Relus Cloud Values in Action #1: Be Honest, but not a Jerk
When I first asked members of the leadership team to come together to write a blog series about our company values, I thought I was being a good sport by silently resolving to write about whichever value was left over after everyone else had picked theirs. I felt pretty confident that I could write about any one of our eight core values with ease. As everyone began to claim their personal favorites, it became clear that it was going to come down to one of two options for me: “Pay it Forward” or “Be Honest, but not a Jerk.”
There are countless examples of “Pay it Forward” on display every day at Relus Cloud that I could readily recount, but I panicked trying to think of the angle I’d take with “Be Honest, but not a Jerk.” Our CEO Mark Metz had the same game plan as me of taking whichever value was left over in our draft, so the choice between the two would end up being mine to make. I guess I felt up to a challenge that day, because I ended up picking what might be the hardest value for me to write about.
It's not that I don’t like this value, don’t get me wrong. It’s clear why open and honest communication is important, both in business and in life. For me, the reason it would be difficult to write about is because it’s one of the values I have to work the hardest at. I realized this after someone submitted this question for Mark to answer during the AMA (Ask Me Anything) portion of our last quarterly meeting: “Which value do you struggle with more than the others?”
His answer? “Relus CI/CD: Continuously Improve, Continuously Develop” because he said that in a world full of screens and the constant ping of emails, he often doesn’t get to dedicate enough focused and uninterrupted time to learning and development as he would like. His candid response was a moment of clarity for me: it all starts with open and authentic dialogue.
“Be Honest, but not a Jerk” comes first for a reason; none of the other seven values would be possible without an effective feedback loop. This particular value is part of the underlying infrastructure upon which our entire company culture is built. When I reflect on how our eight core values were even created in the first place, it becomes clear that this value about productive communication was at the center of the whole process.
I did not inherit Relus Cloud’s core values, nor were they dictated to me one day by Mark Metz. The process of defining them was a much more bottom-up exercise in design. It all started with a basic Google Form sent to all Relus Cloud employees that included simple questions like:
- How would you describe the culture at Relus?
- Why do you like working here?
- What makes Relus different than other companies?
We received a lot of responses. But as we began to comb through the feedback, some common themes began to emerge. Around the same time, Mark, our President Michael Campbell, and I were spending a lot of time discussing Netflix’s notorious culture deck. I was also seeking out guidance from some key Relus Cloud employees like Matt Whitney, Kevin Davis, Jimmy Stetzel, and Chris Hall, who had created an early culture document back when the team headcount was hovering around 10 employees.
I joked in a previous blog that defining our company values was a process akin to ethnographic research, but it was truly similar. Ethnography, for those of you who didn’t graduate with a “useless” liberal arts degree, is the branch of anthropology that employs a qualitative research method to study people and their behavior in their own environment. It involves heavy field research, including methods like participant observation, face-to-face interviewing, and extensive field notes.
In a lot of ways, that’s what defining our core values felt like. But in many other ways, it involved some of the same strategies we use with our own consulting customers: unstructured data transformed into actionable information, maintaining a constant feedback loop for better service delivery, continuously integrating suggested changes back into the main branch as often as possible. Like everything else in our company, the fleshing out of our core values was an iterative process. We took the information we had gathered from every corner of the company and created a long list of possible values and asked employees to rate how relevant they thought the value was to Relus Cloud.
This step brought a lot of consensus to what we consider important as a company. Some of the concepts employees had indicated in this follow-up survey as meaningful to them included “entrepreneurial,” “problem-solvers,” and “intellectually curious.” In general, we had a good idea of what we cared about collectively as an organization, but we still had yet to put pen to paper and clearly articulate complete values statements. This would change on a summer Sunday afternoon when now-President Michael Campbell shared a Medium article written by the the Head of Enterprise Strategy at Amazon Web Services with the leadership team (Sunday musings from Michael are not uncommon, so it should come as no surprise that he jumped at the chance to write about “Work Hard and Hustle”).
This blog, titled “3 Reasons You Should Document Your Culture and Hire for Culture Fit,” contains many great quotes, especially this one from post author Stephen Orban: “In every high-performing culture I've come across, the organization was purposeful about the role culture played, and benefited from the rising tide it created to help more people meet their potential faster. Culture is the result— not the cause—of who your company is.” This article was the catalyst we needed to memorialize our own values, which we formally launched on August 24, 2017.
The communication ideals outlined in the “Be Honest, but not a Jerk” value statement were essential to the process of defining Relus Cloud’s eight core values. But good communication is hard work. It requires you to have difficult conversations, to be authentic and oftentimes vulnerable, to stand up for what you believe is important, to know when to compromise, and also when to back down. The epic journey of defining Relus Cloud’s values is an extreme example of “Be Honest, but not a Jerk” at work, but perhaps the best one.
One of our new hires recently asked me a question that caught me a little off guard. He wanted to know how I planned to hold everyone at Relus Cloud accountable to these values now that we had publicly unveiled them to the world. Because while they’re nice statements to read in theory, they’re hollow and meaningless unless upheld in everyday practice. I think one of the ways we hold ourselves accountable to our stated values is by talking about them and debating them, by reflecting on what they say and what they mean to us personally.
Steve Jobs, the iconic CEO and co-founder of Apple, believed in a similar approach. He once said, “In our early years, we didn’t talk about culture much. We hadn’t documented it all. We just built a business that we wanted to work in. And, that was great. But the real return on culture happened when we started getting more deliberate about it. By writing it down. By debating it. By taking it apart, polishing the pieces, and putting it back together. Iterating. Again. And again.” In this series, you’ll hear some of the key figures who have helped shape and define the culture at Relus Cloud talk about our company values. They’ll pick them apart, polish the pieces, and put them back together for you--that is, until our next iteration.