We all want our companies to be something... more.
Beyond a mere machine to churn out profit, we want to grow into organizations that represent something: a change in the world that we want to make reality.
We want the people who work with us to feel an unmistakable vibe, a character that is uniquely ours. This applies to co-workers and clients alike.
The road to building such an organization is long and full of surprises. But one step you can’t skip is spending some time to think about your core company values.
Not so long ago, I set out on a journey to discover our values along with the rest of STX Next.
Today, I’d like to share with you what we learned along the way.
Read on to find out how we defined our core values, why we decided to do it, and how we can benefit from putting into words what we’re about and what we stand for.
How we defined our values (hint: you’re using the wrong verb)
How do you go from having just a vague idea of your values to a specific list that you can use to guide your actions?
Following the common perception, many will tell you that you should “define” your values, as if your company was a mold of clay that you can shape any way you like.
That may be true for some organizations, but not for STX Next. When your company has been on the market for 13 years, you’re not exactly starting from scratch.
The values were always there
We didn’t define our values, we discovered them. These values were already there, but hidden. We’ve been following them for years without even knowing it.
To start the process of discovery, we brought together the two groups that stay the closest to the beating heart of the company:
our management, from ground-level managers to the very top, including Maciej Dziergwa, our CEO, and Łukasz Koczwara, our Service Delivery Director;
our recruiters and HR, who know the most about the thoughts and needs of our developers and experts at STX Next.
All in all, over a dozen people were involved in the workshops.
Should the CEO drive the value discovery process?
Maciej’s role in the process is especially interesting. Initially, he worried that the values we discovered would run contrary to his personal values. That’s partly why he wanted to lead the value discovery workshops himself.
But Łukasz had his own plan for the workshops, and when Maciej opposed, Łukasz replied, “Thanks for voicing your opinion, but we’re sticking to the plan either way.”
Ultimately, Maciej recognized that his voice was no longer the only relevant one. The company has grown so that Maciej’s point of view alone wouldn’t suffice to objectively name its values.
Which is why, despite his initial reservations, he allowed the workshops to be led by Łukasz. He decided to trust the process rather than his personal feelings.
The course of the value discovery workshops
During the workshops, 3 mixed teams combining various roles, departments and offices collaborated to present the values that define STX Next. Each team chose their own set of values and tried to convince the rest that they got it right.
Then we put the values to a vote… and we hit a bit of a snag.
The initial plan devised by Łukasz was to choose only 3 values for STX Next, but the team just couldn’t cut the list down any lower than 5. The 5 values all complemented each other and the list felt incomplete without each and every one of them.
So this time around, it was the group’s turn to rebel against Łukasz. Despite his original plan, he eventually agreed that 5 values was the way to go.
Even Maciej was surprised by how unanimous the ultimate decision was. Everybody felt that this was it.
The STX Next core values
Now that you know how we arrived at our list of core values, you may be curious about the final result. Without further ado, let me briefly summarize what our values are.
The team is the base unit in the structure of STX Next. We don’t believe in open space offices and we seek to limit remote work. We believe that the best collaboration happens when one team can work in one dedicated room on one project, fully focused.
We have a passion for software development, and we want the code we deliver to be not only functional, but well-crafted. To ensure this, we set high recruitment standards, we keep refining the ways we work, and we serve as teachers for the community.
We foster a feedback culture both within the organization and when working with our partners. Using Agile and Scrum, we implement feedback early and often, to deliver maximum value every step of the way. We also keep adding new offices, new roles, new services, new technologies, and new partnerships to the STX Next roster.
We believe that trust is built upon openness and fairness. For our co-workers, this means a clear salary formula and codified development paths. For our clients, it means maintaining full transparency by sharing detailed monthly time reports.
In any situation where we need to establish clear rules and expectations, we expect a win-win deal or no deal at all. This applies to contract negotiation, negotiating rates, establishing the style of cooperation with clients, etc. If or when the rules of the cooperation change and one side starts “losing,” we go back to the drawing board to ensure a win-win once again.
Why are core company values important?
