boils down to getting a coach/facilitator or similar to run some exercises and arrive at your three values. The guides for your scaling journey. High fives all round and all done and dusted in a team building afternoon.
Whilst that is tempting, in my experience this ends up with an aspirational set of values that are not necessarily persistent. In the splendidly focused arena of a meeting room, people can whip themselves up into violent agreement over ‘powerful’ words and phrases. Wonderfully evocative and motivational as they are in that moment, they rarely survive contact with the real world.
It’s like the beautifully crafted product that the team are immensely proud of but comes up wanting when a real user gets their hands on it.
If we were to truly capture what it takes to be part of the Cronofy team, this was going to take more than an afternoon with catering.
Taste, test, refine, repeat
Whilst researching how to approach this I came across this post describing Jeff Lawson’s way of defining values at Twilio — Draw The Owl and Other Company Values You Didn’t Know You Should Have.
What was interesting to me about this was the group sourcing and collaborative approach. Brainstorm, filter, group filter, refine, distill until you have the things that define your organisation.
So this is what we did.
I wanted to be sure that the principles were truly reflective of how we operate so people needed to time to ruminate on them. They needed to reference how we’re all acting in various scenarios. Allow them to reflect on applicability on a day to day basis.
We run a hybrid distributed model at Cronofy. We have offices in two cities where some people work full time and others come periodically. Everyone meets their team every week. Everyone meets everyone once a month.
These monthly meet-ups comprise our all-hands meetings as well as some social time that generally includes an activity. So we devoted part of all-hands to distilling our principles.
Step one was the brainstorming session. Write on whiteboard, no holds, no judgements get it all on there. Discuss at the social evening after, add ideas. My job as both facilitator and controller was to write up into a shared Google doc. This meant anyone on the team could add to the list and amend as their thoughts and ideas settled over the subsequent days.
The other side of this was book club. We chose one title a month that everyone read between meetings and then discussed at the next all-hands. Radical Candor, Measure What Matters and Rework were our chosen three.
I’ll be honest I didn’t really appreciate the commitment required from the team to do this. I read a fair amount so found it, relatively, easy to fit these in. However not everyone finds it easy to commit the same amount of time to read with other demands on their schedules. It was asking a lot of some people. But, the value of everyone having read the same text and formed opinions about it was immense. My recommendation is to understand what you’re asking but encourage 100% participation.
What reading and discussing these books gave us was a common vernacular to discuss aspects of our business culture. We were discussing when it was OK to behave in certain ways which was key to honing on what was a Cronofy principle and what wasn’t.
It also gave less confident people a platform and a voice. It was easy for me as facilitator to ask the less vocal members of the team what they thought. They had a framework upon which they could agree or disagree with, rather than finding the right time and language to raise a potentially contentious opinion. “I disagree with that text because…” is so much easier to do than “I disagree with you because…”.
Categorise and Keep Going Until Time is Up
The whole process took about five months. Each month mine and Garry’s, as founders, responsibility was to refine the outputs of each month’s team refinements. Each month we filtered, consolidated and refined until we had a list of about ten principle ideas in each of three categories:
People was designed to capture the behaviours we expect in people we want to work with.
Product describes the products that Cronofy builds, what’s in, what is out.
Process is all about how we do things.
All were designed to allow us to ask questions about anything in the business to ascertain whether it was consistent with our principles. By taking months over the process everyone could get into the flow of asking that question. Testing the ideas they’d had for articulating values against new thoughts. All the time refining what we had so it was consistently applicable and would survive contact with the real world.
The culmination was an all-hands we held at the Royal Greenwich Observatory. Greenwich because that is the centre of all time. We were essentially deciding the principles upon which Cronofy is going to manage time for the entire world so, the centre of time itself, the Prime Meridian seemed wholly appropriate.
All of the previous months work were about giving the team the raw materials to decide the final principles.
We were also lucky that two people had joined us in the month before this pivotal all-hands so they could give a valuable outside perspective and prevent too much navel gazing. Definitely involve new hires in the process. If your principles are aspirational rather than reflective, they’re best placed to tell you.
“Errm actually, that’s not what I thought you were about” would be likely be crushing but at the same time highly valuable.
Keep it Catchy
Lastly, we decided to encode each of our principles with a short memorable phrase as well as a more descriptive couple of sentences for clarity. This just helps recall. If any given team member can rattle off seven of nine then you can be confident that they are assimilated enough whilst retaining an element of identity.
In truth we didn’t actually get the final, final version out of the Greenwich all-hands meeting. We were close enough that just a little wordsmithing was required and the process was soon complete. For now.
This was the result.
Never gonna give you up
We trust and support each other. We face the big challenges and prevail by working together.
Drive to simplicity
We are easily irritated by complexity and fluff. We can’t help but remove barriers and streamline everything we touch.
Why so serious?
We’re most definitely here to work hard but that doesn’t mean we don’t like a laugh and enjoy each other’s company.
Never gonna let you down
Our products are reliable, secure and respect everyone’s privacy. They serve fundamental problems and not fads.
Plays well with others
Our products are designed to be part of and extensions to other products. They enable everyone to schedule, wherever they are.
Availability not suitability
We help companies solve scheduling problems, so they can solve business problems. We don’t decide the what we help to decide the when.
Everything above board
We don’t hide the truth from our teammates and customers. It might not always be pleasant, but we don’t compromise on honesty.
Measure what matters
We want to quantify our efforts whenever possible in order to know we’re achieving what we aim to.
Pragmatism towards perfection
Time and resources will always be constrained. We keep our processes as light as possible and always look to automate so that everyone can focus on higher value operations.