When we started Guusto, it was just the 2 founders and 1 developer, so we just worked hard and that was all there was to it.
When we started growing, however, we came across a podcast with Sendgrid’s CEO, Sameer Dholakia, giving a lecture at Stanford. If you’ve ever received a reset password email from AirBnB or Uber, that’s Sendgrid. It’s a massively successful company that powers email programs for many major corporations. Sameer talked about “Focusing on People”, and their company's core values. Naturally, we thought we needed some core values too, and Sendgrid’s sounded pretty good. So we copied them down and put them up on the wall at the office:
Happy - Humble - Hungry - Helpful
We had one team meeting to announce things, and there, we had core values now!! Look at us, we’re such a great place to work.... but that’s about all we did with them.
Nothing really changed. What were we missing? I’ll tell you what… we hadn’t really integrated them in any meaningful way into how we operated the business.
This seems crazy in retrospect, but up to that point, we weren't even using the very tool we were selling to large organizations to run their employee recognition programs.
So a few months after putting the core values up on the wall, we decided to start using Guusto internally to allow employees to nominate their colleagues and send gifts to each other. We loaded Happy, Hungry, Humble, Helpful into the program as potential reasons for recognition.
The response was great! Employees loved being able to recognize their colleagues with nominations and gifts.
However, the only core value people consistently selected as a reason for a gift was “Helpful”. Maybe the odd Hungry, but never Happy or Humble.
We never saw something like: “Thanks for putting on a happy face and getting through that mountain of work”, or “Great job staying humble and not celebrating your massive new client.”
If anything, some of these core values were actually counter productive. Choosing to work on projects that made us “Happy” at the expense of avoiding the hard, tedious projects, ended up hurting our product, piling up our technical debt, stalling our sales growth, and most importantly, it hurt our customers.
It became apparent that we needed to rethink our core values!
So we asked ourselves: Why would we want a manager sending a gift to an employee or why would we want an employee nominating a colleague?
What are the behaviours that are core to us as founders, that got the company off the ground in the early days, that fit with our work style, and most importantly, that we want to see from everyone working at Guusto?
These questions allowed us to identify the key things we were doing well that were leading to success...
Our First Core Value - Listen
When we launched Guusto, it was not an employee recognition platform for large businesses. It was a consumer app for sending a beer to a friend or a bottle of wine to a client at a restaurant when you couldn’t be there in person.
We were building all these cool features and integrating with Facebook, but at the end of the day no one really used it for that purpose. Instead, we kept getting calls from these HR professionals at a few smaller companies saying: “Hey, I’ve been sending some of your gifts to my staff, and they’re loving it. Can you build me a way to send a bunch at once? Or can you build me a way to let them pick where they can redeem? Or is there a way I can get money back if they never use it?”
Listen! Customers will tell you what they need!
And listening goes beyond just customers. As a core value at Guusto, we encourage our people to listen to their colleagues, suppliers, partners, and competitors.
Listen! You will Learn so much!
Our Second Core Value - Learn
We hire a lot of young, very capable people at Guusto. Why? Because so much of business is just about trying different things and learning what works well. Some of the most successful people in the world have an endless thirst for just learning new things. These are the people you want working at your company.
Sure they’re going to make mistakes along the way. But a talented employee will learn from their mistakes and try to do better next time around. They’re going to figure stuff out!
I’ve been learning a lot about business strategies from Dan Martell’s and I love his thoughts about learning to learn. He’s inspired me, and taught me so much.
Anyways, if you have these types of people that are just great learners, they will learn how to Lead.
Our Third Core Value - Lead
Being a leader goes beyond managing people and delegating tasks. It’s about inspiring people, taking initiative and demonstrating leadership. We don’t want employees asking their manager for directions on everything. We want to give them a big problem we’re facing, let them own the challenge, and empower them to solve it. It’s then up to them to seek out creative solutions and be accountable for the results.
Great leaders will undoubtedly help to drive the business forward. Lots of people do a “good job” when given instructions, but we’re looking for rock-stars employees that can help us Leap to the next level.
Our Fourth Core Value - Leap
So much of the corporate work world is playing it safe and making sure you don’t give bosses any reason to fire you. Is that really something to strive for? Imagine this interaction:
Spouse: Have a great day at work hun! Don’t do anything to get fired.
Other Spouse: Thanks. Good idea, I’ll just take the safe route on all decisions.
What? This is so backwards to us. We actively look for people that hustle and are willing to take risks. Of course, with risks, comes some failures. So, you have to be accepting and supportive when things don’t work out sometimes. But more often than not, pushing hard, going for something big and taking calculated risks can lead to unbelievable results.
Impact of Core Values
Our business has gone through many changes to create a great work culture, but rethinking our core values and applying them in how we operate was the foundation for our transformation!
We integrate these core values into all interviews to identify candidates that will fit our culture. We share them during employee on-boarding to help provide a framework for all decision-making.
More importantly, we structure our employee recognition program around them to reward employees for demonstrating these behaviours:
- We give every employee a Guusto account to nominate their colleagues and then draw weekly for a Guusto gift card, and reward the most nominations given and received at the end of the month
- We give every employee a monthly budget to recognize a few colleagues
- We give every senior manager a monthly budget to recognize their team members, and encourage them to do a reward each day to a stand-out employee
These relatively small budgets have done incredible things for our business! If your employees are being recognized when they are displaying the company’s core values, they will be much more likely to repeat those behaviours, the ones that drive success for your organization.
Finally, we include core values in all performance reviews, and pull up all the nominations and rewards someone has received, to provide tangible feedback on which core values they are demonstrating consistently.
And guess what? Implementing core values that drive success for the company has led to significant growth, and as a result, everyone is way “HAPPIER”!
If you’re thinking about revamping the core values at your organization, you’ll want to subscribe to get next week’s blog post: How to Build Core Values that Drive Success. It will cover the following in detail:
- What are core values
- Benefits core values can provide
- How to implement core values
Hope you’ll join us for the discussion. Have something you want to learn more about? Let me know in the comments below or connect with me on Linkedin.
Muucho Guusto :)