We saw three main benefits that a set of defined core values could bring us.
1. Core values are a test of culture fit
Our values are the DNA of the company—take it or leave it.
If somebody doesn’t accept these values, STX is not the right fit for them.
If we’re in talks with someone who has no sense of win-win, someone who only wants value for themselves, then STX Next is not for them, whether they’re a candidate or a prospective client.
And if doing (or accepting) shoddy work is something you subscribe to—you won’t find a place with us either, since software craftsmanship is the name of our game.
Our transparency value also comes into play here: we were one of the first companies on our market to introduce a salary formula for our co-workers. This approach has its pros and cons. On the one hand, a salary formula sets out a clear development path that you can follow to earn more. On the other, your ability to negotiate your salary is limited if you don’t meet the criteria.
Ultimately, the values we represent become a quick and effective test of whether we’re a culture fit. If you value transparency, software craftsmanship, and win-win deals, then there’s a good chance we can have a fruitful cooperation.
2. Core values are a tool for communication
Our core values have boosted our communication, both with clients and with candidates.
For example, it’s easy to tell prospective clients that we offer “high quality services”—but, honestly, everyone says that about themselves. However, when we introduce the concept of software craftsmanship, and demonstrate how we follow its rules, people listen attentively. More often than not, we’re talking with CTOs and other IT decision-makers who are also proponents of software craftsmanship. In those cases, our values open up a channel of understanding and communication.
Values also help us explain some of the decisions we make to help ensure a successful partnership. Take transparency, for instance. One decision in particular that is often met with praise is that we deliver time reports showing what your development team has been working on each week, all in the name of being open with our clients.
In some cases, our values help us protect the interests of both sides in a negotiation. That’s where the principle of win-win can guide our decisions. We often ask, “If you want X, where’s our win in that?” Not every cooperation is a beneficial one, and win-win helps us avoid partnerships where we know there won’t be satisfaction on both sides.
Does this style of negotiation apply in every aspect of life? Perhaps not.
But in business, it saves time and wasted effort for everyone.
Finally, our core values are also a useful tool for STX Nexters, helping them describe what we’re about in a few words. When our people describe the company, they do it through the values: “We work in dedicated rooms to use our team power,” “We take pride in our work due to software craftsmanship,” “We use Agile and Scrum to foster continuous improvement,” etc.
3. Core values are a cause to rally behind
If you’re looking to boost morale, establishing and expressing your core values can help keep everyone’s eyes on the prize.
Before we discovered our values, we were throwing around generic, non-brainer terms, falsely thinking that they defined us. We thought we represented “high quality,” for example—and let’s face it, nobody’s getting motivated by thinking “high quality is what we stand for!”
But now we know that our approach to quality consists of a focus on software craftsmanship, striving for continuous improvement, and utilizing team power for optimal cooperation. Knowing this, we have something to rally behind, an ideal to live up to.
I can personally attest that since we introduced our values in earnest, I’ve even heard “Team Power!” battlecries around the office here and there. And sure, some of those may be just for laughs at first. But over time, our values started guiding us toward making better decisions. Thanks to our values, we can really push ourselves when the cause is worthwhile.
There’s one last point I wanted to make. Keep in mind that the list of values is not finite. Just because I described the 5 STX Next values above doesn’t mean there’s only 5 values that we follow. And that’s most likely true for your company as well.
After all, there are so many complexities, departments, personalities, and sub-groups—you could never summarize it all in just a few words.
But it still pays off greatly to sit down with the people who know your organization best, and to ask yourselves: “What are we really about? What do we cherish the most?”
When you have the answers to those questions, every daily decision will be a little bit easier. And every new project will have this extra kick of energy, because you’ll know you’re working on something worthwhile.
Searching for a company’s core values can be a messy process. Soul-searching is never easy. But I hope that reading this will help you pave the way to a list of core values that you can be proud of.
Many thanks to our CEO Maciej Dziergwa for taking the time to talk about our values and contributing to this article.
If you liked this and are interested in what we do, feel free to check out our ebook on software development nearshoring.